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Combating the Skilled Workers Shortage in Manufacturing

Image by Gorodenkoff/Adobe Stock 3D printing biotech medical device manufacturing
Here are 7 ways medical device companies can improve their recruitment and retention efforts.

The COVID-19 pandemic furthered the known skilled workforce shortage within the American manufacturing industry. According to a May 2021 report by Deloitte, the manufacturing industry is currently trying to fill nearly half a million job openings, a number that is expected to grow. 1 These increasing numbers have made attracting and retaining a skilled workforce a top concern for most manufacturing organizations.

There are multiple reasons to help explain the considerable shortage of skilled workers within the manufacturing industry. The first reason is that younger individuals have different expectations for careers. The lack of interest and negative image that younger individuals have of the manufacturing industry can be attributed to the prevalent misconceptions of the industry. Additionally, many recent college graduates view manufacturing as an industry for people who did not pursue higher education and one with limited opportunities for career advancement. A second contributor to the shortage is that many positions in the manufacturing industry were filled by the Baby Boomer generation who have retired. According to the Manufacturing Institute, in 2019, nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce was 55 years old or older. 2 The rate of retirement within the Baby Boomer generation is very rapid. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 3.2 million more baby boomers retired in the third quarter of 2020 than did in the same quarter of 2019. 3 The third reason for the shortage is competition with the e-commerce space. Companies are competing for talent with warehouse and distribution centers from companies like Amazon.

Clearly, the current labor shortage is a valid concern. It also is one that organizations can address by following strategies that have proven successful. Those strategies include:

  • Implementing comprehensive recruitment and retention programs
  • Developing messaging
  • Partnering with trusted advisors

Employers can combat the skilled labor shortage and reach their organizational goals by understanding each of these strategies and implementing them in ways most suitable to their organizations.

What Can Medtech Employers Do?

Despite the startling statistics of manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled, there are things that medical device companies can do to improve their recruitment and retention efforts. The guidance below offers suggestions for developing a successful recruitment and retention program.

  1. Expand Candidate Search. Employers should review their job descriptions, determine what essential skills can be learned on the job or through job training programs, and determine whether prior experience or certain higher education degrees are required prior to starting employment. This step can qualify new populations, including those who are unemployed and may be hard workers and eager to learn. An example of an initiative that targets viable candidates who might not have many years of manufacturing experience is one that recruits veterans.
  2. Form Community Partnerships. Partnerships with the community can help recruit new employees. Partnerships can include apprenticeship programs, relationships with community and technical colleges, and internship programs. Additionally, by having open houses that include plant tours, employers can give possible employees the experience of what the workplace is like and the chance to get to know people within the organization. Something as simple as having a raffle at a job fair can help lead to more job applications.
  3. Strengthen Diversity Initiatives. Employers that expand their efforts to increase diversity can benefit from having more possible candidates for open roles. Because people tend to learn about job opportunities through their social circles, even a small number of diverse hires can expand your talent pool and broaden the reach of your recruiting network for future openings. In addition to cultivating community partnerships, it helps to become known as a welcoming organization that fosters relationships and supports opportunities for anyone joining its workforce.
  4. Offer Comprehensive Training Programs. Investing in comprehensive training programs will increase current employees' skill levels and train new employees who lack extensive manufacturing backgrounds. Employers should promote that they offer careers and not just jobs to increase applications and to hire long-term employees. One helpful approach is to create individualized employee development plans that incorporate participation in training programs. Additionally, implementing mentorship programs that pair a seasoned employee with a newer employee can help bridge the knowledge gap. 
  5. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements. Offering more flexible work schedule options with employees can be a strong offering when competing for employees. Examples include flexible work start times, flexible paid time off, shift swapping, compressed or short weeks, offering floating holidays, offering part-time positions, and options to buy and sell vacation and paid time off. These types of flexibility can be complex to manage operationally, but they can also be a major selling point for workers.
  6. Support Employee Morale. Invest the time and energy to keep your current employees happy, feeling appreciated, and connected to the culture of your company.  Whether through inclusive company events, genuine one-on-one conversations, or efforts to support the community, you can strengthen your organization by fostering a sense that people belong. Satisfied employees who feel valued, safe, and well-compensated will speak positively about their employers to their communities.
  7. Use Creative Messaging to Inspire Purpose. Be thoughtful about how you promote your organization. Illustrating what the business is about, what the job entails, and what the workplace is like can help with recruitment efforts. Use job ads to highlight what’s distinctive about your culture and to talk about the type of person who fits your organization. Use creative messaging about what your business produces or supplies—tap into people’s desire to make something tangible, especially in a world that is increasingly virtual. 

Getting Started: How Medical Device Companies Can Work with Trusted Advisors

Developing recruitment and retention programs can seem like a daunting task—but it doesn’t have to feel that way. Collaborating with a trusted insurance and risk management advisor that understands your organization, goals, and the types of employees your organization needs for success is a way to develop these essential programs. Your advisor can help with benchmarking reports to make sure your pay and benefits packages are competitive. Additionally, your advisor can supply sample recruitment, retention, and safety programs and help identify new populations who could become your newest employees. In addition, your advisor will keep you updated on all local, state, and federal information. Your advisors are invested in your success and eager to help.


  1. "Creating Pathways for Tomorrow’s Workforce Today," Wellener, Paul et al, Deloitte, 
  2. "The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce: Challenges and Best Practice, July 2019," Manufacturing Institute, 
  3. "The Pace of Boomer Retirements Has Accelerated in the Past Year," Fry, Richard, Pew Research Center, 


Blair Koorsen is the Business Development Manager and Micah Vose is an Insurance Advisor with RBN Insurance Services.

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