In a historically tight labor market, manufacturing companies continue to struggle to attract and retain talent. That’s especially true for rural manufacturers, who have seen a declining working-age population over the last decade. But, they are not alone in the battle for talent. Urban-based manufacturers face their own concerns when it comes to hiring. To explore this topic, FORVIS and the Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, conducted a study on the differences rural and urban manufacturers have in attracting and retaining talent.
The study took place from March to May 2023, and consisted of an online survey as well as interviews with manufacturing leaders. Some of the key findings from the research show:
- More than 86% of manufacturers reported having unfilled positions
- The working-age population fell 4.9% in nonmetropolitan counties between 2010 and 2020 but rose by 6.0% in urban areas
- 74% of manufacturers in rural areas ranked cost of living as one of the most attractive features in deciding to locate in these areas
- Urban manufacturers ranked existing infrastructure as one of the top reasons for choosing their locations
- Top labor force challenges
- Rural manufacturers – attracting new employees to the area and lack of childcare or eldercare options
- Urban manufacturers – cost of living and insufficient compensation
However, despite the challenging conditions, there are signs that the manufacturing industry is poised for growth, with firms investing in new facilities, technologies, and their people.1 And while manufacturers may have to grapple with recruiting talent for the next several years to meet the demand, they are meeting the challenge in creative ways. “You have to get them before high school. We work with eighth graders. On MFG Day and throughout the year, we have a pilot program of 60 students and split them up into groups of four to visit different manufacturing locations to engage and educate them on what is available in manufacturing careers,” said Don Bockoven from Fiber Industries.
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- 1“This is Manufacturing’s Moment: The Industry’s Vision for 14 Million Jobs and $3 Trillion in Output by 2030.” Chad Moutray. National Association of Manufacturers. https://www.nam.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/manufacturings-moment-paper-v3-edited.pdf. July 2023.