Rethinking Perceptions to Improve Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

Time to Read: 5.6 minutes

Updated: May 15, 2024

The manufacturing industry faces a crucial challenge: finding and keeping skilled workers. According to the National Union of Manufacturers, 74% of industry leaders have identified attracting and retaining a quality workforce as their most significant challenge as they seek to compete with other sectors for skilled workers. Something that is vital if organizations want to succeed in the brave new world of Industry 4.0. One reason for the shortage of candidates is the gap between how the industry is perceived by the public, and the realities of working in today’s manufacturing industry. It’s clear that employers could do more to challenge these misconceptions and improve employee engagement in the manufacturing industry.

Benefits of Employee Engagement Initiatives

Increasing employee engagement in the manufacturing industry could bring a variety of benefits to your organization. A positive, engaging culture significantly improves employee retention rates, reducing turnover and the associated recruitment costs. Engaged employees become brand ambassadors for your business, naturally attracting top talent to the company.

Heightened engagement correlates with increased productivity and innovation, as motivated employees tend to be more committed to their work and actively seek ways to improve processes. Additionally, a more engaged workforce often results in higher customer and client satisfaction, as employees who feel valued are more likely to deliver exceptional service.

Fostering employee engagement isn’t just feel-good initiatives; it’s a strategic move that enhances retention, attracts talent, drives productivity, and ultimately improves business performance and the bottom line.

How is the Manufacturing Industry Perceived?

Before you can work to change perceptions, you must first understand how the manufacturing industry is viewed among its employees, potential candidates, and the wider public. Manufacturing roles have traditionally been associated with certain stereotypes, such as:

  • Repetitive
  • Insecure
  • Male-dominated
  • Unsafe

However, with the advent of Industry 4.0 and the integration of new technologies, manufacturing has become a dynamic and evolving sector, demanding high-tech skillsets, and offering a diverse range of opportunities.

A Manufacturing Perception Study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute in 2022 found that public views on the industry are changing. 67% of people in the US see manufacturing jobs as being creative, innovative, and requiring problem-solving skills, and 64% believe the industry needs a highly trained workforce to compete with other countries.

Yet the same study found that only 40% of people would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing mainly because they believe the industry offers fewer opportunities for advancement and a poor work-life balance.

5 Ways to Change Perceptions and Improve Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 is making the US manufacturing industry increasingly high-tech and innovative and because of this, roles in manufacturing can offer increased job stability. However only 25% of employees in the industry feel engaged.

Improving employee engagement in the manufacturing industry means working to challenge outdated perceptions and improve awareness. Here are strategies designed to not only enhance employee engagement but also make manufacturing an appealing choice for potential candidates:

1. Clear Pathways to Career Progression

According to the US Census Bureau, nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is over the age of 55. As the workforce retires employers face an overwhelming loss of knowledge and skills that simply isn’t being replaced. Which means that it’s time to get creative when offering career paths for younger workers.

Stop thinking about career advancement as a ladder. And start envisioning new opportunities for internal mobility, mentorship, and cross-training across your organisation. When employees see a clear route for advancement, they are more likely to stay committed to their current roles and invest in their personal and professional growth, giving your business the chance to nurture key skills and expertise, before it’s lost for good.

2. Personalized Training and Development Plans

Manufacturing roles can be monotonous, full of routine tasks that while necessary can stifle creativity and innovation and make employee’s feel unmotivated and unable to grow their skill sets. As Industry 4.0 transforms the skills needed for successful careers in manufacturing it is important for employers to find ways to expose employees to opportunities to learn, grown and experiment. Training and development plan can also be used to spark innovation and elicit engagement.

Adaptive skill sets can be particularly valuable in giving employees the tools to evolve and grow with their jobs while also engaging them as individuals and as part of a team. According to the American Upskilling Study, more than half of production employees want to participate in an upskilling programme. Immersive, personalized learning could be the key.

3. Create a Safe, Supportive Workplace

Employee engagement and employee safety go hand in hand. Not only does improving safety make employee’s more engaged, but more engaged employees are more aware of their surroundings, best practices and better placed to take steps to improve the safety of themselves and others.

Give your workforce the tools and know-how to monitor health and safety and work and the communication channels to report problems and incidents and they’ll respond by being more supportive of safety and inclusion initiatives. Perhaps the most important point here is to listen to the health and safety feedback your employees are giving you and be willing and able to act on it.

4. Empower Your Workforce

Giving your employees the ability to take accountability for their own work and a degree of empowerment around their own choices is a great way to drive engagement. This can be difficult in manufacturing as many roles have set tasks and routines but being able to find opportunities to let workers take charge of how they work, even on small projects, can make a big difference.

You may also consider changing the way you evaluate performance. An annual or quarterly performance review just isn’t enough to give employees a sense of ownership of their goals or the motivation to do more. Ongoing performance evaluations are ideal for improving empowerment while allowing managers to measure performance and set expectations more accurately.

5. Appeal to New Talent Pools

Improved employee engagement is a powerful tool for attracting new talent and tapping into fresh talent pools. Engaged employees become enthusiastic advocates for your business and can serve as invaluable brand ambassadors, sharing their positive experiences. Encouraging employees to participate in social media campaigns, share job openings, and showcase their work experiences should be an important part of your online presence.

Employee referrals also become more effective when employees are engaged. Engaged workers are more likely to recommend talented individuals from their network, bringing in candidates who will thrive within your organization’s culture.

If you’re looking for ways to improve employee engagement in the manufacturing industry Pierpoint can help you with everything from making your hiring more inclusive to reaching new talent pools. Learn more about our full-service RPO solution or talk to an expert today to discuss your talent needs.

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Jen Mulholland

Jen is a successful recruitment and marketing professional. Driven by a genuine passion for writing, she provides insightful, accurate and engaging content for the Human Resources community across a wide range of topics and industries.

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