How pronounced is the labor problem for North American manufacturers? Let’s just say it has been tough for recruitment and retention. For several years, manufacturing suffered from a lack of candidates to assume roles. Back in 2018, researchers predicted an applicant shortfall of more than two million within the next decade.
The coronavirus caused many manufacturing facilities to shut down or reduce output, which somewhat alleviated the problem (at least temporarily). But with manufacturing back on the upswing, countless positions remain unfilled due to a tight labor market and a lack of skilled individuals.
This issue begs an essential question: How can manufacturers woo new team members and — even more critically — keep the ones they have from leaving? The answer starts with corporate leaders focusing less on production numbers and more on supporting potential candidates with the kind of benefits (e.g., medical, workplace flexibility, growth opportunities) that leave them feeling professionally and personally fulfilled.
For example, professional development (aka upskilling) can help workers broaden their skill sets in a changing, tech-heavy environment. By making upskilling in manufacturing an executive-level priority, employees feel valued and are more likely to stay. In turn, this strategy frees up human resources personnel to concentrate on sourcing top performers to fill skill gaps rather than dealing with ongoing turnover.
The Advantages of Upskilling in Manufacturing Environments
Company-sanctioned upskilling and reskilling can be an attractive part of a corporate benefits package. Why? To be honest, it historically has been a bit of a novelty. Traditionally, manufacturers offer employees solid, comprehensive health-based benefits packages. Typically, these offerings include reasonably priced medical benefits and a retirement vehicle option, like a 401(k). Yet, they’re not enough to meet the needs of today’s workers.
Adding career development components to a manufacturer’s benefits package helps differentiate that business from its competitors. It’s no secret that manufacturing is a demanding career, so providing opportunities for continuing education — whether through tuition reimbursement or free online education programs — is essential to retaining workers. Putting physical work behind them through promotions can be an appealing reason to stay with one employer rather than look for another.
Of course, professional development opportunities can run the gamut. Companies should therefore survey their workforces to determine what types of upskilling their people need and want. For instance, younger or midcareer employees may be eager to earn continuing education credits toward certificates or degrees. Team members who have already been through the higher education system could appreciate the opportunity to hone their skills and become experts in particular areas. Meanwhile, seasoned workers closer to retirement age might prefer workshops or seminars to build upon years of experience.
No matter where your employees are in their professional journeys, offering them the opportunity to grow as employees is a plus.
Upskilling Your Team Works — So Do These Benefit Add-Ons
Of course, manufacturers don’t have to limit their benefits package overhaul to upskilling. Other benefits have come to the forefront over the past 18 months that keep employee retention in the manufacturing industry high.
- Flexible work arrangements
Many employees seek flexibility when it comes to scheduling. This preference doesn’t mean they want to work remotely, which may not be viable. Instead, flexibility equates to working beyond traditional workdays. One example might be someone working four 10-hour days a week. Having more choices can help workers balance their work and personal lives, which keeps them loyal to their employers without negatively affecting efficiency or production.
- Mental health support
The onset of COVID-19 has spurred many folks to report declines in their mental health, such as increased depression and suicidal thoughts. To combat this growing issue, some manufacturers are providing specialized mental health benefits to their team members. Being able to talk with professionals can help employees feel less anxious while reducing absenteeism, presenteeism, and risky behaviors.
- Family-friendly benefits
Plenty of manufacturing workers fall into the so-called “sandwich generation” category (i.e., they have competing childcare and eldercare concerns). These employees might feel like they have no choice but to find an employer that supports and understands their unique positions. Though parental leave and related benefits aren’t universal, they’re becoming more popular.
Manufacturers can’t afford to take a “wait and see” attitude when dealing with the labor shortage. They need to build a strategy of upskilling and reskilling while augmenting benefits packages to attract newcomers, strengthen skills gaps, and retain exceptional performers who are destined to become tomorrow’s leaders.
Susan Baxter is the senior vice president of HR at Integrity Staffing Solutions, a full-service staffing agency that ranks in the top 2% of agencies across the country for quality service based on ClearlyRated’s “Best of Staffing” client survey.
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