Manufacturing Industry Turns to Exit Interview Surveys & More to Tackle Talent Shortage

How Exit Interview Surveys & More are Helping to Address Manufacturing’s Shrinking Workforce

Manufacturing has evolved continuously since the start of the industrial revolution, but despite the rapid and consistent growth in technology, its reputation as an industry of choice has not kept pace. Many in the workforce maintain an outdated view of the industry as unsafe, unclean and unprogressive. In addition, there is a misconception among younger generations that manufacturing lacks sophistication, innovation and competitive pay. The result has left HR departments within the industry battling not only a shrinking workforce, but also one with a very high turnover rate — with many leaving as early as the first 90 days.

Unfortunately, this struggle for human capital is only expected to worsen. A 2018 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute reported that 89% of manufacturing executives agree there’s a talent shortage in this U.S. sector, up from 84% in 2015. By 2028, new jobs in manufacturing are expected to grow by 1.96 million workers, yet 2.6 million Baby Boomers working in the industry will retire. That means 2.4 million manufacturing jobs may remain unfilled in 2028.

Attracting and retaining employees is critical for these organizations to thrive. By utilizing stay and exit interview surveys, human resource leaders can identify and address many of the problems at the root of their largest HR issue: declining human capital. When supported by additional approaches, including forming partnerships with post-secondary institutions and developing in-house mentoring programs, manufacturing leaders can begin to build a culture that attracts and retains workers, helping their organizations maintain a competitive advantage.

Key Takeaways:
  • Engage and lean on your retiring workforce for their insights, mentorship, and training strategies.
  • Look to establish partnerships with post-secondary institutions to make the introduction to the young, emerging workforce.
  • Start using exit surveys to understand what factors are leading to turnover and how you can improve them.
  • Touch base with your employees regularly and give them a voice. Whether through one-on-one check-ins or through surveys such as engagement, manager effectiveness, or stay interviews. Make sure you are listening and responding.
Engage your Retiring Workforce

With baby boomers retiring in record numbers, there is an option for a phased approach to retirement that sets them up as mentors. These senior workers are well poised to train the new generation, a role which can capitalize on their experience, boost their morale and potentially increase retention. By allowing older workers who are considering retirement to transition to part-time employment and take on mentoring opportunities, an organization can retain skilled labor even as they source new talent. This can serve as one arm of a training and development strategy that develops personal and professional growth while increasing employee satisfaction and stimulation.

Establish Partnerships with Post-Secondary Institutions

The demand for physical labor within manufacturing is decreasing, while the need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals is growing. For instance, while there may be less assembler jobs thanks to robotics, plants still need workers to program the machinery. There is no better way to showcase these opportunities than by integrating students directly into them. Both high schools and colleges across the country embrace internships as a way for students to gain real-world experience and spark career trajectories. 

Whether paid or unpaid, these young workers can enjoy firsthand the culture and opportunities that exist in your organization. It also gives organizations the opportunity to ease doubts that this younger generation may have about the long-term future of manufacturing in the U.S. You can attract both blue and white-collar workers simply by showing students that opportunities in manufacturing encompass both physical and knowledge-based careers. 

Implement Exit Interview Surveys

Because a manufacturer’s operation and logistics often span various locations, their employee base is likely also spread over multiple geographics. With different buildings, staff and cultural considerations to contend with, it can be difficult to keep a pulse on employee satisfaction. An outsourced, multilingual employee exit survey allows you to ask key questions of departing employees and receive honest feedback that can help organizations improve policies, processes and overall culture. By engaging those manufacturing employees who are leaving, many of whom span the socioeconomic spectrum, you can ultimately act on their feedback to maximize the productivity, innovation and commitment of remaining and incoming employees. 

Dealing with the turnover “death spiral” is the first step towards building a better workforce. Once you’ve reduced turnover, the next focus is to engage your employees so you can retain them and have happy & healthy people working at your organization.

Conduct Regular Employee Check-ins

It goes without saying that you must ensure your salary offerings and benefits package are competitive so you don’t lose your best talent to your competitors. Helping lower-level workers develop their skills and ultimately achieve higher compensation can both increase retention and build a pipeline of crucial talent. Also consider offering tuition reimbursement for continuing education to show that you are willing to invest in both their knowledge base and their career. 

If you want to know what else might increase engagement and longevity among your valued employees, just ask! Taking the time to connect with employees, ask questions and give them a voice builds both a culture of mutual respect and a base of trust for retention. Employee engagement surveys, manager effectiveness surveys, and stay interviews provide an easy, effective way to regularly poll your employees and keep them engaged. The results can help you understand their aspirations, conduct career growth planning and identify pain points so that you can improve workplace culture. 

Taking advantage of outsourced outbound calling and templated surveys — both available in multiple languages —  is a simple yet powerful way to connect with a diverse workforce and garner important feedback to meet their needs and ultimately retain their talent.

Evolving to Meet Demand

There is no doubt that attracting and retaining highly skilled workers is the greatest challenge for any manufacturing organization’s HR department.  According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, manufacturing has a 25% employee engagement level, trailing the national average by a full 8%. Moreover, a September 2020 report by Gartner revealed that 65% of candidates have cut the hiring process short because they found certain aspects of the job, including company culture, development opportunities, and work-life balance unattractive. 

With the continued pressure of global competition and a shrinking workforce, HR leaders in the manufacturing industry must evolve to compete for a finite number of talent and people power. 

By implementing new programs, including employee exit surveys and stay surveys, leaders open themselves up to insightful feedback across multiple locations and cultural barriers. By understanding the real causes of turnover, they can leverage the data to drive positive, cultural change and an attractive workplace. They can identify not only what drives their quit rate but also what changes may slow it down.

Interested in implementing stay or exit interviews? Explore our all-inclusive listening solution that covers the entire employee journey.

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