American manufacturing is enjoying a resurgence powered by demand and innovation. But alongside this resurgence lies a mounting challenge facing every manufacturer – attracting and retaining talent.

Despite this challenge, there are actions employers can take to put the right tools and people in place to ultimately propel the manufacturing industry – and the world – forward.


Over the past few years the manufacturing industry has undergone a seismic transformation.

Though traditional assembly-line jobs remain, the industry is moving rapidly toward jobs with irreplaceable human skills, such as creativity, ingenuity and critical thinking. While this change has fueled industry innovation, it has made hiring challenges that much more difficult.

Modern manufacturing has evolved to now boast more jobs in product design, engineering and distribution, technology maintenance and information security, science and even finance. Employers should work to fill these emerging jobs through in-house training programs, partnerships with community colleges or through workers who are ready to apply established skills to a new industry.



Across the industry, leaders agree a talent shortage exists in manufacturing because of a widening skills gap. In 2018 alone, the U.S. manufacturing sector added 264,000 jobs, representing the highest numbers of new workers since 1988. But according to a study from the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, by 2028, some 2.4 million jobs within the industry will go unfilled, putting $454 billion in production at risk. Last year, there were 508,000 open jobs in U.S. manufacturing.

To offset the labor shortage and yield the highest level of productivity, leaders and workers need to embrace a work environment that blends advanced technology and digital skills with uniquely human skills. Automation has opened the door to thousands of new positions to design, engineer, manufacture, market, distribute, install and service automation technologies, and employees who are able to navigate changing systems are in high demand. These types of future-proof jobs will ensure the manufacturing industry can be a source of employment for years to come. Understanding how work can change – for the better – will help the industry prepare for the future.


In addition to introducing a more modern work environment, there are other steps manufacturers can do to retain current skilled workers and ease the process of bringing new talent in.

To retain skilled workers, manufacturers are taking a variety of steps, from raising wages to developing their current workforces through promotions and training. Others are working with local schools and community colleges with apprenticeships and other programs aimed at encouraging students to consider careers in manufacturing. Some manufacturers are also exploring new types of apprenticeships, such as adult training classes with a job offer upon completion.

Many manufacturing companies are also revisiting rigid hiring rules, scaling back requirements for previous experience, making room for part-time “gig” workers and welcoming retired workers back to their staffs. According to a Deloitte study, some manufacturers in the automotive industry, for example, are asking retiring workers whether they would consider coming back for short-term project work.

While the manufacturing industry as a whole is thriving and optimistic, the workforce crisis is more palpable than ever. To overcome these challenges, employers must provide the best training, technology and leadership available to empower America’s manufacturing workforce to effectively compete and excel beyond that of global labor forces. While it’s difficult to imagine what the future of manufacturing entails, talent will continue to be a key competitive differentiator as manufacturing companies compete to be employers of choice.

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