How to Bridge the Manufacturing Skills Gap

By: Maggie Wenthe
person working at manufacturing plant

The world of manufacturing has grown more automated than ever before.

While this automation has certainly created never-before-seen capabilities, it’s a double-edged sword: there’s now an incredible reliance on skilled workers. And a loss of engineers, researchers, scientists and skilled production workers can spell disaster for manufacturers.

This disparity in employment, referred to as the skills gap, means that manufacturers are in a tough place. Their talent’s niche expertise has helped companies thrive, but, for a number of reasons, many of them have one foot out the door.

According to a 2018 report from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, over the next decade, nearly 4.6 million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled, and 2.4 million of those face going unfilled. That’s an incredible shift with far-reaching ramifications.

What’s new to the talent shortage discussion is many manufacturers’ expectation that the situation is about to get much worse.

There simply aren’t enough people to take the reins from retiring employees, and critical employees are constantly being courted by the competition.

What can employers do to bridge the skills gap, keep their key people on their team and recruit up-and-coming talent?

What’s Behind the Manufacturing Skills Gap

A notable shift seems to have occurred since the 2015 study that looked at what manufacturers saw contributing to the current talent shortage. Then, the retirement of baby boomers topped the list, followed by strength of the economy.

The current study reveals that most manufacturers believe that the No. 1 cause of the skills shortage is “shifting skill set due to the introduction of new advanced technology and automation,” followed by “negative perception of students/their parents toward the manufacturing industry.” Baby boomer retirements rounds out the top three causes of today’s skills shortages, according to manufacturing executives.

With such change to the reasons employees may leave, employers can’t rely on one method of engagement to retain their people. It’s more important than ever for employers to alter their employee retention programs and take a multi-faceted approach.

Companies should shift away from strategies that merely keep people in place and, instead, move toward ones that attract and engage people through development- and growth-centered measures.

According to research from CMB, this means re-evaluating the identity (self-esteem; self-expression; belonging), emotional (feelings) and functional (traditional) benefits your organization provides. Considering their importance in predicting employee engagement, tracking and enhancing these benefits should be a top priority for any organization seeking to inspire stronger employee engagement and retention.

Closing the Skills Gap Can Help Reduce Costs

It’s a proven fact: employee engagement programs keep your people motivated. And, simultaneously, they have the secondary benefit of attracting people to your organization.

For manufacturers looking to overcome the skills gap, that presents a big opportunity.

If your employees like where they work, they are more likely to recommend others to work there. In fact, employees early in their tenure are eager to connect and become advocates for their organization because their pride and self-esteem levels tend to be very high during the first year. This also helps draw in quality applicants to find you, as compared to the other way around, which means you spend less time, effort and money on recruitment. Keeping employees in place also provides huge bottom-line savings.

Embracing the Employee Experience

To optimize your position, beat the manufacturing skills gap and attract the younger demographic your company needs, a strong employee experience is imperative. And the statistics don’t lie.

For a vibrant employee experience, organizations must account for the varied perspectives and interests that a multigenerational workforce brings.

An effective engagement solution targets a number of key areas that influence the behavior of your employees, all while capturing the attention of your people. It also drives measurable impact throughout your organization.

To best motivate and engage with employees—and keep retention levels high—employers must focus on a holistic solution that rewards top performance.

Solving the Skills Gap by Driving Engagement

So, what is the right fix for this? And how will it drive measurable impact throughout a company?

holistic solution is one that focuses the whole employee, both at work and away from work. The more employee programs a manufacturer offers, and the more varied they are, the higher the perceived rate of engagement, satisfaction and motivation.

Leveraging concepts from psychology, factor analysis and predictive modeling, we identified five types of benefits key to driving employee engagement:

  • Functional. Overall compensation package and the belief that the organization facilitates professional growth and success, while enabling a good work/life balance.
  • Emotional. How working at the organization makes the employee feel (positive vs. negative).
  • Personal Identity. How working at an organization bolsters self-perceptions, pride and belonging.
  • Social Identity. Identifying and connecting with not just your leaders but every employee at the organization.
  • Cultural Identity. A clear understanding of the organizational culture (mission, value, norms, etc.).

Considering their importance, tracking and enhancing these benefits should be a top priority for any organization seeking to inspire stronger employee engagement and retention to get the most out of the team—and helps reduce the manufacturing skills gap.

For more ways to retain your current workforce while combatting the skills gap, learn how upskilling your workforce can benefit your organization.


Maggie Wenthe
Maggie Wenthe

Maggie strives to help the world understand the power behind personalized motivation that aligns people with business goals to drive powerful results. As the leader of Marketing Strategy at ITA Group, she analyzes market trends to develop world-class solutions that help Fortune 1000 companies motivate and engage their employees, channel partners and customers. She is certified through the Incentive Marketing Association, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, as well as Pragmatic Marketing Level VI. Between marketing and three little boys, Maggie doesn't have free time. But when she can find a few minutes, she loves listening to audiobooks on marketing, business and sci fi thrillers.