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How to Boost Manufacturing’s Image


Many U.S. manufacturing companies today are in the midst of a talent war, competing with Silicon Valley tech giants and multinational corporations for skilled employees. As talent becomes a strategic imperative in determining future competitiveness and differentiation, U.S. manufacturing CMOs and other executives will likely need to work to improve the public perception of their companies, as well as the overall industry, to help make manufacturing a preferred destination for the world’s top talent.

According to a recent study by Deloitte, the Manufacturing Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM),¹ the vast majority of Americans surveyed believe manufacturing is very important or important to maintaining America’s economic prosperity (83 percent), standard of living (81 percent), and national security (62 percent). At the same time, many Americans surveyed believe more could be done to foster manufacturing in the U.S., including adopting a more strategic approach (76 percent), investing in programs that spur innovation (71 percent), and ensuring the development of a strong manufacturing base is a national priority (69 percent).

Manufacturing’s Perception Problem. It seems many Americans do not have a positive impression of current manufacturing jobs, according to the study. Fewer than half of Americans surveyed believe U.S. manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, and secure. Furthermore, only 45 percent of Americans surveyed believe the school system in their community provides exposure to the science, technology, engineering, and math skills required to pursue a career in manufacturing—and only 24 percent believe their local school system encourages students to pursue careers in manufacturing. Roughly one-third of Americans surveyed say they would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career today, pointing to concerns about job security, career advancement, and pay.

The Future of Manufacturing. Despite current perception challenges, the outlook for manufacturing appears brighter. According to the survey, 41 percent of Americans believe the industry will grow stronger in the long term, compared with 29 percent in a 2014 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. Americans surveyed believe future manufacturing jobs will require higher levels of technical expertise and skills, occur in cleaner and safer environments, require less manual labor, and be more innovative than those today.To help improve public perception of manufacturing today and attract top talent, CMOs at U.S. manufacturing companies may benefit from considering the following tactics:

Host industry events. To educate the public about the benefits of working in the manufacturing industry, companies can produce or participate in events such as those tied to Manufacturing Day™, an industry wide celebration of modern manufacturing produced by NAM. At these events, manufacturers can disseminate information about the industry, gain exposure for their companies, introduce potential candidates to careers in manufacturing, and draw attention to the role manufacturing plays in the community. Americans surveyed believe future manufacturing jobs will require higher levels of technical expertise and skills, occur in cleaner and safer environments, require less manual labor, and be more innovative than those today.

Launch awareness and recruitment campaigns. Manufacturing companies can help raise brand as well as industry awareness through campaigns aimed at job seekers that highlight the benefits of working for modern manufacturing companies. Digital industrial giant General Electric Co., for example, in 2016 launched a recruitment campaign called “What’s the Matter with Owen?” aimed at millennial workers.

Invest in skills development and recruitment. According to the Deloitte survey, the initiatives that would most increase respondents’ interest in manufacturing jobs are internships, work-study programs, and apprenticeships (67 percent); certification or degree programs for manufacturing skills training (62 percent); and on-campus recruiting. By investing in these types of high-interest programs, manufacturing companies may be able to attract more qualified candidates.

Leverage key demographic segments. Certain segments of the U.S. population have more favorable perceptions of manufacturing than the general public, according to the survey. For example, Americans who currently work or have worked in this sector are nearly twice as likely to encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career as those who have not, the survey found. The survey also found that, if given an opportunity to build a new facility in their local community that would create 1,000 new jobs, respondents who are very familiar with manufacturing, parents of school-age children, and members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976) would choose manufacturing over other industries such as energy, technology, and health care. Companies may want to strategically recruit members of these demographic segments as brand ambassadors to help improve perceptions of manufacturing among their social and community networks.

Design collaboration initiatives. Manufacturers may benefit from tapping into an ecosystem of industry, government, and academic organizations to foster innovation and create more opportunities to attract top talent across a broad spectrum of groups. Ecosystem players can come together to develop awareness-raising campaigns and recruitment initiatives.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal.