Murals Manufacturing Image by Stefano Ferrario from PixabayZellis has published research examining how to raise engagement and retention in manufacturing organisations. The report titled “What matters to manufacturing employees” (Registration required) is based on a survey of 500 employees across several manufacturing sectors in the UK and Ireland. The top-level finding is concerning, with 44% of UK&I employees planning to leave their roles within the next two years, and 33% are not feeling motivated by their job.

Rebecca Mullins, Director of HCM Solutions at Zellis
Rebecca Mullins, Director of HCM Solutions at Zellis

Rebecca Mullins, Director of HCM Solutions at Zellis, commented, “Finding and keeping the right people with the right skills is an ever-present problem in any industry, but particularly within a manufacturing sector which is working hard to compete globally. With this backdrop, our research underlines a potential wave of resignations which might be faced by manufacturing organisations over the next couple of years if key changes are not made quickly.”

 “While this could be seen as a warning sign for the industry, it also highlights the opportunities for organisations that are willing and ready to be flexible and listen to the needs of their employees. In addition to offering competitive pay and benefits, this research shows that manufacturing businesses should focus on investing in training and fostering a supportive work culture to boost their chances of attracting and retaining manufacturing recruits.”

What is in the report?

The format shared with Enterprise Times is a web-based presentation, which felt more confusing than it should have been. It feels like a PowerPoint presentation with nested slides and dead ends. Hopefully, Zellis will provide a straightforward to-read PDF version.

The report is divided into five sections, a foreword by Mullins, an executive summary, the background, results and a conclusion. The Background section highlights the challenges the manufacturing sector is currently facing. Issues include the economic crisis, talent shortage and the ageing population. Against this are the opportunities modern technology provides that can introduce automation and boost employee engagement.

The bulk of the report is found in the results section. The results are highlighted graphically and expanded upon in the supporting text with a few suggested actions that employers can take as a result of the findings. Overall the narrative is solid and leads the reader through the results in a logical flow.

Key findings

The key findings include:

71% of employees said that training and skills development is “important” or “very important” to them. The report also dives into the type of training, though the results were fairly inconclusive, with around a third (29%-37%) indicating their preference. Perhaps surprisingly, “clearer career development paths and training roadmaps” was the lowest (29%), despite other surveys indicating the opposite.

Motivating employees within manufacturing is evolving, though increased salary and bonus (46%) was the highest response. Improved training (32%) and flexibility (32%) second equal. It might have been more insightful if there was a qualitative element to better understand what flexibility employees were looking for.

Technology, including AI and automation, will have a big impact on employees over the next 5 years, with only 11% believing it will have no impact. Overall the mood is mixed, though the circle graphic used is a poor representation as the total percentages add up to more than a hundred. On the positive side

  • 43% believe it will help them learn new skills
  • 33% believe it will increase productivity and efficiency
  • 33% believe it will create new job opportunities


  • 27% believe it will replace their role
  • 20% believe it will change their work for the worse
  • 26% believe it will create difficulties and challenges

There is overlap in the answers, and many are concerned. Again, contrary to other reports, 50% are either confident or very confident they have the skills necessary to work with more automation and AI. It might have been interesting if that question had been split between the two topics. The report also looks at the reasons for leaving and staying.

Does the detail matter

The authors point out some differences in responses between genders and generations. However, despite the survey conducted across multiple sub-sectors, there were no obvious variances between them, according to Zellis. The subsectors included food and beverage, metals and metal products, pharmaceuticals, textiles, printing, rubber, and plastics. Zellis did not identify what kinds of workers responded to the survey, just that 450 (UK) and 50 (Eire) manufacturing employees responded. The unanswered question is where they work within the manufacturing organisation. Are they office or shop floor staff?

The conclusion provides six key recommendations, with justification which are summarised below:

  • Review pay, rewards, and benefits,
  • Build a robust training programme.
  • Be flexible when responding to your team’s needs.
  • Create a culture of support, positivity, and appreciation.
  • Prepare your people for Industry 4.0.
  • Pay attention to work-life balance.

Enterprise Times also asked Zellis how it helps manufacturing firms when employees are not always using applications for their work.

“Zellis recognises the broad array of challenges facing the sector and has a range of solutions to support rapid recruitment and onboarding, talent management, and skill building for a more resilient organisation. We help organisations to maintain compliance with increasingly complex payroll legislation and health and safety standards, as well as to develop new channels to market.

“Our HCM software affords manufacturing companies the agility to adapt quickly and flexibly to an unpredictable landscape, helping them to better understand trends in the workforce. They can execute data-driven strategic decisions, confident that they’re supported by reliable insights from a single source of truth.

“A number of major UK manufacturers partner with Zellis for payroll and HR solutions, including AGA, BAE Systems, Diageo, Mercedes-Benz, and Serco.”

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

Some interesting findings and recommendations within this report make it worth reading, despite the (annoying, in my opinion) layout and potential flaws in the sample surveyed. Salary is back to being top of mind for employees and employers need to ensure equitable pay (another question not asked in the research). Training and well-being initiatives also stand out as important for employees, and Zellis has the right tools to deliver all three.


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