Once again, Arizona is basking in the sunshine, not just because of spring temperatures. The new business gods continue to smile on our state, bringing new economic development opportunities, good-paying jobs and the need for more Arizona manufacturing workers.

Phoenix’s recent designation as the top market for manufacturing growth is particularly noteworthy. The ranking from Newmark Group Inc. is unsurprising given the steady stream of relocation and expansion announcements.

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Phoenix and Arizona are burgeoning hubs for manufacturers. After all, the environment is ideal, with easy access to Mexico and roads and freeways that make getting from Point A to Point B easy. There also is plenty of industrial space for companies to set up operations.

Perhaps the biggest magnet for attracting manufacturers here is talent. Arizona is home to 182,000 manufacturing workers, representing 6% of the total labor force. When the manufacturing supply chain jobs are included, the numbers jump to more than 633,000 workers, representing 16% of the state’s labor force.

Along with hundreds of thousands of skilled workers are Arizona’s top-notch colleges, universities and technical schools that can help prepare workers from the assembly and production lines to supervising teams and engineering, human resources and more.

That’s not to say that Arizona can rest on its laurels. In a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, three-quarters of manufacturing leaders said attracting and retaining top talent was their primary business challenge.

Part of the reason is that the manufacturing workforce is changing, and some roles in specializations such as semiconductors, solar panels and electric vehicles are difficult to fill. The other part is what manufacturing experts call the “silver tsunami,” with retiring older, experienced workers outnumbering younger workers who can fill the open positions. There is also substantial workforce churn, which screams for a comprehensive talent retention strategy.

As a recruiter for the manufacturing industry, I have seen firsthand the obstacles today’s manufacturers face in filling jobs and I understand what it will take to continue building the talent pipeline.

It starts with flexibility. The National Association of Manufacturers survey notes that nearly 47% of executives are offering a range of scheduling options for their employees, including remote work, compressed workweeks and the opportunity to split shifts.

Other considerations:

  • Reimagined pay, benefits and titles. My experience tells me and research confirms that manufacturing workers want competitive pay, better schedules and titles that reflect the contributions to their teams. Manufacturers are heeding this call, with an average 4% increase in hourly earnings for their staff from fiscal 2022 and the first quarter of fiscal 2023. This move is having a positive impact: An analysis by Deloitte revealed a 19% reduction in the average number of voluntary separations during this period.
  • Fresh recruiting methods. After COVID-19, there was an exodus of manufacturing workers. Competition for these workers swelled, pitting manufacturing against other industries that retrained people for their work. It became clear that old ways of finding employees by posting a job on the break room bulletin board or online were no longer enough. Today, savvy manufacturing companies are tapping their employees and retirees as referral sources for unearthing top talent. They are also considering location and expansion markets where talent pools are plentiful. For leadership and specialized roles, our company employs a model called Recruitment Research that targets “passive” candidates who may not be actively looking for work but would consider the right opportunity.
  • Investing in employees through upskilling and reskilling. One of best things manufacturers can do is invest in people. By upskilling and reskilling, these companies are strengthening their operations while creating a pathway to advancement for valued employees. Arizona State University has a semiconductor processing graduate certificate program, Maricopa Community Colleges offers seven certification programs in specialized areas of manufacturing and Lucid Motors partnered with the Arizona Commerce Authority, local governments and Central Arizona College to build an advanced training center in Casa Grande.
  • Diverse workforce. Manufacturers could benefit from a diverse workforce. A national report notes that women currently account for less than one-third of the total manufacturing workforce, and the proportion of Black, Asian, and Latinx employees is even lower.

Arizona’s manufacturing industry is bright as long as companies prioritize Arizona manufacturing workers and create a thoughtful recruiting and retention strategy.

Author: John Fierro is a practice leader with expertise in recruiting for the manufacturing industry at Duffy Group, a global recruiting company based in Phoenix.