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Turnover Trends Showcase Manufacturing's Talent Strategies

In 2023, manufacturing separation was around 1.9%, having fallen three spots behind information and finance at 1.3% and 1.4%, closely trailed by education at 2%. Ten years ago, manufacturing had the least total amount of job separations. Similarly, manufacturing had the least number of layoffs in 2013 across similar industry types. The stark rise, doubling the involuntary separation rate in 2020 up to 1.9%, has already fallen back down to near pre-pandemic levels of 0.9%. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that overall, manufacturing turnover has been steady up until 2021, and between 2021-2023 is not doing that bad, especially when compared to other industry types.  

The Great Resignation, mainly recognized as the increased job quit rate after the COVID-19 pandemic began, while high for the time, were not the highest historically. And the consistent labor force participation rate following the years of the pandemic align back with pre-pandemic times suggests that those who left their jobs found new ones or exited the labor force completely. Harvard Business Review attributes the labor change to the “Five Rs: retirement, relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance,” each shaping worker behavior today. While none of these situations are new, but they were worsened by the pandemic. So, then what? This is not a story of industry retention. It is a story of talent, and how the modern workforce is reframing talent in manufacturing.

Manufacturers Alliance surveyed 25 mid-to large cap manufacturers to understand the leading cause of their employee turnover and gathered direct feedback from those involved in people management. This data provides more in-depth insights to complement BLS, as manufacturers shared deeper metrics, but with differentiating definitions. Besides glimpsing into the finer points of manufacturing turnover, we heard why manufacturers are experiencing turnover, and most importantly, what activities improve retention and workplace loyalty. This article shares what's next in people strategy, particularly as salaried and hourly employees are transitioning within manufacturing. 

“We need that flexibility built in regardless of what role you play outside of work – mom, dad, significant other, taking care of older parents or whatever. That flexibility piece seems to be the thing, and it does resonate more with that younger generation.”

— Mandy Baeumel , Senior Vice President of People & Culture at Southwire

What’s Happening with Voluntary Leave

BLS generates quit rate by calculating the changes observed from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) data and includes only “employees who left voluntarily” separating out retirements and transfers. Based on this calculation and compared to other industries, manufacturing has had more loyal employees in the last decade. The quit rate ranged from 0.9% in 2013 to 1.6% in 2020, which was lower than most industries with a few exceptions — finance dropped below manufacturing in 2017 and information dipped below in 2020. The quit rate was at its highest at 2.4% in 2021 and has since fallen just below 2% for the end of 2023, placing it third among other industries.

Average Quit Rates by Industry

Source: Annual average rates were calculated from BLS Job opening and Labor Turnover Survey, year 2013 to 2023, all sizes class, total US, All areas, Rate.


Diving deeper into the BLS data, we see that not all regions in the United States experienced the same rate of turnover. Overall, the South had the highest level of quits in the past decade, with 919,000 quits (1.9%) in 2013, and 1,654,000 quits (2.9%) in 2023. On the other end of the spectrum is the Northeast, topping in at almost 500,000 quits in 2023. For those manufacturers with facilities spread across the country, regional turnover rates might come into play along with industry. According to IndustrySelect, 2 out of the top 10 states with the most manufacturing jobs are in the South — Texas and North Carolina. The bulk of the list covers states in the Midwest, which is traditionally heavy in manufacturing, and had a quit rate of 2.3% in 2023. 

Manufacturing Quit Rates by Region (2023)

Source: Annual average rates were calculated from BLS Job opening and Labor Turnover Survey, total nonfarm, all sizes class, All regions, Rate.

Getting a Handle on Your Metrics and What to Measure

Moving away from BLS data to manufacturing company data, those surveyed broke down turnover statistics further to measure hourly versus salaried workers. While much is written about the unfilled hourly jobs in manufacturing, salaried workers left at higher-than-expected rates in 2023. 61% of respondents saw an average voluntary turnover rate between 5.1 – 10%. While the other groupings of higher and lower voluntary turnover rates did not make it anywhere near that number, it’s clearly far from unnoticeable. Manufacturers who already have a hard time sourcing talent are losing resources, including knowledge loss from long-term employees leaving, and can expect to pay high replacement costs to search and fill the roles.

Tracking salaried and hourly employee turnover is extremely important in manufacturing. “In 2023, our professional roles experienced less the half the turnover as the turnover in our plants,” said Mandy Baeumel, Senior Vice President of People & Culture at Southwire

And Southwire was not alone with such a defined gap. Our survey found that 78% of member companies reported a voluntary turnover rate of 10.1% or higher for hourly workers. 22% of that group experienced a greater turnover rate than 20.1%, and none of those surveyed saw less than 3.6% of turnover. 

Annual Average Voluntary Turnover (Reported by Manufacturers Alliance Members) 

Source: Manufacturers Alliance member survey. Responses come from 25 mid-to large Cap manufacturers collected in Q1 of 2024.


Each manufacturer may define quit or voluntary leave differently. In fact, an executive at an industrial manufacturer broke down their attrition rate and developed their own formula to track attrition, factoring in retirements. In the most recent voluntary attrition rate, they noticed nearly half is retirements. Despite their rate to be better than the sector, the long-tenure culture is seeing people slowly retiring, and they are expecting the rate to at least measure at the same pace or increase slightly for the next few years.

One HR executive has introduced a dashboard to calculate turnover and uses their new formula consistent with industry standards. Using set data points their team can distinguishable between the breakdown in voluntary attrition, retirements, resignations, and total attrition rates. Even though the tracking is still new, the manufacturer can collect the data needed to parse out key areas of talent and pivot their people strategy while delivering insights to senior leaders.

