Labor Shortage in Manufacturing

The economy is bouncing back from COVID-19 impressively quickly. Manufacturing has brought back 75% of the jobs lost in the pandemic.

Unfortunately, that’s 75% of the job openings, not 75% of the workers. Manufacturing is facing a labor shortage, along with hospitality and retail. But manufacturing doesn’t face the same challenges as hospitality and retail. Starting wages are usually higher, safety levels are better, and the workers in a factory don’t have to deal with angry members of the public.

So why is manufacturing facing a labor shortage?

Some of the reasons for the labor shortage were threatening the industry before the pandemic. The average machinist or skilled operator was 54 years old before the pandemic. Many of the workers on the higher side of that group may just have retired when their facilities closed down for the virus.

Younger people don’t choose to go into manufacturing in large numbers. Recent research found that fewer than 3 out of 10 parents would encourage their sons or daughters to go into manufacturing, and fewer than 5 in 10 Americans believe that jobs in manufacturing are steady and stable. Manufacturing has had an image problem for a while, and it’s not making much headway on improving its reputation.

There’s also the skills gap. Modern manufacturing requires more skills than old school factory work, and U.S. students haven’t been taking shop or even advanced STEM courses in the intervening years. Manufacturers haven’t really embraced apprenticeships or intensive training, either, although Rexroth is an exception to that rule.

Add the fact that post-pandemic workers seem to want flexibility and work-life balance, and manufacturing can be a hard sell. Remote work isn’t even an option.

What’s the solution?

Deloitte proposes downgrading expectations. “Manufacturing should pivot to hire for attitude and ability to learn, not only current skills,” they suggest, along with working on their image and becoming more competitive in workplace culture offerings. Remote work is probably still not an option.