CBIA BizCast: Positioning Manufacturers for Success
RSM industrial products senior analyst Kendra Blacksher believes creative solutions are essential to addressing the worker shortage crisis.
Blacksher joined CBIA’s BizCast team to talk about how employers are navigating an uncertain economy.
RSM supported the development and production the 2022 Connecticut Manufacturing Report, which highlights the needs of manufacturers across the state.
“We heard leaders talk about using the call a friend approach, appealing to some of the desires of a younger talent pool as our baby boomers start to exit the workforce and incentivizing people to get more talent in the door,” Blacksher said.
Perception vs. Reality
Blacksher said the findings and anecdotal stories from Connecticut business leaders are similar to what she sees at a national level.
Nearly 90% of Connecticut manufacturers reported difficulty finding and retaining workers, and 44% said that was their biggest obstacle to growth.
Blacksher highlighted efforts to change outdated perceptions of manufacturing, including showcasing modern workplace environments and highly paid, skilled career opportunities.
She said employers are finding creative solutions to connect with their employees and keep them engaged.
“Brittany Isherwood from Burke Aerospace spoke to how she’s really looking to connect with the talent, and provide opportunities for upward feedback,” Blacksher said.
“Not only providing the opportunity, but then effectively implementing kind of what she’s heard and appealing to the long term career goals of talent versus let me just fill this job.”
Blacksher expressed optimism about Connecticut’s labor force and the opportunity for manufacturers to diversify their talent pools, both from a skillset and cultural perspective.
She also stressed the importance of initiatives like the Manufacturing Institute’s 35 x 30 campaign, which is designed to increase women’s representation in manufacturing to 35% by 2030.
“For me hearing that I’m like, okay, there’s a labor shortage, but there’s also an untapped pool of great talent that the manufacturers can tap into to alleviate some of those shortages or some of the labor force burden,” said Blacksher.
Blacksher is encouraging leaders to look to the future of the industry and the role that digitization and automation will play for manufacturers.
She stressed that finding, retaining, and training employees with those skills will be important for employers.
“A lot of people think about technology and they automatically think of less shops,” said Blacksher.
“But we need people to work the technology and it’s really creating the space so that our talent can maximize their skill sets.
“Presently, we have a lot of manual labor within manufacturing facilities, but as things become more digitized, maybe they need more people with an engineering skill set, or the ability to adapt and work collaboratively with technology.”
Supply Chain Turmoil
The report also showed a staggering 93% of manufacturers were affected by supply chain disruptions.
Blacksher said the best thing manufacturers can do is communicate through the entire supply chain.
If a company has a good understanding of everything that will impact their timelines, they will be better off. This includes demand, resources, and their labor force.
“One of the things that’s been really useful is where companies can leverage data-driven decision making,” Blacksher said.
“What that means is having the right technology to be able to get data real-time, so that you know when things change right away and you can pivot where you need to.”
Despite challenges, there are some signs of optimism, including more manufacturers reporting profits.
More than two-thirds (68%) of Connecticut manufacturers reported profits in 2021, with 69% expecting to turn a profit in 2022.
“I think the sentiment is good,” said Blacksher. “Manufacturers have been able to navigate uncertain terrain.
“It is still uncertain, but I think there’s a bit of comfort that’s coming out in the uncertainty because companies have been able to remain profitable in the midst of a very uncertain time.”
As Blacksher reflected on her conversations with Connecticut manufacturers, she said how they are innovating and thinking differently about supporting their workers struck her the most.
She highlighted a question she asked the panel about the rising cost of doing business and the rising cost of living.
“The response was one of caring and collaboration,” said Blacksher. “To really work to ensure that the talent has what they need to be able to live a good and decent life.”
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