US manufacturing is at an inflection point: The sector is increasingly viewed as crucial to economic and pandemic recovery, yet outdated public perceptions could be impacting recruitment of vital new workers, according to study findings by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute based on two recent surveys of executives and consumers. The full report is available here.
A persistent shortfall of workers and a skills mismatch for smart manufacturing could slow down economic growth and manufacturing competitiveness, per the study, which found that perceptions are starting to change, especially due to the manufacturing industry's response to the pandemic, but there are areas that need attention.
Disconnect between perception and reality
According to the surveys, perceptions do not reflect the current level of technological advances, benefits and salary levels in the industry. But the manufacturing sector should bring public perceptions in line with the current reality of the industry to attract the stable, skilled workforce needed for economic growth and global competitiveness.
- Competition with other sectors: The surveys showed manufacturing companies are increasingly competing with other sectors for skilled labor. Manufacturing ranks behind technology, health care, communications, energy and financial services as preferred career options.
- Technology: Two-thirds of consumer respondents see manufacturing jobs as innovative and problem-solving oriented. Manufacturers should reiterate that technology is expected to enhance, rather than replace, jobs. For instance, digitalization, robotics and artificial intelligence can make jobs safer and enable employees to do more productive work.
- COVID-19 impact: The public's understanding of how crucial manufacturing is for the US economy has increased as a result of the pandemic response, especially given the industry's designation as essential in producing ventilators and PPE and keeping supply chains rolling.
"The pandemic has raised awareness of the essential role of manufacturing in our lives. We are now at a watershed moment when a new wave of workers is needed to further advance our use of technology and maintain US economic competitiveness. This industry is critical to bolstering our economy long term," said Paul Wellener, vice chair and US industrial products and construction leader, Deloitte LLP.
Attracting and retaining talent
Although 84% of manufacturing jobs lost during 2020 were added back to payrolls, turnover remains high. To retain them, manufacturers should involve existing employees, and evolve the work and workplace.
- 58% of surveyed respondents feel manufacturing jobs have limited career prospects, but 80% might be interested in roles with enhanced training and clear career paths.
- Manufacturing executives recognized that more diversity and balanced gender representation are likely to expand the available talent pool. While 84% of the surveyed manufacturing executives felt that their company is effective in fostering an equitable and inclusive. environment for new hires, they also acknowledged that more work needs to be done.
- The ability to attract entry-level recruits is very difficult; strong brands in local markets pose challenges.
"Manufacturers are working hard to fill open jobs and connect more Americans with rewarding careers," added Carolyn Lee, president, The Manufacturing Institute. "As an industry we are focused on continuing to improve perceptions—so that students, parents, educators and more understand the great opportunities available in modern manufacturing. With new or strengthened initiatives, companies can engage new employees, keep existing employees and bolster their reputations of providing sought-after careers in their communities."