With nationwide worker shortages in the manufacturing sector projected to reach 2.1 million by 2030 according to a report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, it is more important than ever for manufacturers to expand their applicant pools. In our region, nearly 80,000 people or 7% of the labor force works in manufacturing. Tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs could go unfilled over the next half-decade if top and senior management fail to cast a wider net and offer advancement opportunities to individuals they may not have previously considered. A recent study conducted by McKinsey and Leanin.org showed that women hold 33% of entry-level jobs in engineering and manufacturing and only 23% of leadership positions in those sectors.
At Catalyst Connection, a not-for-profit economic development organization, we have been helping to advance the performance of small- and medium sized manufacturers (SMMs) in southwestern Pennsylvania for the past 35 years. Going forward, we are ready to help SMMs attract, grow, and retain talent from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in those companies, including women, people of color, people with disabilities, and veterans.
By helping manufacturers equip their team members with the necessary skills to implement “smart” Industry 4.0 technologies related to products, processes, logistics, and human resources while at the same time helping them create inclusive environments that encourage innovative thinking, we are taking steps to strengthen the regional economy and building upon the economic impact our services have had on SMMs that have used our expertise over the past several decades. Last year alone, those numbers included increased sales of $14 million, cost savings of $11 million, investments of $66 million, and more than 700 jobs created or retained.
Over the past year, we also surveyed nearly 40 companies, half of which are in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties, which have the region’s largest concentration of SMMs. Our findings showed the need for companies to hire more than 1,100 workers over the next year in positions such as assembly line workers, CNC machinists and operators, and general maintenance personnel.
More than 80% of the companies surveyed indicated that their workforces are more diverse than they were five years ago, and more than 50% of the companies indicated that diversifying their workforces is a major priority and will continue to be one. They also expressed strong interest in expanding or initiating their participation in our pre-apprenticeship program that helps manufacturers hire and train entry level workers who can advance to leadership positions.
Our partnerships with community colleges and technical colleges are giving machinists, welders, coders, and others the hard and soft skills they need to become and remain valuable contributors to the region’s manufacturers. In many instances, those efforts have elevated people from circumstances of under-employment or unemployment to holding family-sustaining jobs that have evolved into careers.
Although change is difficult, it can be managed successfully if top and senior management approach it with a set of clear goals from the outset and an open-mindedness about modifying hiring practices for the organization’s long-term benefit. In our experience, there have been numerous examples of this scenario, and there are opportunities for more.
The economic vitality of our region depends on SMMs taking actions that may be uncomfortable at first but absolutely necessary if they are to thrive in an increasingly dynamic business environment.
Petra Mitchell is president and CEO of Catalyst Connection.
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