Manufacturers largely agree that technology will help workers, not displace them, speakers said at the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s recent virtual event, “M2030 Visions of the Future: Reflections on New Orleans.”
New Orleans readout: The webinar, which featured a panel of technology experts, was a recap of highlights from the MLC’s December 2021 Manufacturing in 2030 project event in New Orleans, which hundreds of manufacturers attended.
What the future holds: The recent online discussion was primarily about future technological trends in manufacturing, and three major themes emerged: Completely “lights-out” manufacturing (i.e., totally automated) is not a likely near-term reality for manufacturing; upskilling and reskilling will be crucial in attaining syncopation between employees and robots; and most manufacturers have some ways to go to achieve digital maturity.
Lights out? Try lights dimmed: There is a misconception that robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace human employees on the shop floor. The reality is that they all do best together.
- “I view it more as a ‘dimmer switch’ than ‘lights out,’ and the level to which you can dim depends on the kind of manufacturing you do,” said West Monroe Senior Manager of Consumer and Industrial Practice Alex Jay. Particularly when it comes to “complex materials, [manufacturers will] need a nuanced touch,” which will require more, not less, human interaction.
- “There will be a dimmer switch, a natural limit to how far you would automate,” said Infor Senior Vice President of International Strategy Andrew Kinder. “In the next eight years, we will see more use of technology on the plant floor. Is this a concern for employment? I think the World Economic Forum put that to bed when they said … technology will create 12 million more jobs than it will ever destroy.”
- EY Principal of Strategy and Transactions Rosco Newsom agreed. “[Manufacturers] don’t see ‘lights out’ happening in the near future.”
Upskilling and reskilling: The increased use of Manufacturing 4.0 technologies on the shop floor will only increase the need for skilled talent, the panelists agreed.
- First, “there is reskilling and upskilling required even to make those ‘lights out’” changes, said NTT Data Senior Director of Manufacturing Industry Solutions Baskar Radhakrishnan.
- Complex materials that need nuanced touch and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing “will need more human interaction,” not less, Jay said.
Maturity not yet reached: As was evidenced by questions from the webinar audience and comments from manufacturers during the New Orleans event, many manufacturers could use guidance when it comes to using more technology.
- For smaller manufacturers wondering where to start implementing Manufacturing 4.0, look to “labor-intensive, repetitive tasks,” Radhakrishnan said. “That’s where you start.”
The last word: Robotics aren’t going to put anyone out of a job. As Kinder said, “Tech seems to be a driver rather than a ‘retirer’ of employment.”
A record number of people quit their jobs in 2021, and companies are scrambling to find ways to attract new workers, according to CNN.
What’s happening: With almost 11 million open positions at the end of 2021, employers have begun “to sweeten their offerings in terms of benefits, pay and flexibility.”
Greater work flexibility: One of the perks that seems to be helping retain some workers is increased flexibility in work schedule, a finding in line with the results of a recent Manufacturing Institute–BKD study:
- Fifty-six percent of respondents “noted a need for increased worker flexibility, and roughly half had reevaluated what work could be done remotely where possible. With that, 41% said that their business was working to reengineer the production process with social distancing in mind.”
- The MI recently held a roundtable discussion on this very topic. Get a free recording of the webinar here.
Pre-job paid vacation: Workers are also responding favorably to paid time off—before they start a job.
- One “company started offering ‘pre-PTO’ that offers new hires a week of paid time off before their first day of work. … [It] created a task force that spoke with recruiters, current employees and candidates who had turned down offers at the firm, to come up with innovative ways to solve the hiring challenges. ‘Without a doubt, PTO-related new benefits were the most popular,’” the firm’s chief people officer said.
Quick offers, more cash: A health care provider has begun offering sign-on bonuses of up to $17,500 for particularly hard-to-fill remote jobs, and it gave every employee a 4% raise in 2021.
