SURVEY SAYS – Manufacturers bullish on future, but worried about finding employees

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

MANUFACTURERS IN THE NEW North are bullish on the future, but are concerned about finding the right workers to help their companies meet rising demand, according to a new study.

The second annual Manufacturing Vitality Index, which was unveiled during the New North Summit in early December, found that 71 percent of manufacturers in the region expect an increase in sales during 2012.

The Manufacturing Vitality Index, which was put together by the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, checked in with regional manufacturers who have at least $3 million or more in annual revenue and more than 25 employees.

While manufacturers expect good things in 2012, there is one area that concerns them – the workforce. Forty-three percent of manufacturers plan to hire workers during 2012, but almost half of them – 45 percent – predict having difficulty finding employees with the right set of skills.

“That stood out to me – the concern manufacturers have about being able to find talent,” says Chris Linn, vice president of marketing and business development of Bassett Mechanical in Kaukauna and a member of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s communications committee. “It’s important to work with school districts so they can help us better prepare workers for the jobs of the future. It’s definitely more difficult to find talent in 2012 than it was in 2011.”

Manufacturers are growing and have plans to expand more in the months and years to come. The index found that 36 percent of companies surveyed plan on plant modernization in the next 24 months.

“We have a vital, vibrant manufacturing community that competes globally, but the challenge remains that these companies need workers,” Linn says. “Manufacturers have to really take the initiative to reach out to schools and create relationships, whether that’s by bringing in students for tours, bringing in speakers to schools or working with them on curriculum.”

Manufacturers look at a variety of strategies to grow and increase profit, says Buckley Brinkman, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He cited the recent results of a national Next Generation Manufacturing study that found 67 percent of Wisconsin manufacturers have realized the importance of sustainable practices. During a 2008 study, just 33 percent of companies said sustainability was important or highly important.

“For our operations to remain competitive, it’s clear that more Wisconsin companies must commit to process improvements that also increase sustainability,” says Brinkman.

As for NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s annual index, Linn says having a couple years’ worth of data in place will help going forward since trends and concerns can be more easily tracked. For example, the responses from the 2011 and 2012 studies revealed the big uptick in the concern about having enough workers.

“Each year, we should gain more perspective as the study comes together,” he says.