No matter how you look at it, manufacturing recruiting is tough, and it’s not getting much easier. With a shortage of skilled workers and countless open positions to fill, it’s no wonder that recruiting can seem like an insurmountable challenge. 

In the face of a labor crunch, an influx of software engineers in their workforce, and a need to continue adapting to hybrid work models, the sector has arguably evolved more in the past five years than ever before.

We’ve stayed close to the manufacturing recruiting trends, drawing on insights from industry leaders to understand which tactics are working — and which aren’t. Our 2024 Manufacturing Hiring Insights Report, informed by perspectives from 105 HR and TA professionals in manufacturing, offers a detailed view of the innovative strategies and technologies shaping the future of hiring in the sector.

For the TL;DR of the report, here’s a roundup of the state of manufacturing recruiting in 2024 — and some tips you can steal from the experts.

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Manufacturing sector hiring insights

1. Hiring goals attainment in manufacturing was stagnant (and low)

Manufacturing recruiting goal attainment

We’ll be honest—recruiting large numbers of skilled candidates isn’t easy, and the data agrees. TA teams have struggled to recruit during a manufacturing labor shortage. Talent teams in the manufacturing sector met only 44.3% of their hiring goals in 2023. This is the lowest hiring goal attainment among all five sectors surveyed for our Hiring Insights Report. 

Hiring goal attainment in 2023 by all sectors.

And the competition for talent remains fierce. Despite efforts to bounce back after the pandemic, the industry has faced an uphill battle in refilling vacancies. The numbers don’t lie: as of December 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that a staggering 601,000 manufacturing jobs remained wide open.

2. Remote work and compensation frameworks are top challenges

Top manufacturing recruiting challenges 2024

The sector’s top hiring challenge, cited by 31% of TA leaders, was remote work expectations, reflecting the sector’s ongoing adjustment to the evolving nature of work environments, especially as manufacturing companies hire more software engineers who have the capability of working remotely.

Michael Case, Global Head of Partnerships at Meshd, has led international recruiting efforts for some of the largest manufacturers over the past two decades. He says that the manufacturing industry is increasingly employing software developers, who are more likely to have a hybrid or remote working model that doesn’t fit into the compensation frameworks the industry has relied on for years: “More and more when you’re hiring for manufacturing, you’re hiring software engineers too. Every company is a software company now, right? And I think having strong processes for those kinds of candidates is actually something we can’t ignore.”

Equally challenging has been dealing with unrealistic compensation expectations, mentioned by 27% of TA leaders, signaling the need for clear communication about pay in a changing economic landscape.

Additionally, the limitations of current hiring technology and the consistent effort to retain top talent are pressing issues, each cited by 26% of leaders. This highlights the necessity for technological advancements in the hiring process and the development of strategies to hold onto valuable employees.

Changes in company hiring policies and instances of candidates not showing up to interviews were also notable concerns, with 26% of TA leaders emphasizing the impact of policy shifts on recruitment dynamics and 24% noting the difficulties posed by candidate no-shows. Furthermore, 22% of respondents identified suboptimal employer branding as a challenge, indicating the importance of a strong and differentiated company image in attracting the right candidates.

3. Layoffs plagued 38% of manufacturing companies

In the U.S., job cuts announced from January to November 2023 surged by 115% compared to the same period in the previous year, totaling over 686,000. Manufacturing organizations were no exception, with 38% reporting layoffs in 2023.

Manufacturing layoffs 2023

Manufacturing TA leaders are navigating the complexities of a market where layoffs coexist with a shortage of specialized talent. This paradox indicates that while manufacturing organizations may be reducing headcount, aligning available talent with the specific skill sets required for open roles remains an ongoing challenge.

And the morale of existing employees is increasingly impacted by layoffs, intensifying the sector’s talent retention dilemma.

Manufacturing companies that conducted layoffs in 2023 were 64% more likely to report fair or poor employee performance than those who did not conduct layoffs.

Manufacturing layoffs impact on employee performance

And recruitment teams have been disproportionately affected by layoffs in all sectors, leading to increased strain on those remaining. The rise of full-cycle recruiters, tasked with maximizing limited resources and time, has led to challenges in meeting business demands. Our report found that 39% of manufacturing organizations acknowledge that higher turnover within recruitment teams has hindered the flow of their candidate pipeline.

4. The top-anticipated manufacturing recruiting challenge? Remote work

Top anticipated manufacturing recruiting challenges.

As manufacturing TA leaders anticipate the challenges of 2024, they’re preparing for continued friction in adapting to remote and hybrid work models, despite being four years into a remote work revolution. As the sector expands its workforce to add more software engineers, it continues to grapple with the necessity of offering semi-flexible work models to attract and retain top talent.

Speaking of retention, 23% anticipate continued issues hanging onto their best workers and an equal number are preparing for a lack of qualified candidates to fill their open roles.

5. Hiring in manufacturing is increasingly competitive

44% of the sector anticipates that manufacturing hiring will become more competitive throughout 2024. To compete effectively, TA leaders see a need to re-invigorate their candidate experience

how the manufacturing hiring landscape is expected to change in 2024

A substantial 48% think they’ll need to focus on connecting more quickly with candidates, and 40% will focus on creating more meaningful relationships. They’ll also need to increase the number of candidate touchpoints in the hiring process, and all of this with smaller teams, as 39% anticipate continued challenges related to recruitment team turnover.

6. Automating interview scheduling is a no-brainer for the sector

Manufacturing recruiting perks and candidate experience initiatives

55% of today’s manufacturing recruiting teams are prioritizing candidates’ time by offering automated, candidate-driven interview scheduling. 43% are also offering convenient rescheduling options through an online platform.

Automating interview scheduling isn’t just better for your candidates — it’s more convenient for your interviewers as well. And with manufacturing TA leaders saying their teams spend nearly a third of their time scheduling interviews, automating this task could give them back two or more days per week to focus on higher-value work.

Aside from scheduling, teams are prioritizing transparency in the interview process (44%), offering perks like transportation or lunch on interview days (42%), and utilizing candidate experience platforms (42%).

These manufacturing recruiting trends reveal exceptional adaptability and innovation in the face of unique sector-specific challenges. Our report encapsulates these transformative strategies and insights, offering valuable perspectives for overcoming the sector’s hiring obstacles.

To dive deeper into these insights and much, much more, get the manufacturing report today.

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About the Author

Jake Link

Jake Link is a business process automation expert and Director of Content for GoodTime. He draws on over 10 years of experience in research and writing to create best-in-class resources for recruitment professionals. Since 2018, Jake's focus has been on helping businesses leverage the right mix of expert advice, process optimization, and technology to hit their goals. He is particularly knowledgeable about the use of automation and AI in enterprise talent acquisition. He regularly engages with top-tier recruitment professionals, distilling the latest trends and crafting actionable advice for TA leaders. He has advised companies in the tech, legal, healthcare, biosciences, manufacturing, and professional services sectors. Outside of work, you can find Jake exploring the coastline of Massachusetts' North Shore with his dog, Charlie.