Like many industries, manufacturing was hit hard during the pandemic. Nearly overnight, government lockdowns took effect, supply chain challenges intensified and consumer demands shifted.

On top of these issues, the manufacturing industry was already dealing with a skills shortage that began well before COVID-19 hit. In fact, a 2018 Deloitte study predicted that over 2 million manufacturing jobs would go unfilled by 2028.

As the pandemic worsened, numerous manufacturers across the globe were forced to shut down due to quarantines or high levels of absenteeism. This resulted in a sharp decrease in manufacturing production levels, including UK manufacturers, which as a whole experienced a 10% drop in output  during 2020.

The big question is — how fast can the manufacturing industry recover?

manufacturing outlook

Even when conditions started to normalise in the final quarter of 2020, less than three-fourths of leaders in the manufacturing industries were optimistic about the future outlook for their company, according to the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) quarterly outlook survey.

Although some experts predicted that it would take years for the manufacturing industry to recover, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, studies now suggest that production levels will exceed pre-pandemic rates by the end of Q3 2021.

Fortunately, production levels have improved so much that Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded the industry's global outlook from negative to stable and the UK has raised manufacturing predicted growth from 3.9% to 7.8%. Additionally, NAM’s Q2 2021 quarterly outlook survey shows that over 90% of manufacturers are now optimistic about the future of their company.

top in-demand manufacturing jobs

As production needs increase, so will the demand for skilled workers within the manufacturing industry. Some of the most sought-after manufacturing jobs include:

  1. machine operators
  2. production workers
  3. forklift drivers 
  4. quality control officers
  5. production supervisors

leading manufacturing HR trends

As manufacturing employers prepare to rebuild their workforce in a post-pandemic job market, now is the time to reexamine your recruitment practices and strategies. To help with this process, we have compiled a list of the five major hiring trends within the manufacturing industry.

workers’ expectations have changed

Consumer demands aren’t the only thing that intensified during the pandemic — so have workers’ expectations, especially when it comes to remote work. During the pandemic, employers were forced to look for remote, or at least hybrid, work solutions. Now, as the effects of COVID-19 are starting to subside, workers aren’t willing to go back to the way things were.

Fortunately, there definitely are numerous benefits of remote and hybrid work models.

  1. 74% of workers admit that they’re less likely to leave their company if they can work from home
  2. 77% of remote workers believe that they are more productive when working from home
  3. 73% of employees say that remote work has improved their ability to maintain a positive work-life balance

While the benefits for employees are easy to see, the reality of making remote work a permanent option in the manufacturing industry may not seem possible. After all, the very nature of manufacturing is hands-on. But, when you view your workforce on a role-by-role basis, remote work for some employees may not be impossible.


1. conduct job assessments

Before you write remote work off completely, take the time to conduct a comprehensive job assessment. Carefully review each role within the company to determine which skills and duties can translate to remote work. For example, can one of the company’s specialised engineers handle some duties remotely, therefore allowing them to monitor multiple locations simultaneously?

2. develop real-time monitoring processes

Despite the rising demand from employees for remote work options, studies show that only 46% of manufacturers have remote monitoring capabilities in place. This type of technology is critical for remote work to be a possibility. Whether monitoring production, output or machine health, offsite workers must have access to real-time data in order to make informed decisions.

3. Offer flexible scheduling

Today’s workers crave flexibility in the workplace. In fact, according to our recent Employer Brand Research Global Report, workers rank a healthy work-life balance as the second most important driver when looking for new job opportunities. Employers must find ways to bring more flexibility into the workplace, especially for those roles where remote work options are not possible. For example, by using strategies such as compressed shifts and flexible shift options and making part-time jobs possible.

continuing demand for digital skills

While manufacturing has relied on digital technology for decades, COVID-19 seems to be pushing many companies to significantly increase their investment in technology. In fact, when asked why manufacturers are in a hurry to advance the speed and scope of their digital technologies, SAP vice-president, George Kube, replied:

“It’s actually the COVID-19 crisis that is driving digitalisation for us, because it fosters the need to be more virtual and to be more digital in everything that we do.”

As the demand for technology in the manufacturing industry continues to increase, so will the need for skilled workers. Unfortunately, the growing skills gap could negatively impact many manufacturers.

  1. 80% of UK manufacturers realise the skills gap could limit their ability to advance their digitalisation efforts
  2. a Deloitte study predicts that the skills gap could have a negative economic impact of over $2.5 trillion in the United States alone
  3. hiring manufacturing talent today is 36% more difficult than it was in just 2018, which is partly due to the demand for digital skills


1. conduct a skills assessment

The first step to finding the skilled workers you need is to determine exactly what types of skill sets your company needs now and in the future. Take the time to conduct a comprehensive skills assessment to identify the exact skills needed for each job and to predict what skills your company will likely need in the years to come.

2. build a continuous talent pipeline

The most important step you can take to combat the growing skills shortage is to take proactive measures now. An HR partner can help you start building a talent pipeline for various roles within your company. Additionally, be sure to use strategies, such as social media marketing and employee referrals, to identify passive candidates who match your criteria.

3. offer competitive salary packages

According to our Randstad Employer Brand Research study, competitive compensation remains the top factor candidates consider when looking for a job. Make sure that your wage offerings align with industry standards. Otherwise, you will find it increasingly difficult to attract skilled workers as the labour shortage intensifies.

upskilling and reskilling is a necessity

Even before the pandemic hit, 81% of UK manufacturers were struggling to find talent and 77% of US manufacturers were concerned about the growing skills shortage. With an end to this skills shortage nowhere in sight and the job market becoming even more competitive, many employers realise that they can’t solely rely on their hire-for-skills strategies to meet their need for skilled workers.

