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What Does the Talent Situation for Manufacturing Really Look Like?

October 03, 2023 3:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The IndustryWeek Talent Board question for September was: Several employment reports suggest that the labor market has cooled a bit in recent months, rebounding from the massive numbers of people voluntarily quitting jobs last year. What's your take on the quality and availability of talent on the market today?

To read part one of September's responses, click here.

Build Teams with Fair Market Wages and Plan for the Long Term—Carl Livesay, General Managery, Mercury Plastics, Inc.

In South Baltimore, we have noticed a steady decline in the desire for full-time employment. This is exacerbated by the abundance of government subsidies and the failure to support those who are deserving while unintentionally promoting fraud. It is particularly sad to learn that some people refuse 40 hours of work so they can remain below the threshold for one or more government funded subsidies. There are strong financial incentives for people to stay at home and not work. 

The resulting lack of interest earning an honest living appears to be more prevalent in single adult males under the age of 35. In contrast, single women and single parents supporting a household have emerged as an even stronger workforce resource than before. Recently a surge in business presented an opportunity for a considerable amount of overtime. We were again surprised by the number of people who said they were simply not interested in overtime rates.

With many of the recent special government giveaway programs now ended, artificially high prices will likely start to normalize. Impulse purchases will slow down. Housing prices and interest rates will return to normal. We are hopeful that people will again be incentive to earn a livable wage at fair market value.

For many companies, sales are down more than 20% compared to last year. Those that are over-leveraged are struggling to make loan payments and to stay in compliance with bank terms. Cash flow is poor and payments to suppliers are chronically late. Artificially high labor prices are resulting in permanent layoffs.

In contrast, companies like ours, who resisted the temptation to pay unrealistic wages are on solid ground with their workforce. They continue to build teams earning livable fair market wages with excellent benefits. These companies are planning for the team members’ future long term, so they are naturally selective when hiring and training new people. 

We are leaning towards the future as we begin building the next generation of senior technical talent and mid-level leaders. Speaking from experience, it is very difficult to find career minded people interested in the future. Fortunately, our investment in lean manufacturing has yielded tremendous benefits operationally and financially. Lean has enabled our company and our workforce to be both scalable and sustainable. We are well positioned to scale the business as needed, and we are ready to capitalize on temporary and permanent surges in business at a moment’s notice.

It bears mention that the quality of the available labor pool is increasingly disappointing. It appears this poor-quality worker resource is consistent with a lack of responsibility from the worker both professionally and personally. A large number are not investing in themselves and their careers with time or money. Absent of interest by the worker becoming better professionally, they risk replacement by someone who is. There is an emphasis and almost obsession with instant gratification and selfishness. People are easy to find, however good team members are elusive.

We have been very fortunate to attract and retain a solid team. People that care and people that appreciate that we care about them. When the market and the economy look like a zig zag stitch from a singer sewing machine, it is prudent to focus on the team members that work as a team. In this scenario corporate culture matters most. Do team members feel appreciated? Is there trust? Is the company communicating opening keeping the team informed? Does the team believe you?

If you build your team on a solid foundation of trust, this is where you realize your return on the investment. The same holds true for your partners (customers and suppliers). If everyone works together, communicating openly and honestly, then the results will be more positive. Manufacturing is a team sport.

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