According to the latest Manufacturing Barometer by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 60% of U.S. industrial manufacturers say they plan to add employees to their workforce over the next 12 months.

A wide range of key indicators posted improvement during the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the report, including growth rates for the year ahead, while concerns about legislative and regulatory policies and lack of demand declined. 

"Economic sentiment has improved among U.S. manufacturers and we are seeing an upswing in their confidence levels, leading to increased plans for hiring and operational spending," said Bobby Bono, PwC's U.S. industrial manufacturing leader. "Management teams are primarily focusing on hiring skilled workers, developing new products and investing in research and development, in an effort to further strengthen core competencies, support growth and build market share."

The report reveals a continued shortage of skilled workers across the U.S. industrial manufacturing sector, as 64% of respondents cited a need to fill certain skill gaps in their businesses over the next 12-24 months, primarily in skilled labor.  

Here are some of the other highlights of the survey:

  • Plans for increased operational spending rose to 82% of respondents, the highest level in nine quarters.
  • Plans for new product or service introductions increased to 52%
  • Plans for additional spending on research and development increased 11 points to 47%
  • Plans for new investments of capital remained healthy with 43% of respondents indicating increased outlays 

"Dovetailing with gains in operational spending forecasts, plans to hire more workers rose to the highest level in the past four quarters, pointing to increased comfort with business prospects in the year ahead," Bono added.  "Management teams appear to be shifting outlays from capital spending to investing in people and products.  However, they have continued to highlight concerns regarding the lack of qualified workers, particularly in skilled labor.  This is a longstanding issue that will need to be addressed through improved worker training and resources as industrial manufacturing processes around new and disruptive technologies  become increasingly complex."

PwC's Manufacturing Barometer is a quarterly survey based on interviews with senior executives of large U.S. industrial manufacturing companies about their current business performance, the state of the economy and their expectations for growth over the next 12 months.