- Said the company’s executive vice president: “For many of our roles that don’t require licensure or certification … you show up, get a same-day offer and begin work the following Monday, if possible.”
What’s happening: “Nationally, 4.1% of women quit their jobs in January compared with 3.4% of men—a 0.7 percentage point difference. But in Maine and Rhode Island—where around 45% of families reported COVID-related child care disruptions in the Census Household Pulse Survey—the gender gap swelled to 1.7 percentage points, Gusto found.”
- “At the same time, in Missouri and Arizona—where less than 25% of households said child care was disrupted—the gender gap was close to zero.”
Why: Women still disproportionately shoulder responsibilities for child care and are also likelier than men to take on child care duties while working from home, according to Axios.
- In addition, “as omicron cases fall, schools are reopening. But many child care centers have closed down due to COVID pressures, like staff shortages and lockdowns. And the availability of affordable, high-quality child care remains a growing problem.”
- The lack of available operators has schools from Indiana to Texas canceling bus routes, leaving parents to scramble for transportation.
The NAM says: “Women are an integral part of the workforce, and while they’ve begun to return, more must be done to attract them,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. “Unfortunately, finding high-quality child care is still a difficulty for many parents.”
“Manufacturing is an industry that continues to outperform others when it comes to pay and benefits—including child care. We’re seeing members such as Vermeer Corp. and Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry Company provide or subsidize quality care. That’s the sort of benefit that’s going to bring parents into manufacturing.”
It all started with a conversation in a parking lot.
Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry CEO Sachin Shivaram was chatting with a second-shift employee outside the WAFCO building one evening last summer when he happened to glance into the man’s car.
- “[I notice] he’s got a car seat in there, so I ask him, ‘What do you do for child care?’” Shivaram recalled. “He said he’s a single dad of a 4-year-old daughter, and he takes her to a different [caretaker’s] house every night. I thought, ‘That can’t be a good environment for her.’ It got me thinking, ‘How can we help this man get better care?’”
Oasis needed: Shivaram aims to find out. While the top executive of a century-old aluminum casting and molding manufacturer may seem an unlikely advocate for affordable child care, helping employees care for their kids has practically become a business imperative for WAFCO.
- “When the frenzy of the labor shortage got going, we connected” child care and the inability to fill jobs, Shivaram said, adding that the Manitowoc area is a “child care desert” with few available spots in centers. “One day we had no women on second shift, [yet] women are 50% of the population. [That’s because,] unfortunately, the burden of caring for children falls primarily on women. We realized, ‘If we’re going to make a dent in the labor shortage, we have to fix this.’”
Lending a hand: So, the company started trying to do just that. On Shivaram’s watch, it began giving employees $400 a month in child care reimbursement, on top of its $27-an-hour median wage, health care benefits and double pay for overtime.
- WAFCO has also purchased spots, when available, at a high-quality local day care center owned by the wife of a company associate and subsidized the cost of those spots for employee children.
Doing even more: Then Shivaram learned about the state’s Workforce Innovation Grant Program, the aim of which is “to help the regions of Wisconsin solve their most pressing workforce challenges by financially supporting collaborative, sustainable and innovative pandemic-recovery plans developed by regional organizations.”
- In addition to setting aside $1 million of its own capital for the creation of a child care center, WAFCO applied for $5 million of grant money last year in the program’s first round. While the company didn’t get the funds then, Shivaram plans to redouble the firm’s efforts and apply for round two this year.
The response: “Employees love it,” Shivaram said of the child care subsidy. Of WAFCO’s approximately 580 employees, about 80 make use of the funds. “Even those employees who don’t have children of child care age say this is really helpful.”
What’s next: WAFCO has identified a site for the planned center, a former adult day care facility. It is also working with KinderCare Learning Centers, the Oregon-based childhood-education company, to decide on an operating model.
- “There will be a strong emphasis on early learning for 0-to-5-year-olds,” Shivaram said. “We’re not just going to have check-the-box child care. And we are committed to paying [child care workers] more than a living wage.”