Manufacturers Are Managing Turnover

What is contributing to the voluntary turnover rates? More than half of those surveyed reported “competition from other employers in geographical area” as their highest reason of loss and following close behind is “competition from other employers generally.” With more than 600,000 job openings in manufacturing and an overall unemployment rate of 3.7%, it’s an aggressive environment.  

At Southwire, predominantly located in the Southeast, keeping talent around when there are similar working opportunities nearby does pose a challenge, such as in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. The company recently built a new distribution center in an area where Amazon operates a huge distribution hub. Southwire’s Mandy Baeumel stated, “Everybody is pulling in the same talent. It’s not a talent shortage, but they’re going from one employer to another for sometimes $0.10 more an hour.” To set themselves apart, when the total rewards package is similar, Southwire is focusing on the employee experience at work to improve recruitment and retention.

Looking internally, manufacturers that were surveyed said the next three suspected contributing factors impacting employee turnover included:

  • Not supported by direct supervisors/management
  • Job does not meet expectations
  • Lack of opportunities for advancement

This is an area that manufacturers can tackle as opposed to the competition moving in around them.

“If you think about building blocks, such as the building blocks of why somebody chooses to stay versus leave, there has to be that connection and block of ‘I feel like I'm growing and doing work’. And that’s not unique to our company, that applies everywhere.”

— Chief Human Resources Officer , Industrial Manufacturing Company

At Southwire, they are aiming to drive change head-on by tackling challenges from day one. “The onboarding piece is very significant for us,” Baeumel said. “And we have put a lot of investment and a lot of time into making sure that we get that right. I think secondarily, the career growth opportunity. We're hearing that come up a lot within the first six months. ‘Now that I'm with this great organization, what does my path look like?’”

By providing strong details about the company, the environment, what prospects can expect from positions, and their future career growth opportunities, Southwire is mitigating some of that confusion. In a title-conscious organization, the company has clarified progression with job titles and clear paths that employees can grow into. By revamping their onboarding, they emphasized the importance of understanding the company culture and the difference Southwire makes in the world.  

Another executive also pointed to their work environment as an advantage. “We have high levels of automation,” they said. Highly advanced and clean facilities promote a sense of stability and offer organization to those working the plant floors. At a member's facility in Michigan, several employees came from auto shops. The work environment was very intense, high volume, lots of changeability, playing a significant role in employment decision-making when baseline wages were the same.

This last decade has shown how the modern workforce is moving away from the hire-to-retire mindset. Employees still value stability and now, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, flexibility. The question is, can they find that flexibility with manufacturing? And if companies can offer enough flexibility, how can they retain that talent?

One manufacturer has observed how younger generations have a stronger value on flexibility and career growth opportunity and a shorter shift. People want to have the flexibility to have a say in their hours and make it home for family time, their personal interests, or whatever role they play outside of work. 

Breadth was also brought up in our interviews. There's been an observed change from employees believing that breadth comes from experience at different companies, versus gaining breadth within one organization. This is a shift employers are seeing that is changing the framework for how the workforce views situations like job-hopping.

The State of Talent in 2024: Undetermined

With 622,000 job openings in January 2024, competition is tough, but manufacturers are still welcoming talent. Competitive salaries remain the #1 activity that survey respondents are using to improve retention efforts. With low unemployment rates that are level with pre-pandemic rates (hovering between 3.5 – 3.9%), the challenge of securing talent barrels forward.

An industrial manufacturer, with a high majority of their employee base around a large metropolitan city in the Midwest, has observed success in their referral program. Employee feedback and word of mouth have brought in new applications, along with their temporary to full-time program for factory jobs, and market postings for salaried and other corporate positions. New talent is coming in through internship programs, and skilled talent coming in from manufacturing competitors looking for a change – but only if the baseline is competitive with total rewards and pay.

Top 5 Activities Manufacturers Are Using to Improve Retention Efforts

Source: Manufacturers Alliance member survey. Responses come from 25 mid-to large Cap manufacturers in Q1 of 2024.


For companies with a history of long tenured culture, hourly attrition rates are not so scary when compared across the rest of the industry. Nonetheless, one manufacturer is focusing on the subsets of attrition, so they can better track the granular differences and keep greater data on the high performers in factory positions that they'd like to keep long term. This manufacturer told us, “Combining your high potentials and high performers and going deep within that subset of voluntary attrition with a laser-focus on having action plans and check-ins to stay on top of that group’s pulse” shows company leaders how dialing into key talent tracking impacts attrition within this important group.  

While companies like Southwire are not losing critical talent, there is not enough of it in the talent pool. That is why they’re investing in skilled trades through programs like 12 for Life, a partnership with local high schools for students to earn school credit while working. After graduation, successful students are offered a full-time job at Southwire, extending the pipeline for bringing in new talent.

“We're hyper focused on upskilling our leaders so that they are good coaches and developers of talent. That way when we recruit the right talent, we can retain them, in an ever-competitive environment,” said Southwire’s Mandy Baeumel.

Sourcing talent to fill jobs is hard. Keeping talent is hard. And figuring out how to pivot strategies to manage attrition is hard. Manufacturers need to choose their hard. All our surveyed manufacturers are working on re-establishing internal standards to improve retention efforts, focused on employee lifecycle engagement, including career progression and succession planning. And utilizing data to find key insights to help with the journey.

For members of Manufacturers Alliance, find the full survey results from the member-only quick poll, Turnover Rates in the Manufacturing Industry.