Manufacturers Encouraged to be Proactive in the Face of Workforce Challenges

Today, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) hosted its 10th annual ‘MADE in New Jersey’ Manufacturing Day at iPlay America in Freehold. The event brought hundreds of manufacturers and key stakeholders together to discuss industry trends and best practices. The aim of the conference was to empower manufacturers, change public perception about the industry, highlight its economic impact, and introduce more people to available career opportunities.

“2022 is a pivotal year for every manufacturing business in the United States,” said John Kennedy, CEO of NJMEP. “New Jersey manufacturers in particular faced tremendous challenges and overcame incredible odds as they shifted production to offset the damage caused by COVID-19 while supporting the nation as a whole.”

He added that while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, looming disruptions are set to make recovery only within reach for businesses that take a proactive approach to progress.

“Collaboration and participation will be essential for any business looking to grow in the new year,” said Kennedy. “As supply chain disruptions, cyberthreats, workforce shortages, and financial pressures remain, only the strategic, productive, and efficient will thrive.”

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released an article in May of 2021 that investigates the projected 2.1 million manufacturing jobs expected to go unfilled by 2030. Manufacturers surveyed reported the right talent is 36% harder to find than it was in 2018.

As a result, businesses must begin getting creative about how they invest in training, recruiting and retention.

When it comes to alleviating workforce challenges, Kennedy said that offering loyal employees training so they can become responsible for higher-skilled tasks, getting involved in the community, and signing up for Registered Apprenticeship Programs, while asking students to take part in high school pre-apprenticeship programs, are all excellent examples of how manufacturers can improve recruitment and retention efforts.

“Manufacturers will continue struggling with employment issues if they don’t take a proactive step toward cultivating a local workforce,” he added.

One area in which NJMEP is focusing to cultivate more is the participation of women in manufacturing.

Women are a largely underrepresented demographic in the industry. According to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, only approximately 30% of the 15.8 million people employed in manufacturing are women, and even less are in leadership positions.

“This [lack of women representation] creates countless issues downstream for the industry such as workforce shortages and a lack of diverse perspectives in decision-making,” said Constantina Meis, community relations manager at NJMEP, who is heading the organization’s new initiative called the “Year of Women in Manufacturing.”

“The ‘Year of Women in Manufacturing’ is an initiative to highlight the women leaders in New Jersey, to provide them and their communities a foundation to be heard, recognized, and a chance to encourage the next generation of girls and women manufacturing professionals. We set out on a mission to give the incredible women manufacturing business leaders a platform to be seen, and this initiative allows us to accomplish this goal,” Meis said.

For the strength of the industry as a whole, there is reason for optimism.

“In 2021, the US economy created 365,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest annual manufacturing gain in employment since 1994,” said Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill. “Earlier this year, we reached both the highest levels of US manufacturing production, and of US manufacturing employment since 2008, helping to reverse a significant decline in the sector since the Great Recession.”

As we head into 2023, it is vital that manufacturers stay creative and flexible. Companies need to be proactive and able to pivot based on their needs.

“Without evolving, a manufacturing operation will not be able to continue growing,” said Kennedy.

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