Bullish on 2019

Manufacturers look to make upgrades, hire more workers

Posted on Jan 11, 2019 :: Feature
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Manufacturers across the New North anticipate plenty of hiring in 2019 — if they can find enough workers.

According to the NEW Manufacturing Alliance 2019 Manufacturing Vitality Index, 59 percent of manufacturers plan to hire during the first quarter, with 45 percent planning to hire more workers overall throughout the year. When it comes to business investment, 70 percent plan to spend on modernization, and after seeing strong sales in 2018, 80 percent of manufacturers anticipate the same
for 2019.

The annual study serves as an indication of the strength and vitality of manufacturing employers in the region, says Mike Kawleski, public affairs manager for Georgia-Pacific and chair of NEWMA’s communications taskforce.

“This year’s report showcases that manufacturers are very bullish for 2019 and plan on investing in their businesses more than any time before in the nine years we’ve been doing the study,” he says.

New North manufacturers are working from a position of strength, says NEWMA Director Ann Franz.

“Companies are reinvesting in their companies via modernization and expansion. They are seeing a strong increase in customers,” she says.

The worker shortage remains an area of concern among manufacturers, Franz continues. This year, it is expected 88 percent of manufacturers will struggle to fill their open positions — a dramatic increase from the 29 percent of employers in 2011 who could not find the workers they needed. The hardest jobs to fill include general labor positions, machinists and CNC machinists and engineers.

While most of the unfilled jobs require some postsecondary education, many do not require
a four-year degree, Franz says.

“What’s good for the workforce in terms of looking at this report is, ‘Hey, I can break into manufacturing without any postsecondary education.’ However, there are a lot of jobs that do require it,” she says.

One job that’s in high demand — engineering — has gotten a boost with four-year engineering programs now offered at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. More than 300 students are enrolled in those two programs — a huge increase since the New North did not have any four-year engineering programs in place when NEWMA was launched in 2006, Franz says.

Besides finding an applicant with the right skills, survey respondents reported that employability skills are also in heavy demand, especially attendance, good communication, accountability and time management.

While employers may be concerned about finding enough workers, that is not dulling their expectations for 2019. The vitality study found 99 percent of respondents anticipated their company’s financial wellness in the next six to 12 months will be healthy or quite healthy, Kawleski says.

Manufacturers planning for sales growth, capital investment and hiring during the next 12 months are all strong signs that manufacturing will remain vibrant, he adds.

Franz says a record 34 percent of survey participants plan expansions during the next 12 to 24 months, while 70 percent plan on some type of plant modernizations during that same time period.

UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research Services conducted the survey, which was completed by New North manufacturers with $3 million or more in annual revenue and 25 or more employees.