Industry Insights: Manufacturers Must Focus on Manufacturing the Future Workforce

Today’s post is the third article exploring key findings from the UKG Workforce Institute’s new study on manufacturing industry talent trends. Before reading ahead, catch up here on Part One and Part Two. 
Today, 75% of manufacturers believe negative industry perceptions impact recruitment, according to the UKG Workforce Institute’s latest manufacturing survey released last month. This a worrying statistic, when you consider the industry’s talent recruitment challenges will only get more difficult as a significant percentage of the current workforce will exit through retirement in the next several years. 
To address the talent crisis facing the industry, manufacturers must change public perception to attract new generations of employees to fill the empty positions on the plant floor. Unfortunately, according to research from the UKG Workforce Institute, manufacturers are not doing all they could be to dispel negative perceptions, with just one in four companies participating in Manufacturing (MFG) Day, and only 31% partnering with local high schools or community colleges to build a skilled talent pipeline, according to our survey. 
One step that manufacturers should take to is to participate in MFG Day, which is celebrated annually on the first Friday in October, as its the manufacturing sector’s biggest opportunity to inspire the next generation, positively shift perceptions about the industry, and build the foundation for the manufacturing workforce of the future. 
According to the MFG Day website, on October 6, 2023, a few hundred manufacturing facilities will open their doors for tours and other activities to their local communities. Yet, when you consider that there are hundreds of thousands of manufacturing facilities in the U.S., this participation rate leaves room for improvement. 
For companies that may be unsure where to start or are overwhelmed by the idea of hosting a plant tour for students, there’s good news. The Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit organization that leads MFG Day, has created numerous tools and resources to help manufacturers create, host, and promote their own MFG Day events. When you visit the website, you’ll find a MFG Day Host Toolkit with ideas for events beyond a plant tour, including educational fairs, classroom visits, and more. 
From my perspective, MFG Day represents a unique opportunity to influence the hearts and minds of students across many age groups. I’ve been fortunate to participate in a number of MFG Day events in collaboration with several leading manufacturing organizations over the past eight years. The last in-person MFG Day event I participated in was in 2019, hosted by the Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois Sector Board at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois, for 340 eighth-grade students from local schools to showcase what a future career in manufacturing could look like. 
The highlight of the event was most certainly the interactive sessions, including a virtual-reality welding simulator, facilitated by several regional educational institutions and manufacturing companies. As part of the event, my team and I led workshops for the students, during which we asked each student to write down on a sticky note a word or phrase that comes to mind when they think about manufacturing. 
Here were the most common responses shared by many students: Factories; Making stuff/Creating things/Building (things or stuff); Mechanics, Machines, Robots; Man/people; Engineering; Technology; Science; Math; It’s cool; Fun; Amazing; STEM; Good pay; Challenging; Complicated; Marketing and/or Selling. 
Here were some of the more detailed and insightful responses: 

  • “Hardworking people that we can’t live without.” 
  • “I think of machines and hard work and all different type of positions in the factory.” 
  • “Manufacturing is creating things to help the world and people in everyday life.” 
  • “I really like idea of manufacturing. It provides people with everyday necessities and earlier I tried a welding simulator and loved it.” 
  • “Building and designing and overcoming obstacles throughout the process.” 
  • “I think it’s an important job. I also think it’s harder and more complicated than it seems.” 
  • “It’s neat and it’s about creating new inventions to give to the world.” 

Based on the reactions and enthusiasm from the eighth graders, I can attest to the fact that initiatives like MFG Day are working to educate students about the various career possibilities in manufacturing and dispel negative perceptions about the industry. And many walk away with a newfound appreciation for the importance of manufacturing to the economy and the impact the industry has on our lives. And, on that day in October 2019, at least one student left feeling this way (according to their sticky note): 
“I think manufacturing is amazing, I really like it, and I will become a manufacturer.” 
It’s clear that more manufacturers must proactively educate, and engage with, local communities to highlight the positive attributes of modern manufacturing. By focusing on local community engagement, manufacturers can reach students who have yet to make decisions about their career paths, as well as individuals who are currently employed in other industries who may be open to a change. If you haven’t yet started your community engagement journey, there has never been a better time to begin inspiring the manufacturing workforce of the future. 
MFG Day is a great way to start.