When history is written, the current recession may go down as one of the more unusual ones for the United States' economy. Unlike the Great Recession in the late 2000s, when hiring fell virtually across the board and the unemployment rate grew in response, many industries are still feverishly seeking job applicants, which has kept the national jobless rate quite low. But other major employment sectors — such as IT and finance — are downsizing due to poor earnings and diminished demand.

An industry that's in the former category is manufacturing, as a new report shows the overwhelming majority of employers in the sector are experiencing a workforce shortage.

More than 3 in 4 manufacturing companies are experiencing problems with hiring and retaining skilled workers, according to a newly released survey from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAR). With 76% of polled respondents indicating as much, staffing shortages were second only to supply chain disruptions as producers' most common challenge.

Chad Moutray, the NAR's chief economist, pointed out that hiring and maintaining staff have been persistent pain points for producers for quite some time now.

"Companies continue to have workforce issues," Moutray explained, as reported by Supply Chain Dive. "Some are raising wages and still are having difficulties finding anybody, which is holding back their ability to expand and stay productive."

What's also impeding their output is retention. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as of October, manufacturers have the highest quit rate of all industries at 5.5%, with wholesale and retail trade in a distant second (3.2%). As a result, 40% of job openings in manufacturing are unfilled, U.S. Chamber of Commerce data also shows.

Hiring woes continue to plague manufacturers.Hiring woes continue to plague manufacturers.

Similar to other industries, when it comes to insufficient employment, the pandemic was the tipping point. Many producers were already experiencing problems with hiring and then the measures designed to curb the transmissibility of COVID-19 forced some employers to cut their payrolls. But with those same manufacturers now hiring again, workers remain on the sidelines, despite business owners raising wages to attract them back. Producers expect to keep doing so for the foreseeable future, according to the NAM poll.

It isn't all about the money
More money can't be their only strategy, according to Paul Wellener, vice chair of industrial products at Deloitte. Wellener told Supply Chain Dive that other incentives individuals seek include flexible work arrangements and opportunities to learn new skill sets through training. Training has been more of a focus for manufacturers of late but also even before the pandemic. In 2019, for example, they collectively spent $26.2 billion on internal and external training programs, according to NAM figures

Manufacturers are also increasingly embracing remote and hybrid work environments. As a Gallup poll in 2021 revealed, approximately 9 in 10 respondents at the time said they wanted to continue taking advantage of the ability to work from home when the lockdown measures were fully lifted. A majority said hybrid was their preferred work environment.

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