In keeping with the latest jobs numbers, a recent Manufacturing Institute survey has found that for the industry, “The Great Resignation” is really more of a “Great Retirement.”

The government numbers: There were 808,000 manufacturing job openings in February, down from January’s 859,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. February’s number is also down from the manufacturing sector’s 11-month average of 867,000.

  • However, the number of manufacturing quits rose from 315,000 in January to 337,000 in February, which is a new record.

Survey data: In the MI’s February survey of 3,000 Americans:

  • Eighty-two percent of survey respondents who left a manufacturing job in the past six months retired due to age or for health-related reasons.
  • The remaining 18% resigned or were laid off.
  • Of the 18% who resigned or were laid off, 73% are back to work in a different manufacturing job, 7% are working in a different industry and 20% are still looking for work.

Big gains have been made in recent years in the public’s perception of manufacturing as an innovative industry, but awareness of the sector’s many positives lags, with its labor shortage a continued concern for business leaders, according to a joint Deloitte–MI survey out today.

Key findings: Among the most notable highlights from the study, “Competing for talent: Recasting perceptions of manufacturing,” are the following data points:

  • Sixty-four percent of consumers surveyed see manufacturing as innovative, a 25% gain from the 39% reported by respondents in 2017.
  • Eighty-three percent of manufacturers surveyed cited attraction and retention of a quality workforce as top concerns.
  • Most workers still prefer employment in other sectors, such as retail and services, to manufacturing.

Why it matters: “U.S. manufacturing is at an inflection point: The sector is increasingly viewed as crucial to economic and pandemic recovery, yet outdated public perceptions could be impacting recruitment of vital new workers,” according to the Deloitte–MI news release.

  • A continued shortage of manufacturing workers could stymie economic growth and manufacturing competitiveness.

Bright spots: There were several positive takeaways from the findings, however.

  • Eighty percent of people surveyed said they might be interested in jobs “with enhanced training and clear career paths,” according to the release.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic opened the public’s eyes to the criticality of the manufacturing sector, as it produced much-needed PPE and ventilators.
  • Eighty-four percent of manufacturing executive respondents believe their companies are effectively fostering an equitable and inclusive work environment.

The last word: “Manufacturers are working hard to fill open jobs and connect more Americans with rewarding careers, including through efforts like Creators Wanted, the industry’s largest campaign to build the workforce of tomorrow,” said MI President Carolyn Lee.

  • “As an industry, we are focused on continuing to improve perceptions, so that students, parents, educators and more understand the great opportunities available in modern manufacturing. With new or strengthened initiatives, companies can engage new employees, keep existing employees and bolster their reputations of providing sought-after careers in their communities.”

Why it matters:

  • The MI’s survey suggests that retirements are a bigger issue than quits, at least among respondents.
  • The majority of those who are quitting are remaining in manufacturing.

The NAM’s take: “For many Americans, the pandemic has forced a realignment of priorities in terms of work–life balance, including increased retirement rates,” said MI Center for Manufacturing Research Director Chad Moutray.

  • “While overall quit rates remain elevated, there is some comfort in knowing that a fair share of these separations stem from workers opting to retire. This exacerbates the workforce shortages that manufacturers and other businesses are experiencing, but it is also consistent with overall demographic trends, albeit one that might have been somewhat accelerated for some workers. In addition, the tight labor market has encouraged some workers to explore other opportunities, and there is also comfort in knowing that these employees are remaining in-sector, at least according to our survey.”