Why are workers less enthused about manufacturing now?

July 5, 2022

While many corners of logistics are feeling the heat from a lack of manpower and post-pandemic backlogs, some are on the very worst end of trends. Manufacturing is one of them. Our 16th annual Voice Of The Blue Collar Worker survey reveals that 50% of current employees are looking to leave their manufacturing jobs – an astonishing statistic, by any measure.

What's driving them away? And what might you do to help current and future workers find their calling in manufacturing?

Taking a scalpel to 2022, we're going to investigate how manufacturing has been in a downward spiral for a while, before suggesting a few ways to bring enthusiasm back to this crucial expertise.

What's behind the numbers?

Our survey is stark, but it chimes with the rest of the industry. Homegrown manufacturing jobs are not only dwindling, but the people in them aren't happy. The Washington Post reports 58% of manufacturing workers voluntarily quit in 2021. Nick Bunker, an economics researcher, has said that manufacturing leaving rates in the same year were up 78% compared to 2020. There is an exodus, and it's whittling down a quality of life that's already turning employees away.

The Post elaborates on why manufacturing is having such a severe employment crisis. "Factory workers . . . said staffing is so low right now that they are basically forced to work six days a week," writes columnist Heather Long. "But something deeper is driving the spike too. The reality is the sector no longer provides the good-paying jobs it once did. From 1976 to 2006, average hourly pay for a rank-and-file factory worker was substantially higher than the average across all industries for nonsupervisory workers. Now it is below average."

Punishing shifts and low pay are only half the problem. Young people are thin on the ground in a form of work that doesn't seem (at first) to reward original thinking or a social conscience. IndustryWeek, for example, lets an intern give a sharp summation of the issue: "Manufacturing and factory jobs don't appeal to me – and most high school students I know – because they are associated with confinement, boredom, and little room for individual advancement or creativity."

How to become more magnetic in manufacturing

While the industry as a whole wrestles with diminishing interest, you may want to improve your job offers and work structures, becoming the exception to the rule today. Here are some ideas for reversing the trend:

  • Stress STEM skills and creative problem-solving. Young workers don't want to wait on a factory line fixing machines, but do find code, simulations and mechanical refinement more appealing. Explain the innovative challenges that await them with a science or technology degree.
  • Modernize key resources – for instance, by using a mobile app for document retrieval, company announcement and team messaging. When people spend less time hunting for what they need, and more on the task at hand, they're less frustrated.
  • Lay a clear career path for those who want to progress. Add sponsored training, courses or workshop visits. If you run or pay for these yourself, your dedication will be rewarded. Let workers try something new.
  • Set benchmarks over time for increased pay: a system that's fair and takes everyone into account. Then communicate that system, so workers indulge in some friendly competition. Metrics for pay rises may attract more hires, alleviating the requirement for six-day working weeks.

Discover more about the state of the logistics sector in our free report – download it now.