Manufacturing Industry Struggles to Fill Technical Jobs

By Roy Maurer Jun 25, 2012
ATLANTA--Manufacturing jobs are available, but finding skilled workers for specific openings is still a challenge, according to findings from the Society for Human Resource Management's The Ongoing Impact of the Recession—Manufacturing Industrypoll follow-up released in June. More than two-thirds of HR professionals from the manufacturing industry who were hiring full-time staff reported facing this problem. Among the most difficult jobs to fill were high-skilled technical positions, scientists, engineers, managers and executives, and skilled tradespeople.

The Ongoing Impact of the Recession Series research examines how the economic recession impacted employers in the U.S. and looks specifically at topics such as recruiting and skills gaps, organizational financial health and hiring, and global competition and hiring strategies. In addition to providing overall results for U.S. organizations, SHRM has created industry-level reports for each of the eight sectors included in the sample. The original poll was conducted Aug. 18-Sept. 2, 2011, and the 2012 follow-up survey of the manufacturing industry was fielded April 20-May 4.

Noteworthy findings from the follow-up research include:

  • The majority (75 percent) of respondents from the manufacturing industry are currently hiring, which is unchanged over the past seven months from August 2011 to April 2012, but an increase from 51 percent in 2010.
  • In 2012 and 2011, more than one-half (52 percent and 54 percent, respectively) of organizations in the manufacturing industry were hiring direct replacements of jobs lost since the recession began, an increase compared with 2010 (42 percent). Fewer organizations were hiring for completely new positions in 2012 (36 percent) and 2011 (32 percent) than in 2010 (48 percent).
  • Overall, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents from the manufacturing industry indicated that they had lost 10 percent of employees or less in 2012, a slight increase from the 66 percent who indicated the same thing in 2011. In 2010, less than one-half (43 percent) of these organizations had reported losing less than 10 percent of employees.
  • In 2012, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of organizations in the manufacturing industry reported mild to significant improvement in organizational financial health compared with a year ago. This is an increase from 59 percent in both 2011 and 2010. The percentage of manufacturing organizations that were in a significant recovery increased from 6 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2011.
  • Among organizations that are currently hiring full-time staff, more than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents from the manufacturing industry indicated that their organizations are having a difficult time recruiting for specific open jobs. When recruiting for jobs that require new and different skills sets in the manufacturing industry, more organizations are finding it difficult to find qualified individuals for these positions in 2012 (74 percent) and found this to be the case in 2011 (72 percent) compared with 2010 (43 percent).
  • The top five most difficult positions to fill for the manufacturing industry are high-skilled technical positions such as technicians and programmers (91 percent), scientists (89 percent), engineers (87 percent), managers and executives (83 percent), and skilled tradespeople such as electricians and carpenters (79 percent).

Solutions to the workforce challenges facing the manufacturing industry will be addressed in a special summit SHRM is hosting with the U.S. Department of Labor at its 2012 Annual Conference. A panel of experts, including Mark Schmit, Ph.D., SHRM’s vice president of research, will discuss findings on the economic and business factors related to the skills gap.

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.


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