How manufacturers can keep skilled workers


More than 68 million U.S. workers left their jobs in 2021, with almost 70% doing it voluntarily. The recent Grant Thornton State of work survey analyzed the reasons behind this trend — and manufacturers might need to prepare for the trend to continue.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted data for U.S. manufacturing shows that the number of “quits” is still on the rise.




Across industries, the number of unemployed workers per job opening has again dropped below the one-to-one threshold.




The numbers show that unemployment spiked early in the pandemic, but that we are now in a job-seeker’s market. In the manufacturing sector, these job seekers have some unique expectations and perspectives.





Workforce expectations in manufacturing


Looking across business sectors, the State of work survey asked more than 5,000 respondents about their work situation and expectations. More than 500 of the respondents work in manufacturing. Results showed that manufacturing workers were less likely to have worked from home during pandemic restrictions, and are less likely to do so now:





Most notably, all of the manufacturing respondents have been required to track their work location, and are now expected to come into the office at least once per week.





Manufacturing workers have clearly had less opportunity to work remotely. They’re less likely to demand a remote work environment, but all of the survey’s manufacturing respondents felt that their employers should reimburse them for their office commutes.





What else do manufacturing workers expect? Most importantly, why do they choose to move — what is it that attracts them to new jobs and new opportunities?

When manufacturing respondents selected all of the factors that fueled recent job changes, pay was the most common (43% included it), but not as dominant as some might expect. The ability to balance work and personal commitments was listed by 34% of respondents, with 30% including advancement opportunities, 23% including non-health and retirement benefits and 19% including autonomy in their work.






How to meet workforce expectations


The manufacturing workforce is unique — and it’s changing. To meet the current and changing workforce expectations, manufacturers need to adapt.


Robert Hersh

“As the pandemic lifts, you have to get back in the mindset of looking your customer in the eye. You have to be ready to address issues in real time rather than letting them wait for someone to get back to them.”

Robert Hersh

Grant Thornton National Managing Principal for the Manufacturing Industry


Personal connection: Workers don’t expect a remote work environment. In fact, many are starting to re-establish in-person connections. “As the pandemic lifts, you have to get back in the mindset of looking your customer in the eye,” Hersh said. “You have to be ready to address issues in real time rather than letting them wait for someone to get back to them.”

Streamlined technology: At the same time that workers are establishing personal connections, they also want to achieve work/life balance and advancement opportunities. That means they want to spend time on innovative ideas and value-driving work rather than manual tasks which could be streamlined with technology.

New opportunities: Technology can also change the landscape of opportunities at your organization. Mid-market companies can move quickly to evolve toward Industry 4.0, and that means they soon have new opportunities for high-performing workers to advance and grow their skills. Those emerging technology opportunities are some of the most attractive to your best employees and recruits.


It can be challenging to know the best moves to strengthen your workforce, because the manufacturing sector is unique and there’s no time to get it wrong. “Those in the middle market spend a lot of intellectual capital keeping the business running — and they’re running very lean,” Hersh said.

These strategies can be combined with more traditional moves like implementing back-office automation and fine-tuning compensation, benefits and incentives for key teams. “The struggle to recruit is not just in the shop floor skillsets. It goes all the way up to the C-suite,” Hersh said.

Workforce strategies were already changing before the pandemic, and leading manufacturers will need to keep finding new ways to adapt.




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