Advice for other manufacturers: Manufacturers looking to offer child care help to their employees should chiefly remember one thing as they start to plan: You can’t go it alone.
- “This does take a coalition,” Shivaram said. “This is really businesses coming together to help a need in society that, if we don’t resolve it, is only going to make us less successful. This is not going to happen with one business [working] alone.”
Industry-wide efforts: WAFCO’s initiative is part of a larger wave of manufacturers offering increasingly competitive benefits—including child care—for their teams.
- The Iowa-based Vermeer Corp. has full onsite child care facilities for the children of its employees.
- Rockwell Automation, headquartered in Wisconsin, has a generous “caregiver leave” policy to allow workers to take paid time off to look after dependents.
- When schools were closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania-based i2M employed teachers to host onsite learning “pods” for the children of employees. The company is now working on a similar setup for after-school care.
The NAM says: “As we look to close the skills gap and resolve ongoing talent shortages, manufacturers continue to outperform other industries when it comes to pay and benefits packages they offer,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. The MI is the NAM’s workforce development and education partner.
- “Manufacturers are constantly finding innovative ways to provide quality-of-life-improving services, such as child care, health care options, leave and retirement savings, that will motivate and empower millions of manufacturing team members nationwide and make our industry more equitable and inclusive.”
As the global supply chain, worker shortage and wage inflation challenges many had hoped were transitory dig in their heels, manufacturers everywhere are wondering how best to get around them.
Panelists at “Successfully Navigating Current Supply Chain Disruptions,” a webinar hosted by the NAM’s Manufacturing Institute, Manufacturing Leadership Council and professional services firm PwC, sought to answer that question.
We rounded up the speakers’ top tips for manufacturers seeking to sustainably and profitably maneuver the several sizable hurdles they still face going into 2022.
- Break down siloes. Now that manufacturers are having to replace traditional supply chain models, changing their company operations to have staff work across siloes is more important than ever, said PwC Partner Debjit Banerjee.
- Expect disruption. If it taught us nothing else, COVID-19 conveyed the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. Going forward, manufacturers would do well to not just plan for the possibility of disruption, but to assume it will come. To that end, preplanned “differentiated customer service” and disruption drills should become the norm, Banerjee said.
- Advance your supply chain planning. Increasingly, Nexteer Automotive, a global maker of steering and driveline components, is focusing on advanced supply chain planning, programs that help predict shipments, supply and demand for smoother operations, said Nexteer Automotive Vice President of Global Manufacturing Operations Dennis Hoeg. With it, “decisions can be made smarter, earlier.”
- Automate. Manufacturers should consider automating repetitive “transaction” work and reserving their employees for analytical tasks that only humans can do, according to Hoeg.
- Balance agility and resilience. Before the pandemic, “we were working on a strategy that was based on agility,” said Rockwell Automation Chief Supply Chain Officer Ernest Nicolas Jr. “Through the pandemic … we had to reprioritize. We had to take a step back to balance agility and resilience.” Manufacturers that want a better agility-resilience balance can do so “through data, process and technology” enablement, according to Nicolas.
- “Relentlessly prioritize.” Nicolas so believes in this advice that he ended his presentation with it. “There’s so much going on right now; we want to be certain we manage our priorities,” he said. “So, there’s a lot we’re saying ‘not now’ to …. but it’s not a matter of ‘no.’ It’s a matter of, ‘We’ve got to get these things finished so we can lay the foundation’” in this new normal.
Michaela Almgren already has two jobs, but in recent months, she’s found herself appointed to a third: COVID-19-vaccine information hub.
A foot in each world: A pharmacist by training, Almgren divides her time between the University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy, where she is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcomes Sciences, and Nephron Pharmaceuticals, where she is clinical adviser and pharmacy student internship director.
- Owing to her impressive background in drug formulation and analytical method development as a hospital pharmacist, as well as her skills as a lecturer, Almgren has also become a sort of de facto conspiracy-theory debunker when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination.
