With significant people challenges, from labour shortages to skills gaps, the question of how to improve employee engagement in manufacturing is a crucial one for the industry. Our national survey reveals answers from the workers.

Some of these problems stem from the fact that, despite automating rapidly, the sector has an ageing workforce that it’s struggling to replenish.

Just over a third (36%) of vacancies at all levels are proving hard to fill. This compares to an average rate of 24% across the wider economy. As a result, finding ways to engage, motivate and retain existing employees has become more important than ever.

This is why we recently conducted a study of 500 manufacturing employees in the UK and Ireland to shed light on their needs, concerns, and priorities. This is what we found:

How to improve employee engagement in manufacturing

1. Review pay and benefits

Unsurprisingly, in difficult economic times, additional income or spending power makes a big difference. According to our manufacturing employee engagement survey, ‘increased salary or bonus’ is the most significant motivating factor for 46% of employees.

Moreover, 51% made it clear that a pay increase or bonus would encourage them to stay with their current employer for longer. Underlining this further, ‘inadequate pay and benefits’ was the most popular reason chosen to leave an employer sooner.

Given all this, it would appear sensible for manufacturing payroll and HR professionals to review their current pay and benefits and establish whether any uplift is possible.

2. Create a positive workplace culture

Another vital consideration in employee retention is creating a positive workplace culture. Such a culture is developed out of many elements. But a key consideration for many employees is having access to flexible working arrangements (32%).

For other respondents though, ‘a more supportive work culture’ (21%) and being ‘recognised for their achievements’ (23%) are key motivators for staying put in a role. By way of contrast, 38% said they would actively choose to leave if subjected to a ‘toxic or unsupportive workplace’.

These findings suggest that fostering support and recognition is a vital ingredient in engaging and retaining manufacturing employees.

3. Provide the right training for Industry 4.0

Manufacturing employees see rising levels of automation and the increased adoption of so-called Industry 4.0 technologies as largely positive. These technologies include AI, advanced robotics, and the internet of things (IoT).

But just over a quarter (26%) also foresee ‘difficulties and challenges’ ahead, fearing that AI and automation could replace their jobs. Unsurprisingly then, two thirds of respondents consider learning and development as either ‘important’ (23%) or ‘very important’ (43%) to help them feel more confident and work more effectively.

In fact, 30% of employees said they would feel more motivated if they were offered ‘better career progression opportunities’. A further 28%, on the other hand, stated that ‘poor training and skills development’ would cause them to leave.

On the upside, a total of two thirds indicated their current employer offered either ‘high quality’ (33%) or ‘very high quality’ (32%) training. On the downside, the remaining 35% were either dissatisfied or neutral, indicating that work remains to be done here.

Some 36% of respondents across the board also revealed that they would benefit from more practical training and training sessions. A further 34% said they would value ‘more mentoring and coaching’.

Manufacturing HR professionals should bear all this in mind when developing upskilling and reskilling programmes. Other key activities include identifying skills gaps across the workforce and filling them by means of structured training and continued professional development.

4. Listen to the needs of older workers

According to industry body Make UK, three quarters of manufacturers are worried about what will happen when the industry’s ageing workforce starts to retire in ever greater numbers.

One approach is to complement the recruitment of younger staff by encouraging older workers to prolong their careers. But even if they choose to do so, there is still the challenge of helping them adapt to a changing industry and the rise of new technologies.

The secret to success is to understand this age group’s specific needs, listen to their concerns, and act on them. Flexible working arrangements, for example, are especially important to people aged 45-54 (40%). Salary is a particular imperative for the over 54s (53%), as is having a supportive workplace culture (34%).

Moreover, as the industry continues to transition, it’s worth bearing in mind that previously physically demanding jobs are progressively likely to morph into roles requiring softer skills, such as problem-solving. This situation opens up many more employment possibilities for older, experienced workers.

Report: What matters to manufacturing employees: How to raise engagement and retention

Download the full 35-page report to discover more on how to improve employee engagement in manufacturing:

  • What makes employees feel more and less motivated
  • How they regard the growing use of automation and AI
  • The varying needs and attitudes of different age groups
  • Factors that encourage employees to stay in a role for longer
  • What drives employees to leave a role sooner
  • Key recommendations for engagement and retention
Download the report here