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Manufacturing’s Talent Search

The struggle to attract and retain talent has been an ongoing challenge for manufacturers. According to a 2024 first quarter survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, the inability to attract and retain employees was the number one concern for more than 65% of manufacturers. This same survey found that about 8 of 10 respondents noted that increased compensation has helped keep their company competitive in recruiting and retention. A majority of those surveyed noted that flexibility of production workers helped to retain and attract staff. While these solutions have helped quell concerns, this article will focus on some of the unique strategies manufacturers have adopted to tackle this issue.

Alumni Networks

Alumni networks are groups of former employees (retired or otherwise) who remain connected to the company and other former employees through formal and informal channels. Fortune 500 companies have been leveraging their alumni to assist with various aspects of the business. According to an Alumni Enterprise 2019 research report, 98% of Fortune 500 Companies have some kind of alumni program. The Harvard Business Review found that alumni networks served as a resource for new business opportunities, enhanced branding and reputation, created opportunities for referrals and rehires, along with other benefits. The benefits in the hiring and talent side are clear; rehiring former employees can save 50% of the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training due to the employees’ prior knowledge. These networks vary in costs due to the age and complexity of the programs, as some have taken on these projects internally, while others have looked externally to develop these networks. The Harvard Business review found that of those surveyed 36% had a budget of under $60k, while 20% have budgets over $300k. The large swings can be attributed to the level of complexity in the technology provided along with the age of the alumni program in place.

Leveraging and Working with Schools

A 2021 study found that the skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. A different study found the average age of the manufacturing work force is 44 years old and approximately 8% of the workforce is under the age of 25. With the workforce aging, manufacturers are turning towards local schools to cultivate and develop partnerships. Manufacturers have developed programs such as America’s Cutting Edge, Operation Next, NextFlex, and MEP National Network. One study found that of the students participating in Manufacturing Institute’s MFG days 84% stated that manufacturing provided careers that are interesting and rewarding and 64% said that they were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing. The overall impact of these programs is still unknown; however, the number of programs such as the above are growing, showing the importance the industry has placed on growing its pipeline and garnering interest in the industry.


A study was conducted in 2023 on the manufacturing industry’s application of the metaverse. The metaverse is defined in the study as the convergence of individual technologies that, when used in combination, can create an immersive three-dimensional virtual or virtual/physical industrial environment. In the study, it was found that 92% of the executives surveyed noted that their companies were experimenting with or implementing at least one metaverse-related use case. The survey broke down investment into the metaverse into four major categories: production, customer interaction, supply chain, and talent. Taking it another step forward, of the respondents implementing, 17% noted that they were in the process of integrating talent technology. This technology included examples of augmented and virtual reality aiding in immersive, on-the-job training, virtual plant tours for potential candidates, and a virtual onboarding process. The study does point out that the cost of implementation is a key hindrance for a wide scale adoption by the industry, as 51% of the respondents called out the cost to implement. Despite implementation costs, many of the executives in the study found that metaverse technology is critical in upskilling employees and, to some degree, benefits employee engagement, productivity, and attracting and retaining talent.

Recruiting and retention is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The industry has certainly found a multitude of options to help develop and attract talent, whether that is with existing resources or the implementation and development of new and advanced solutions.

Please reach out to a member of our Manufacturing & Distribution team for more information on the topic outlined above. For more information regarding our Manufacturing & Distribution experience, visit our Manufacturing & Distribution industry page.

About the Author

Dan Dorgan

Dan joined McKonly & Asbury in 2018 and is currently a Manager with the firm. He is a member of the firm’s Audit & Assurance Segment, primarily working with clients in the manufacturing and construction industries. Dan also perfor… Read more

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