2021 – Turnover Tsunami

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As manufacturing companies across South Carolina are racing back into normalcy, they are finding that things are not quite the same as prior to the pandemic.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of job openings has reached a series high point (the term “unprecedented” has been used).  Approximately 78% of employees are planning to look for a new job this year; 52% are actively looking; 26% are not actively looking but would be open to an offer.  Workforce employment has now jumped from being one of the major issues for manufacturers to being THE major issue.

The OpExChange webinar last week featured Dr. Rebecca Battle-Bryant of Battle Plan Consulting.  Rebecca is currently working with Bill Bliss of Bliss Associates in the research and development of a “Workforce Development Playbook” for the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP).  SCMEP will make this available at the South Carolina Manufacturing Conference and Expo in November.

One-Stop Shop?

Rebecca holds a wealth of experience in workforce development across multiple arenas in human resources and organizational development.  Rebecca started this session with, “I have been in your shoes,” emphasizing that she lived through and understands the challenges facing manufacturers, having worked in private industry in human resources and training & development management.

Because of her additional experience working in education and government, she also holds an in-depth knowledge of the resources, connections, and incentives available to South Carolina companies.  South Carolina is fortunate to possess a multitude of resources in several different places, but there is unfortunately not a “one-stop shop” available.  Rebecca has made it her mission to help South Carolina companies put the pieces of this puzzle together.

Current Pain Levels – Workplace Crisis

There were seventy-four participants in this virtual workshop representing forty-seven companies across South Carolina.  In the discussion, several common problems surfaced amongst the participants:

“We don’t get enough applicants.” 

“Applicants won’t show-up for interviews.” 

“New hires leave after a few days with no reason.”

“Applicants are shopping for pay/benefits.”

South Carolina companies are finding themselves increasing pay, utilizing recruitment agencies, and offering signing bonuses to fill positions while simultaneously trying to reduce the attrition rate of current employees.   Many added that their efforts do not appear to be working.

Rebecca did point out that although this crisis is affecting nearly every company, there are some that are not experiencing it at this level.  She gave an example of one company that exhibits an exceptionally low turnover rate and are finding ample applicants for their growth positions.

This company also has a lower starting salary than many of its neighboring plants.  What makes these companies different?   Rebecca pointed out that there are three “R’s” that make-up a solid and sustaining workforce development program – Recruitment, Retention, and Reputation.  With regards to this crisis, Rebecca emphatically stated that, “This is not your HR manager’s problem.  This is an all-hands on deck problem!”

Workforce Trends

Rebecca shared the top ten trends in the workforce for 2021/2022 and spent time discussing each with the group.  There are some recurring, underlying themes in this list including communication, understanding your workforce, development and training, and leadership skills.

Rebecca added that the average work life cycle of an employee has dropped to between four and five years.  To be better than that, a job at your company is likely “an amazing gig.

A key discussion point that spanned several of the trends was that there are five different generations in the workforce – Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.

When recruiting and developing these groups, it is imperative to understand how each group communicates and their expectations.  For instance, Millennials and Gen Z would typically prefer filling out an application on a phone rather than sending a resume by e-mail.  Social media presence is a must to engage these young adults.

The younger generations also have different expectations of employers, particularly as it relates to corporate culture.  Rebecca shared the following quote from a 20-year-old college senior:

“I value a work culture that puts an emphasis on being kind to their employees, and I never want to work somewhere with a damaging hierarchy of power.  I want to join a company where I can feel empowered to speak up about salaries and benefits, and where I can learn and grow as an individual.”


One of the attendees commented that he was surprised that so many of the peer companies are having the same problems.  Rebecca shared that, in fact, most companies in the U.S. are failing to secure top talent.  A recent study found that 82% of Fortune 500 companies do not believe they recruit highly talented people.  Approximately 56% of recruiters believe lengthy hiring procedures contribute to the problem.

Some of the techniques used by OpExChange companies are hiring high school students, offering hybrid work schedules, increasing social media presence, and providing referral bonuses.  Rebecca said that internal referral bonuses is currently the number one recruitment strategy.

New hires from referrals have a higher “stickiness” factor and will also have an informal mentor.  She shared that one of the more successful efforts she observed was from a company that not only offered a $1,000 bonus for the person referring but also to the new hire, payable in installments over one year of retention.

The HR technology used should also be considered in a recruiting strategy.  The “Careers” area should be prominently front-and-center on web pages and should be a 24-hour process.  Tech-savvy candidates expect immediate responses to inquiries.  In addition, the company’s internal talent pool should be carefully reviewed.  Some of these loyal employees could learn new skills and become even more valuable to the company.


If a company can keep their voluntary turnover low, the need for extensive recruitment and cost for replacement is greatly reduced.  It is estimated that the cost of replacing an employee ranges from one half to two times their annual salary.

Not surprisingly, the top reasons for voluntary turnover have not changed.  The number one reason an employee leaves is still a “bad” supervisor or manager.

Companies should conduct exit interviews and analyze the results to determine if there are any categorical reasons for departure.  Rebecca recommends conducting these two weeks after they have left to get closer to the true reason.  She also recommended conducting “Stay” interviews of existing employees to find out what they are doing right and where there could be some improvement made.


What people think and say about your company has the greatest impact on finding and keeping top talent.  Even companies that believe they have a good corporate culture can have a tarnished reputation from a single supervisor or manager.  In a recent survey, 76% of respondents stated that it is the front-line supervisor that sets the company culture.  Rebecca added that the corporate culture and the “things that you do every day” are what truly drive your culture and your reputation.


There are a number of federal and state incentives to help South Carolina companies to both recruit and retain employees.  Rebecca shared several of these and there were some additional points added from the group.

  • On-the-Job Training – up to 50% of new hire wages for up to 26 weeks.
  • Federal Bonding – Six months of free insurance protection for populations such as ex-offenders.
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $9,600.
  • Apprenticeship Carolina ™ Tax Credit – $1,000 per trainee per year.
  • readySC ™ – Customized recruiting and training solutions for expanding companies.
  • Ezone Tax Credit – Funding for retraining employees – $1,000 per eligible employee.
  • Incumbent Worker Training – Funding to help build and retrain employees.
  • Hiring unemployed veteran – Up to $9.6K tax credit

Rebecca added that navigating all these opportunities is not necessarily easy.  She recommends contacting your SCMEP regional vice-president if you have questions on any of these.  They can point you in the right direction.

Squat Before You Jump

In the research and development of the upcoming “Workforce Development Playbook” for the SCMEP, Rebecca and Bill interviewed many South Carolina companies.   Rebecca quoted one OpExChange plant manager, James Lasley of CL&D Graphics.  James stated that companies need to “Squat before the jump.”  Just as in plyometric exercises, your jump will be higher if you first have the planned down motion of a squat.  Rebecca pointed out that some of the actions discussed today will take some initial countermotion, but the payoff will be in the huge vertical leap that follows!

All OpExChange members received additional reference documents including the “Business Workforce Resource Guide” from the South Carolina Department of Commerce and “The Ultimate Hiring Guide” from Bliss Associates.

About Battle Plan Consulting

Battle Plan Consulting, LLC is a full-service human resource, workforce development, and public outreach consulting firm specializing in employee, workforce, and economic development solutions; human resource management; customized training development and delivery; and executive and management coaching.  https://battleplanconsulting.com/

About OpExChange

The OpExChange is a peer-to-peer network of companies in South Carolina known for generating data-driven success for members through benchmarking and best practices activities. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If you are interested in joining, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com ) or visit the OpExChange website to see current companies: https://www.scmep-online.org/pages/memberlisting

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