Career Development / Leadership Skills / Changing Workforce / Workforce Development / Industrial Training

Help wanted! Results of the 2017 Plant Services workforce survey: Part 2

Industry respondents are confident in their own job prospects but wonder whether their companies can draw (and keep) fresh talent.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

In fall 2015, Plant Services conducted an in-depth survey of manufacturing and industrial production professionals, asking readers for their thoughts on a comprehensive set of workforce-related topics. From that survey, a portrait emerged of an industry that was quietly dividing itself into haves and have-nots based on whether organizations were (1) embracing more proactive, data-driven approaches to maintenance and reliability, and (2) investing in their own human capital.

Fast-forward to the start of 2017, and results from our follow-up survey indicate that although these familiar patters persist, a new set of concerns on the part of both managers and front-line workers is emerging:

  • Where is next-generation talent hiding?
  • Do I have to look outside the company for my own next career opportunity?
  • Will my executives do the things they say they will do?

This article presents key trends and findings from the Plant Services 2017 Workforce survey, sketching out an updated portrait of the actions and attitudes shaping our industry’s response to social, technological, and demographic change. Key questions from the initial survey were repeated in order to chart the extent to which attitudes and priorities might have changed over the past year, and an entirely new set of questions was added to pin down the types of training and certifications being extended to you and your peers.

In sum: If you’re stressed about where to find new talent, and you already have an eye out for your next job, you’re not alone.

Click here to read Part 1

Recruitment, retention, and training

There’s no getting around it: The top finding of this year’s survey it that industry is highly dissatisfied with the effectiveness of company recruiting programs. As Figure 5 shows, more than 65% of 2017 survey respondents were dissatisfied with recruitment efforts, with 20% saying these efforts were flat-out ineffective and only 2.7% saying these efforts were very effective.

Figure 6 adds nuance to these data, charting a series of more subtle shifts in priority and satisfaction across various aspects of workforce recruitment and retention. For example, “attracting young people” in particular remains the most pressing challenge identified in the survey, with 84.0% of respondents indicating it as a heightened concern. High majorities also consider “deskilling as a result of retirements (77.0%) and “attracting a diverse pool of candidates” (76.1%) as leading specific concerns.

On the other end of the scale, several responses in Figure 6 point toward the “tale of two cultures” first identified in our 2015 survey. For example, when it comes to workforce integration, plants seem to either consider it worth making a special effort to succeed or see it as not much of a priority or problem at their facility. The widest level of difference centered on “retaining female and ethnic minority employees,” where 49.4% of respondents considered it of importance and 50.6% thought it was either of low importance or was a nonfactor at their facility.

Findings on employee retention also stood out: The trend of industrial workers who are willing to job-hop is increasing. The good news is that, based on responses to a separate question, the share of respondents prepared to move on in less than a year declined over the past 12 months. However, there was a significant increase in the share of respondents willing to look for a new position within 1-5 years and a decline in the share of people who thought they would be with the same organization after more than 10 years.

At first glance, these data seem to match the observations of many generational researchers that Millennials often defer traditional life markers (i.e., marriage, parenthood, first house) to later in life than previous generations. However, Millennials composed only about 8% of 2017 survey respondents, indicating that the willingness to job-hop crosses into GenX and Boomers, at least among those who participated in our study.

When asked about the specific reasons why our respondents would leave their jobs, the most-cited reason was the somewhat vague “better opportunities elsewhere,” with a whopping 84.6% indicating this is a reason that would drive their departure (Figure 7). Few patterns emerge when examining the other responses in this question to identify more precise motivations. Respondents still ranked “pay/compensation” highly (80.9%); it was followed distantly by “new job in same field” (66.1%). Also, respondents appear not to be concerned with the possibility of being downsized for any reason and only slightly concerned with the potential for dismissal or termination.

Finally, although 60.7% of respondents indicated that they would consider departing based on their “relationship with manager/supervisor,” there was no shift in response from 2015 to 2017. In other words, the saying that “people don’t leave good jobs, they leave bad bosses” plays a role in whether workers stay or go, but perhaps not as significant a factor as generally thought. If anything, the data from Figures 7 and 8 suggest that these types of decisions often do come down to pay and compensation.

However, the data in Figure 8 also include a constellation of drivers that, when taken together, suggest that industrial workers are picking up on whether their plant is part of an organization that is one of the “haves” – an organization that has decided to invest in both technology and human capital, and which thereby represents a “better opportunity” for workers.

Consider the following factors cited by between 45% and 60% of survey respondents as affecting their decision to stay or leave:

  • Work-life balance (56.2%)
  • Opportunity to advance within the company (56.2%)
  • Relationship with manager / supervisor (51.9%)
  • Leadership / management (49.7%)
  • Opportunity to learn new skills (48.6%)

The factors have something important in common: the sense by an employee that he or she is being invested in by both the larger organization and by their direct managers. These results complement the other survey findings that executive-level communication, direction, follow-through, and strategic effectiveness are top-level worker concerns. (This also may explain why “ethical corporate culture” was the response that ranked dead last in Figure 8, as respondents to our survey generally valued organizational competence and support more than they did organizational ethics.)

A review of survey responses to questions on training adds further depth to the value workers place on the ways their organizations invest in them. Figure 9 captures the results when respondents were asked about the types of formal workforce training/development programs in place at their facility. Across the board, respondents indicated that training and development program opportunities have declined at their facilities, dropping from an average of 58.4% available in 2015 to just 48.3% available in 2017.

Even more striking, when asked about the types of professional certifications that were made available to workers by their organizations, half of respondents said that none of the leading certifications was available to them (see Figure 10). And, although 91.8% of respondents in a separate question indicated that some sort of professional development option, from e-learning to coaching, was available, 38.3% of respondents added that their workplace did not measure training effectiveness in any way (see Figure 11).

Taken together, the survey data on training and certifications reinforce the larger picture of an industry divided into organizations that do and do not invest in human capital, as well as a workforce that is increasingly attuned to the degree to which the organization is committed to their personal success and well-being.

In their report “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond,” Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute claim that “eighty percent of manufacturing executives reported they are willing to pay more than the market rates in workforce areas reeling under talent crisis. Still six out of 10 positions remain unfilled. ...  Additionally, executives reported it takes an average of 94 days to recruit employees in the engineer / researcher / scientist fields, and an average of 70 days to recruit skilled production workers. Facing these numbers, it comes as no surprise why manufacturers report the most significant business impact of the talent shortage is their ability to meet customer demand.”

Respondents to our 2017 Workforce survey clearly recognize how challenging it can be for an organization to recruit effectively and execute to plan. It remains to be seen how many organizations in our industry will be able to rise to the challenge of finding new talent while investing enough in their current workforce to reduce turnover and increase job satisfaction.

Click here to read Part 1