Empowering Your Workforce Through a Historic Labor Shortage

While we can’t prevent every employee from retiring or resigning, we can increase our efforts – across industries – to provide new and existing employees with reasons to stay.

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The manufacturing industry is in the midst of continuous digital transformation, but it’s also an industry that facilitates transformation in the countless other sectors it supports. Even with all of this progress and innovation from implementing new digital processes and technologies, we do have our fair share of challenges. One that cannot be ignored any longer is the labor shortage.

The manufacturing industry is not immune to the labor shift by any means. Resignations and reorganizations throughout the pandemic led to about 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs lost. In addition to job changes throughout the pandemic, manufacturing is also an industry led by and supported by baby boomers, and 3.2 million more boomers retired in the third quarter of 2020 than in the same quarter of 2019. As all baby boomers will be age 65 or older by 2030, it’s critical that employers engage their current workforce and attract the next generation of workers swiftly.

While we can’t prevent every employee from retiring or resigning, we can increase our efforts – across industries – to provide new and existing employees with reasons to stay. Looking forward, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030 leading to $1 trillion in potential loss. Here’s what we can do to avoid this.

Digital and in-person training

As digital transformation in the manufacturing industry develops, the skills workers need for tomorrow are very different than the skills used today and in the near and distant past. The reality is, today’s manufacturing workforce doesn’t possess many of the skills needed to support this transformation. Adding more automation capabilities throughout manufacturing lines and processes helps tremendously as it relates to production and increased demands. It also opens many windows of opportunity for manufacturers to take the time to train and upskill workers so they can utilize and coexist with the new technologies put in place.

The most effective training opportunities must be offered both in-person and digitally. Providing training centers close to manufacturing plants, which are more prevalent in North America today due to widespread reshoring efforts, allows for hands-on training with employees. We cannot underestimate the value of hands-on training as it relates to employees learning new skills and furthermore retaining that knowledge when they get back to the factory floor. Jobs throughout the manufacturing industry are extremely technical, and hands-on training provides an opportunity for employees to feel comfortable and confident with the technology they’re working with.

But, we also have to grasp that our workforces are no longer only capable of learning in-person. Digital training sessions provide great value as employees can learn and reskill no matter where they are, and on their own time. It’s about increasing touchpoints and creating more paths to learning and development to instill the confidence in our employees around the work they do.

Rotational programs

As young professionals start their careers, it can be hard to find a dream job or an area of the working world they might be passionate about. To give new employees an opportunity to explore what a company has to offer, rotational programs can be a great path for providing employees a diverse experience in the workforce. Offering opportunities to get a feel for different departments – from device support, sales, or product management – gives them an in-depth, baseline understanding of the different functionalities that support an industry.


Outside of training on physical and digital solutions, infusing other impactful employee resource programs throughout an organization are important to talent retention. Mentorship programs are a powerful avenue to inspire confidence in your new and existing employees, and to also spark curiosity from within. When resourced adequately and supported intentionally, mentorship programs can retain existing employees as well as attract potential hires, and enrich the current workforce.

 Any business leader will tell you how important it is to have a mentor – someone employees can rely on for sage advice, and career growth development. A positive mentor/mentee relationship brings something personal and authentic to our work lives. When employees at all levels are given the opportunity to feel connected with an individual through this close-knit relationship, that’s when we start to feel more connected and confident in bringing innovative ideas to the table.

Higher education outreach

When we discuss the current labor crisis, we often miss an important factor – the next generation workforce. To build and future proof the workforce, especially in the manufacturing industry, we need to reach a younger demographic, including students. By working with higher education institutions, such as local community colleges and universities, manufacturers can work directly with students to teach them about an industry they might otherwise have overlooked, to answer their questions, and hopefully recruit them into the field through paid internships and a full-time job offer post-graduation.

As we dig further into the root of the labor crisis and how to solve for it, these examples keep going back to one major component: education.

We must provide continuous learning opportunities to new, existing, and future employees. Yes, deliberate learning and training sessions are key to keeping your workforce up to speed and ahead of the curve as it relates back to industry-wide digital transformation. But, we must also provide smaller, less obvious learning opportunities through rotational and mentorship programs and then get at the true source of the future of work by engaging with students and young professionals to inspire their path forward.

As manufacturers enhance their training programs, implement rotational and mentorship programs throughout their organizations, and collaborate with higher education institutions to gain the attention of students, we will see positive growth throughout the entire industry, through the benefit of fostering a dedicated and loyal workforce.