A go-to for facts: In recent months, in her capacity as both a professor and a Nephron employee, Almgren has given lectures and presentations about COVID-19, its variants and the vaccines—and she’s had significant follow-up questions from audience members. So many, in fact, that colleagues and others she has met teaching and at manufacturing gatherings have come to see her as a voice of reason capable of cutting through the noise.
- “A lot of people just fall into this misinformation mill” about the vaccine, Almgren said. “Typing in something like ‘Dangerous COVID-19 vaccine’ will give you this feed of articles, but it doesn’t mean the vaccine is dangerous.… That’s just how these [search engines] work.”
Convincing and calm: Almgren has been the impetus for the vaccination of several employees at Nephron, which has a 100% vaccination rate.
- “They’d say, ‘Thank you for talking with me. I was unsure about the vaccine, and it made me nervous, but talking with you made me feel that it was OK.’”
Fact vs. fiction: Almgren shared some of the top vaccine-related myths she’s successfully debunked during presentations and other conversations.
- “They have long-term side effects.” Fact: “This is where I talk about how these [vaccine] components don’t stay in your body more than 72 hours. The idea is just to elicit an immune response, and then it’s gone. And think about it on a global scale. If it was so deadly and terrible, by now we would see millions of people dropping dead or getting really sick” as a direct result.
- “They were rushed to market.” Fact: “When you actually look at how the clinical trial was defined, it was very similar to any other clinical trials for other vaccines. No shortcuts were taken. They just compressed the studies and ran them simultaneously.”
- “They’re not safe for kids.” Fact: “As a parent, I can totally understand why people would be concerned” about the vaccine for children, Almgren said. “But the clinical trial is out there, released and published in terms of how Pfizer did it. The data is clear showing the efficacy is there, and the side effects are minimal. If you have no issue with the polio vaccine or the tetanus shot, why is COVID-19 any different?”
- “Natural immunity is better.” Fact: “Natural immunity can be further boosted with the vaccine, and it wanes more than vaccine-induced immunity,” Almgren said. People who have had COVID-19 and get vaccinated “have an even stronger [immune] response.”
The last word: Check out the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute’s This Is Our Shot initiative to find out how you can protect yourself and the people you care about from COVID-19.
The Biden administration is making new commitments to semiconductor production and planning new policies designed to bring STEM talent to the United States—and manufacturing leaders are weighing in.
The background: Last week, the White House announced a series of actions to attract STEM talent, to strengthen the U.S. economy and to improve American competitiveness around the world.
What we’re saying: NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons joined Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee in praising the actions, while also pushing for continued work on these critical issues.
- “The supply chain and economic disruptions facing American families and the manufacturing industry are driven in part by the severe worker shortage and by the serious chip shortage,” said Timmons. “Today, the White House has announced promising developments on both fronts, and we will work with the administration and Congress to build on this progress even further.”
- “Manufacturers are leading America’s recovery, but we still need to hire more than 800,000 workers right now,” said Lee. “And according to the MI’s research with Deloitte, we will have 4 million jobs to fill by the end of the decade, 2.1 million of which could go unfilled if current trends continue. That sustained need is why the NAM and the MI launched our nationwide Creators Wanted workforce campaign. It’s why we have long focused on programs and policies of all types that will grow the pool of STEM talent in America. We have to come at this crisis from every angle, and the MI and the entire industry will continue using every tool at our disposal to inspire, educate and empower the next generation of creators.”
The road ahead: Timmons highlighted the path forward and noted additional important actions to meet current and future needs.
- On semiconductor production: “To ramp up domestic semiconductor production, we can’t stop at today’s action, though,” said Timmons. “Too many manufacturing sectors have been unable to deliver the products American families need because they lack key components. Manufacturers are working overtime to overcome this challenge, but Congress has to do its part, which means passing USICA. Doing so will not only shore up our recovery and ease supply chain strains but also strengthen our economy and national security.”
