Three Steps to Retaining Skilled Workers in Manufacturing

skilled workers

We’re all reading the same things: workforce shortages, high turnover, a retiring workforce, etc.

Now more than ever, leaders at manufacturing companies are taking the lead on new technologies that improve daily efficiencies. But there’s a roadblock: it’s tough to find and keep skilled labor in manufacturing.

For too long manufacturing companies have focused strictly on recruiting. But with recruiting metrics favoring the advertiser and not the manufacturer’s recruiting budget, retention is being revisited.

Why? Because it’s less expensive to keep your people than it is to replace them. It’s safer to coach employees than to replace bad habits. And you can build a culture when people stick around.

Given anyone reading this also wants to improve staff retention, I have some simple advice:

Listen to your people.

Act on what they say.

And respond to show them that change is happening.

Below are a few tactics you can apply to steadily make improvements in increasing driver retention.


Listen to your frontline workers. Be open to asking open-ended questions instead of survey questions, which introduce bias. This allows staff to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here’s an example of why this is recommended: when we analyzed 35,000 workers’ feedback last year, pay was one of the top four issues (as you would expect). However, the top issue within the pay theme wasn’t about wanting more money. The top issues within pay were “I don’t understand my pay” and “my pay is incorrect.”

By asking open-ended questions we can understand the root of the issues causing workers to seek new opportunities.

Listen to their expectations when they join your team. Expectations for a new hire are the glue that makes or breaks their trust with your company. Aligning expectations on pay, scheduling, equipment and communication are crucial and set your relationship up for success.

Listen to the industry. Every company embraces safety and has an open door policy. Those are table stakes. Pay attention to the pay raises and other incentives that are being shared with new staff in your market. If you are seeing these trends, better believe your workers noticed it first.

Listen to the online chatter. Workers are sharing feedback somewhere. Forums, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Facebook are becoming increasingly popular avenues to talk shop. If you don’t know what’s being said, you can’t do anything about it.

But listening is only part of the battle. When we ask for worker feedback, it’s important they see action come from it.


Find small wins. For example, if a vending machine is broken in the lounge, get it fixed quickly. It’s a small thing, but it’s an indicator that your company is attentive to worker needs.

Act with bigger initiatives. Change is hard. But showing workers substantial changes based on feedback can make all the difference. For example, if your workers are noticing inefficiencies during a specific shift, you could put a task force together to map out improvements in the process.

When we close the feedback loop, we have to respond. The most toxic thing we can do is ask for feedback and do nothing with it, followed closely by acting and not communicating that feedback led the charge.

Here are a few ways you can close the feedback loop:


Share regular progress updates on company feedback. Highlight actions (even small wins), bigger changes and clear up miscommunications. The rumor mill runs wild if you don’t communicate directly and continuously.

Take advantage of multiple communication styles to reach workers in the way they communicate. Connect via text, email, conference calls, town halls, and even Facebook live to share updates.

Show that deliberation is happening. Sometimes skilled workers simply need to see that their ideas and issues are being discussed in the office and at the leadership level. Even if you can’t make a change, explaining why you can’t goes a long way.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to skilled labor turnover. But respect is more valuable than higher pay almost any day. By committing to a continuous feedback loop with your workers you will show that your company is listening, working to get better and that their voice matters at your company. There’s nothing more powerful than that.

If you’re ready to learn more about retaining your company’s skilled workers, reach out to talk with an expert.

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