When it comes to finding and retaining a workforce for North American manufacturing, 2021 proved that doing what we’ve always done will no longer get us what we used to get, according to Julie Davis, senior director of workforce and industry initiatives with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.
Demographic research shows that employment challenges are not going to return to what they have been pre-pandemic, Davis believes, adding: “If anything, the pandemic acted as an accelerator that took labor force trends already sneaking up on the industry and exploded them into a new reality.”
The most significant trends include the shift from a baby boomer pre-pandemic drift towards retirement to a pandemic mass exodus of retirements. Second, a labor force participation rate that was declining since 1980 dropped to record lows with more than two women leaving the North American workforce, fewer millennials seeking careers of their own, and working age males increasingly preferring part-time over full-time work.
“With fewer and fewer people available, the labor market will continue to tighten. If you are looking to immigration as a solution, be cautious, as the same decline in birth rate is happening in countries we typically look to for sources of immigrant labor,” David warned.
So, what can companies that have been willing to be curious teach us?
“First, if your HR department says they are “doing everything they can,” consider it a red flag,” Davis says. “The war for talent is being won by HR departments whose mantra has become, ‘What else can we do?’”
Being curious includes evaluating and offering competitive compensation, meaningful benefits, potential career development opportunities and, most of all, flexible work, Davis advises.
“The employee experience needs to be reconsidered, much like we’ve analyzed the customer experience in the past,” Davis says, adding that important considerations should include:
- Streamlining the application process
- Meaningful onboarding
- Mental health supports
- Opportunities for upskilling
- Internal career path or debt-free education
In addition, hourly workers want flexibility, even if they have to show up in person, she said.
“Creative companies are finding ways to provide flexibility and predictability in scheduling to support health and wellness, childcare and caregiving responsibilities,” Davis pointed out.
AEM is the North America-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers with more than 1,000 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related industry sectors worldwide.