On attracting STEM talent: “These immigration policies will also undoubtedly sharpen America’s competitive edge and help us outpace and out-innovate the rest of the world,” said Timmons. “In far too many cases, we’ve seen brilliant minds educated at American universities leave because our outdated immigration system doesn’t let them put their talents to work for America’s future. Now we can start to reverse that trend, among other key policy changes. As part of ‘A Way Forward,’ our plan for comprehensive immigration reform, we have long called for immigration policies that are responsive to clear economic needs. These policies meet that test, meaning that they will benefit our workers, our communities and our industry, empowering us to create even more opportunities for the American people.”
The future workforce will continue to ‘favor’ workers over employers, with the labor pool set to grow just 0.2% a year from 2024 to 2031, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Axios.
What’s happening: “In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby boom generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis. But now, boomers are retiring, millennials are approaching middle age, and the Gen Z that follows them is comparatively small.”
- Unlike in the recent past, organizations now and in the future won’t be able to count on “a flood” of job applicants for all advertised positions.
What it means for manufacturers: “On the one hand, manufacturers added 349,000 manufacturing workers in 2021, the most since 1994, and on the other, the sector has 219,000 fewer workers today than it did before the pandemic began,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray.
- “In addition, job openings remain near record highs, and firms continue to note difficulties in finding and retaining workers. In 2022, we would expect to add around 150,000 to 180,000 employees, building on last year’s strong gains.”
What it also means: “The reality of the labor shortage makes clear that we need an all-of-the-above solution to our workforce crisis,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. “We need to attract new workers and provide them with the needed skills. That’s why the NAM and the MI’s Creators Wanted campaign is so critical and so timely. Research shows the next generation is looking for careers that matter. They want to have an impact, and they want the potential for family-supporting jobs with upward mobility, all of which are characteristics of modern manufacturing.”
“This data also underscores why we also need comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that we are bringing the best and brightest to the U.S. to help strengthen manufacturing in America.”
Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons and Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee released the following statement on the administration’s announcements on semiconductor production and new policy efforts to attract STEM talent to the United States:
“The supply chain and economic disruptions facing American families and the manufacturing industry are driven in part by the severe worker shortage and by the serious chip shortage. Today, the White House has announced promising developments on both fronts, and we will work with the administration and Congress to build on this progress even further,” said Timmons. “To ramp up domestic semiconductor production, we can’t stop at today’s action, though. Too many manufacturing sectors have been unable to deliver the products American families need because they lack key components. Manufacturers are working overtime to overcome this challenge, but Congress has to do its part, which means passing USICA. Doing so will not only shore up our recovery and ease supply chain strains but also strengthen our economy and national security.
“These immigration policies will also undoubtedly sharpen America’s competitive edge and help us outpace and out-innovate the rest of the world. In far too many cases, we’ve seen brilliant minds educated at American universities leave because our outdated immigration system doesn’t let them put their talents to work for America’s future. Now we can start to reverse that trend, among other key policy changes. As part of ‘A Way Forward,’ our plan for comprehensive immigration reform, we have long called for immigration policies that are responsive to clear economic needs. These policies meet that test, meaning that they will benefit our workers, our communities and our industry, empowering us to create even more opportunities for the American people.”
“Manufacturers are leading America’s recovery, but we still need to hire more than 800,000 workers right now,” said Lee. “And according to the MI’s research with Deloitte, we will have 4 million jobs to fill by the end of the decade, 2.1 million of which could go unfilled if current trends continue. That sustained need is why the NAM and the MI launched our nationwide Creators Wanted workforce campaign. It’s why we have long focused on programs and policies of all types that will grow the pool of STEM talent in America. We have to come at this crisis from every angle, and the MI and the entire industry will continue using every tool at our disposal to inspire, educate and empower the next generation of creators.”