Instead, these employers are shifting at least a portion of their efforts to upskilling and retraining their current workers. In fact, some companies are taking unprecedented steps to train their current workforce, such as:

  1. Amazon: investing $700 million in upskilling
  2. Home Depot: investing $50 million in training programs
  3. Microsoft: committed to upskilling 25 million workers

While these companies may be taking the lead when it comes to upskilling and retraining, studies show that 86% of UK manufacturers and at least 70% of US manufacturers already have a plan in place to increase their training options to prepare their current employers for the future of work.


1. improved onboarding processes

It’s crucial that your new hires have all the tools, resources and skills needed to be successful on the job. To make this happen, employee training should start from day one. If you don’t already have a structured onboarding process for new hires in place, now is the time to develop one. Additionally, be sure that all new hires have a clear understanding of various training and career development opportunities offered by your company.

2. clear career development plan

Studies show that one out of five employees leaves their job due to a lack of career development options. At a time when finding skilled workers is critical, it’s extremely important for your company to have a career development plan in place that enables your best employees to reach their full potential.This plan should be clearly visible and all workers should know what job training opportunities are available as well as what steps are necessary to start training.  Having a plan in place can not only help you keep your most qualified workers, but it can also help you create a workforce with the skills your company needs.

3. reskilling opportunities

While upskilling is designed to help your employees move up the career ladder, reskilling focuses on horizontal training. Promotions aren’t typically the end result of retraining. Instead, retraining is used to help your current workers obtain the skills needed to remain relevant in the future. For example, providing employees with digital or forklift certification training will provide them with the skills they need to continue working on the plant floor as your company becomes more automated.

aging workforce

The aging workforce has been a long-time concern for many employers, especially those in the manufacturing industry who must find ways to still meet production demands with an ever-slimming labour pool. If your company hasn’t felt the effects of this aging workforce, it soon will.

In fact, by 2030:

  1. baby boomers will start turning 85
  2. gen-X-ers will start turning 65
  3. millennials will start turning 50

Even more alarming is the World Economic Forum prediction that the population of seniors aged 60 and over will double in at least 12 global economies, including the United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Brazil, Japan, China, Canada and Mexico.

Of course, manufacturers across the globe must take steps now to improve their employee hiring and retention strategies, but they should also leverage the capabilities of these highly skilled and experienced older workers before they hit retirement age.


1. horizontal job options

Keep in mind that not all your aging workers want to retire at a set age. However, some of them may not be able to meet the physical demands of their current role. Consider offering horizontal job options that may allow your high-performing aging employees to remain working for the company, but in a less physically demanding role. For example, you can consider training aging machine operators to operate machines that may be more complex but less physically demanding. This step will allow you to retain these workers’ skills and experience longer.

2. mentorships

Long-term employees often make the best mentors for new and younger workers. After all, they know more about the company and its accomplishments than most workers, and they have likely worked in multiple roles within the company. The reality is that you just can’t find this level of experience anywhere else. Be careful not to exploit the talents of your older workers. Instead, partner with them to provide a platform for them to share their skills and knowledge.  

3. digital training

Don’t underestimate the abilities of your aging workers. With the right training, seniors can work long after the standard retirement age. When creating a training program, be sure to keep your aging workers in mind by making them part of the change  and offering opportunities for them to learn the digital skills they need in today’s workplace.

health and safety compliance

As COVID-19 hit and businesses throughout the world shut down, many in the manufacturing industry remained resilient to keeping production output up to par with consumer demands. Suddenly, manufacturing workers were deemed essential workers and faced extraordinary health and safety concerns to keep production going.

While the effects of the global pandemic are starting to subside, these labourers haven’t forgotten the hazardous work conditions they faced. Additionally, their idea of what a safe work environment looks like has dramatically changed. If manufacturers want to keep filling open positions, they must create a workplace environment that focuses on health and safety.

Fortunately, it looks like employees have confidence that their employers will be able to meet this demand. A recent study revealed that while 54% of US workers are concerned about returning to work after COVID-19, 71% of them are confident that their employers can provide safe working conditions.

It’s crucial for your company to match these employee expectations by creating a safe and healthy work environment in a post-pandemic market.


1. safety training

Training is one of the most important steps to creating a safe workplace setting, especially in a post-pandemic environment. Workers should not only be trained in various pandemic-related safety precaution measures, such as appropriate hand-washing techniques and social-distancing requirements, but also be provided with information as to why these measures work at protecting the workforce as a whole. It’s critical that leaders within the company, including floor managers and supervisors, abide by all new safety measures. If the workers can see leadership taking these safety measures seriously, they are more likely to accept these additional tasks.

2. transparency

Putting safety protocols in place is useless if you’re not sharing these efforts with the workers. Regular meetings and newsletters can keep workers up to date on all new governmental regulations and let them know what steps the company has taken to comply with the new rules. Keeping your employees informed can go a long way in reducing workplace anxiety in regard to COVID-19 and to give employees confidence in your ability to create a safe space for them to work.

3. flex work options

While flexible work scheduling can be quite challenging in the manufacturing industry, it will likely be a necessity for at least the near future. In order to create a safe work environment, employers must be prepared for workers to take time off due to illness or even family-life issues related to COVID-19. It’s best to take steps now, such as cross-training, to prepare for these increased disruptions.

Find these trends and solutions helpful for your workforce concerns? We've compiled a recap of these manufacturing HR trends, so you can keep them on hand for quick reference as you navigate the uncertainties of a post-pandemic market. 

about the author
sanjay shetty
sanjay shetty

sanjay shetty

head, search & selection & strategic accounts

sanjay shetty is a human resource or "Talent Specialist" with more than 21 years of experience of hiring across all industries and levels and managing relationships with companies across India

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