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David RobertsonMar 7, 2022 12:45:35 PM4 min read

How manufacturers can beat “The Great Resignation”

They call it the Great Resignation. A term coined by a Texas university professor to describe the tidal wave of people in the United States quitting their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, as workers began to re-think where, how and why they work.

Rather than abate, as the risk from Covid diminishes in the US, the great resignation trend is worsening. A record 4.5 million workers in America quit their jobs in the latter months of 2021 as the employment market made a seismic shift from one where job hopefuls sell themselves to the company to one where the company now has to sell itself to the candidate.

As so often happens, a trend that starts in the States eventually washes up on the shores of the UK. According to MakeUK, the UK’s manufacturing labour turnover rate hit a record high of 17.6% in 2020, driven by levers such as voluntary resignation, redundancies, and dismissals. But does this really amount to a great resignation? The good news is probably not: Yet.

Dig deeper into the statistics and that figure falls by half to 8.1% when redundancies are excluded. And there are big sectoral and regional differences with automotive experiencing a 30% rise in churn compared to a 7.3% rise in basic metals manufacturing. This chimes with Yorkshire and the Humber (metals) posting the lowest manufacturing churn rate of 10.7%; and the West Midlands (closely linked to automotive) reporting the highest churn rate of 23.8%.

That said, despite record levels of employment in the UK, the number of unfilled job roles is also at a record high. Economist Hamish McRae rightly points out that: “a strong job market is a comfort. The fact that unfilled vacancies are at a record level means that this is a better time to switch jobs than most people will have ever experienced in their working lives. You can leave a job safely because you know there are a string of others out there.”

In our work with SME precision engineering firms across the UK, the ability to attract and retain talent and skills within the business is fast becoming their number one issue ( with the sudden surge in energy prices coming in a very close second). So what can they do to avoid repeating the Great Resignation impacting on their future?

Here are a top five tips drawn from our conversations with manufacturers and our own research:

Image of two men having a meeting at a table

1. Review your hiring practices

  • Conduct an employer brand audit
    • Based on these results, you should take steps to strengthen your employer's brand and repair any damage
  • Assess current and future skills needs and build a talent pipeline for the future to:
    • Improve recruitment outcomes and speed up the hiring process
  • Determine a competitive salary package (Salaries rank as the top factor when changing jobs)
    • Salaries rank as the top factor when changing jobs
  • Focus on meaningful benefits such as:
    • Remote working
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Health insurance
    • Career development
  • Strengthen your onboarding process
    • Training to ensure new recruits have the skills and resources to be both comfortable and successful
Image of O&G Manufacturer's factory

2. Improve employee engagement

Making sure your employees feel valued is more important than remuneration. Well-targeted employee communication and recognition programmes along with transparency and integrity throughout the company have been found to lead to:

  • 70% improved production rates
  • 78% higher safety records
  • 70% lower churn rates
  • 44% greater profit

While formal internal comms are vital, do not neglect the personal touch. One recent study found that 37% of employees feel most encouraged by personal recognition.

Shop floor manager with machine operative

3. Encourage young talent

Lower turnover rates are linked to younger workforces, together with incentives recalibrated towards what workers value most today. Progressive firms like Produmax have reduced the average age of their workforce from 55 years old to 32 years old and raised the number of females in the business to 20%. They have done this by:

  • Developing close links with local further education colleges, secondary schools and now primary schools as this is a long term change strategy
  • Investing in an extensive apprenticeship programme
  • Ditching the ‘time served’ approach to promotion to one based on talent and skill
  • Use their own apprentices as ambassadors to ‘sell’ engineering as a career
  • Identifying ‘digital natives’ to drive adoption of Industry 4.0
Machine operative operating CNC machine in factory

4. Skills and talent development

  • Ongoing professional development has been proven effective in retaining top talent
  • Use of apprenticeships and lifelong learning to create pathways to talent development
  • Identify digital skills gaps and people with the capacity to fulfil those roles with training
  • Make sure your own managers have the skills needed to lead their teams through change

5. Weave well-being into the workplace

Generating schedules that maximise productivity and employee satisfaction is critical not only of the smooth running of a shop floor but the well-being of operatives.

  • Tackle the risk of burnout by leveraging technology to create fair schedules and better match staff to demand
  • Explore how hybrid and flexible working could be incorporated into schedules
    • Beware of working from home burnout caused by endless zoom meetings
  • Use regular pulse surveys, one-to-ones and shop floor walks to pick up early warning signs of burnout and stress

Most of the companies we have spoken to are already implementing many of these simple – but sometimes challenging –- changes to the business culture.

So, given the difference in trends between the UK and the US, and the proactive response of many UK firms, perhaps what we are seeing is less of 'A great resignation', and more of what McRae calls a “great churn. Lots of people leaving jobs, but there are also lots of new and different jobs being created. Indeed, alongside the record churn, 2021 was also a record year for tech start-ups and other investments, with nearly £30bn going into technology companies, up from £11.5bn last year. A possible cause of complacency. But no reason for resignation.


David Robertson

David is currently the Digital Marketing Manager at FourJaw. David has a background in marketing and data analytics having worked for a number of ISPs and technology companies during his career to date. At FourJaw David blends his analytics capabilities with his passion for creating and delivering engaging user-focused digital experiences.