“All in all, it’s a day of positive developments for manufacturing in America,” added Timmons.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12.5 million men and women, contributes $2.52 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 58% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
The MI grows and supports the manufacturing industry’s skilled workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing. The MI’s diverse initiatives support all workers in America, including women, veterans and students, through skills training programs, community building and the advancement of their career in manufacturing. As the workforce development and education partner of the NAM, the MI is a trusted adviser to manufacturers, equipping them with resources necessary to solve the industry’s toughest challenges. For more information on the MI, please visit www.themanufacturinginstitute.org.
It would have been an impressive feat no matter what, but Ducommun’s achievement of a robust and highly attended MFG Day 2021 was made all the more remarkable by the fact the company had been an NAM member for just nine months.
MFG Day, an annual program of the NAM’s nonprofit workforce development and education partner, The Manufacturing Institute, highlights the opportunities and potential of modern manufacturing careers by encouraging thousands of companies and educational institutions around the nation to open their doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders.
“As a leader in innovative manufacturing, Ducommun supports National Manufacturing Day, as well as other education and community-based STEM programs and initiatives, that nurture and develop the next generation of creators, builders, technicians and innovators,” said Chonta Salts, Ducommun corporate HR business partner. “Our goal for MFG Day was to engage with students, parents and educators to broaden their understanding of modern manufacturing and to highlight the range of full-time opportunities, internships and part-time summer jobs available to them.”
Their MFG Day: Ducommun, a 172-year-old Santa Ana, California-based provider of technology-driven structural and electronic solutions for the aerospace, defense and industrial markets, coordinated employee and representative visits with 11 high schools and colleges nationwide. Each school is local to one of Ducommun’s U.S. manufacturing performance centers.
- Events were held in person at Ducommun, in classrooms at local schools and online through livestream. Ducommun leadership teams, engineers, technicians and production team members engaged with students about what a career in modern manufacturing is really like—and how much room it offers for professional growth and advancement.
- “Employees shared their own success stories: starting out in entry-level production positions, completing training programs to advance to technical, engineering or other professional positions and what they do in their current role,” said Ducommun Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Rose Rogers. “I think that’s a key component of rolling it out. You have to engage with students at their level. By having our employees connect with the students, they were able to ask questions directly to our employees.”
What they did: Ducommun’s MFG Day success was bolstered by the fact that the company has long been involved in sponsoring local-school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities. So come October, it already had many connections at nearby schools.
- Ducommun team members attended the virtual training sessions offered on the MFG Day section of creatorswanted.org,Salts said.
- Using the site’s resources page, Salts worked with the company’s communications team to transform their standardized presentation into one for high school audiences that could be easily customized by HR leaders responsible for local events.
- Rogers and Salts “got buy-in and feedback from senior leadership” early in the planning process.
- They ensured their events were dynamic, interactive and interesting to the students because “we didn’t want to sit them in a conference room, watch a presentation and wish they were back at school!” Rogers said, with a laugh.
Facts and figures: Ducommun started its MFG Day planning “months” in advance, Salts said, and the work paid off. Here are some of the specific results:
- More than 500 students attended and participated in Ducommun’s MFG Day events.
- There were five in-school presentations by Ducommun team members.
- The day included 17 student presentations.
- There were six onsite visits by students to Ducommun performance centers.
- The day had one virtual presentation.
The payoff: Ducommun’s participation in MFG Day is part of its commitment to build the next generation of creators and innovators, Salts said. Though it’s still too early for the company to have reaped the workforce rewards of its autumn outreach, Rogers said it has received a great deal of interest from students about full- and part-time jobs after graduation. Ducommun expects to fill many open positions in late spring and summer 2022.
- “We invested in MFG Day because one of our core beliefs and commitments is to support the communities where we live and work,” Rogers said. “We emphasized that working at Ducommun wasn’t going to be just a job—this could be a long-term play for students because they can build a career with us. Being able to engage with them was invaluable.”
For more information on MFG Day and how to host a successful one next year, visit www.creatorswanted.org/resources/.