Top 5 Overlooked Groups for Workforce Development

Manufacturing is perpetually in search of workers – dependable, trainable people. Here are five categories of potential employees that are often overlooked.

Retained workers, older workers, retired workers

The no-brainer for locating good workers is to look at those already on the payroll. Two groups merit recognition and recruiting effort: workers considering a leap to a competing manufacturer and workers nearing retirement.

After investing to train workers, it makes sense to retain them. If a valued employee is considering a move, ask why and see if an unmet need can be accommodated. If workforce turnover is high, find the cause. A company’s culture, like its operations, requires continuous improvement. Strive to be an employer of choice and keep those good workers onboard. Soon-to-be retirees are low hanging fruit as potential re-hires. For the go-to-guys and gurus who are aging, offer to re-hire after retirement but understand that some accommodations may be required.

Another source of good workers is older people searching for new jobs. Middle-aged individuals often want to explore new industries, and education providers are creating coursework for this demographic. AARP1, for example, collaborates with states and institutions to offer curriculum tailored for mature students who want bankable skills. As with re-hiring retirees, flexibility may be required to fit lifestyles, particular needs and creature comforts, but mature workers may offer the trifecta of broad knowledge, life experience and superior dependability.

Military veterans

As employment candidates, former military members come with a long list of advantages. Their military experience demanded rigorous training, taught self-discipline, cultivated respect for hierarchy, instilled a sense of responsibility and provided marketable skills. Veterans are a motivated, ambitious bunch.

Military veteran job applicants might be graduates of a program like Workshops for Warriors2, which offers four-month programs in welding and manufacturing to veterans, Wounded Warriors and others.

Hiring vets can come with a financial incentive for the employer, such as paid apprenticeship programs through the VA and tax credits for hiring underutilized workers.

Disabled individuals

Manufacturers large and small make a point of hiring individuals with disabilities. The big guys have HR departments that make this avenue of recruitment part of their charter; Procter & Gamble has been a leader for 40 years. Small- and medium-sized guys may find that local organizations can help them find qualified employee candidates.

A shift to the term “differently abled” reflects the growing realization that one can find standout talent and knowledge in this group of work candidates, including superior skills that are eclipsed – at first glance – by physical problems.

Research firm Gartner predicts that AI and emerging technologies will continue to help manufacturers increase their hiring of differently abled candidates. Hardware technology like robotics and end-of-arm tooling help on the plant floor; software-oriented assistive technology supports computer-based tasks.

Individuals on the autism spectrum

Autistic individuals are a prime example of the need for the terms “differently abled” and “neurodiverse.” This group may have superior talents and also social challenges; finding the right fit in a welcoming, safe organization is key to tapping this cohort of valuable workers.

Consulting firm Ernst & Young, which employs neurodiverse workers, asserts that autistic individuals are often detail-oriented and technologically savvy. Their analytical, mathematical and pattern recognition skills are often especially strong.

Easterseals3, America’s largest nonprofit health care organization, has services and programs for the neurodiverse. These include workforce development services to help autistic people assess their skills, set employment goals and create training to meet the goals. Easterseals also has resources for employers.

Individuals overcoming issues

In all walks of life, stuff happens. The best and brightest among us may develop an addiction, face homelessness, serve time in prison or find ourselves immigrating to a new country.

Manufacturers with a culture of helping others can recruit and hire individuals in society who are overcoming issues. Community workforce organizations and nonprofits help these individuals search out employment and help employers connect with suitable job candidates.

Some employers are trying a new hiring approach: rather than spending time and money to attract a crowd and then whittle down the applicant base, their goal is to just hire people. With a sort of “say yes to everything” mindset, this approach calls for hiring without scrutiny of resumes and background checks, without cattle calls and rounds of interviews. Instead, open hiring promotes giving jobs to anyone willing and able to work, knowing that there will be hits and misses, and that there will be training costs for new hires but that these costs pale compared to the traditional hiring costs. It’s an innovative approach.

Incentives for manufacturers to hire newbies who are overcoming issues and hardships may exist, courtesy of the US Department of Labor. The grant-funded Federal Bonding Program4 supports employers that hire workers considered “at-risk” due to prior incarceration or in recovery for substance abuse. According to the USDOL, “The program provides employers with a bond of no less than $5,000 for each eligible new hire, and allows issuance of up to $25,000 in bonds for each individual, as incentives for employers to hire these applicants.”

When the hiring gets tough, the tough get creative. Expand the applicant pool with some novel thinking.


  1. “New Programs Help Older Adults Train for Jobs in Manufacturing,” Jon Marcus, AARP, July 19, 2021.
  2. “Workshops for Warriors: Taking back American manufacturing ‘one veteran at a time,'” Peter Aitken, Fox News, May 15, 2021.
  3. Easterseals Autism Services,
  4. “US DOL Funding for ‘at-risk’ workers,” news release, April 7, 2021. and