By Sally Hunter, Managing Director

The economy has seen its share of highs and lows. With recent signals pointing to a potential global recession, employers are preparing for what may come and how it’ll impact talent acquisition. Here’s a tip: looking to the past can help.

Historically, manufacturing has been hit hard by economic downturns but often recovers quickly. Exploring how this industry made it through past recessions will help TA leaders across sectors create strategies to handle what’s coming – and emerge even stronger. Here are some tactics to implement in your company:

Change perceptions
A 2021 survey found that only 3.5% of Gen Z respondents were interested in working in manufacturing. Many people still view the industry as less innovative and forward-thinking than others. But the leading global manufacturers are changing that perception, investing in digital transformation and technology that helps workers do their jobs better to stay competitive while giving them a path to a rewarding career.

Employers in other sectors may face similar barriers when it comes to opinions of their industry or company, particularly with the changing employee and candidate dynamics since 2020. From your employer branding to recruitment marketing – and even broader PR efforts – you can build a more modern perception that’ll entice a broader pool of candidates and give them the confidence to choose your company.

Think outside the box
Just as you want candidates to think differently about you, you need to think differently about them. And manufacturers continue to evolve their ideal candidate profile when unpredictability strikes.

If you only source candidates who check certain boxes (in terms of their skills, previous work experience, or education level), you’ll overlook highly qualified talent. Candidates with traits core to the role may be a great fit even if their resume is “nontraditional”. And the manufacturing industry knows that, gaining access to more talent by weighing a candidate’s strengths over experience. The sector also continues to evolve its approach to early talent and training. Remember: it’s sometimes faster and easier to train than to hold out for the perfect match.

Invest in a localized approach
Looking locally may seem counterintuitive when the potential talent pool extends farther than ever. But when talent is scarce and the need to build your pipeline is strong, it pays to narrow your search.

Manufacturing companies have mastered this strategy by partnering with local high schools, technical colleges, and universities to prepare and funnel highly qualified candidates into their open roles. Trade and professional associations also help them connect with skilled talent who may be passively searching. You can follow suit by engaging with local schools or sector-related associations to design apprentice, intern, or mentorship programs.

Curate a culture of growth
During economic ups and downs, retention matters. Employee retention depends largely on feeling satisfied, valued and secure in their roles – today and in the long run.

In an industry that relies on specialized skills, many manufacturers have shifted their focus to cross-training and upskilling. Boosting education opportunities in your company will expand employees’ capabilities and opportunities to grow their careers internally. For example, global manufacturer CoorsTek created an academy that supports learning and growth for both new hires and existing employees – reducing turnover rates by just under 10% and meeting hiring targets when competitors were struggling.

Consider the candidate experience
Candidate expectations are always evolving. The manufacturing industry knows the top frustrations are a lack of response to applications, a confusing application process, or difficulty scheduling an interview.

It all starts with communication and understanding your target candidates’ preferences and expectations. Many manufacturing workers aren’t sitting behind a desk, so text is often more effective than email. Other sectors should consider similar recruitment strategies that make it easier for candidates to connect when and where is best for them.

Despite the economic uncertainty, lessons learned from manufacturing during past recessions can help talent acquisition leaders prepare. Thinking creatively about recruiting and retention will help your company remain strong and rise above the challenges.


Connect with Sally on LinkedIn.