Chain of Thought

Hiring Troops to Fight Economic Malaise

If waking up to the newspaper's headlines about economic malaise makes you want to go back to bed and assume the fetal position, here's a pick-me-up from ThomasNet's Industry Market Barometer (IMB), a semi-annual survey of buyers and sellers of industrial products and services. In its latest report, the IMB profiles Field Fastener Supply Company, headquartered just outside of Chicago. This industrial products distributor was one of 3,370 companies that responded to the survey. It is celebrating its second consecutive year of double-digit growth by building a new warehouse that will more than double the size of its facilities. The 45,000 square feet it is adding will be filled with newly purchased capital equipment and populated with new hires.

According to ThomasNet, Field Fastener is just one of many companies preparing for growth. In fact nearly half (45%) of respondents to its IMB survey reported growth over the last 6 months of 2010 and the majority (88% of respondents) are confident in their future expansion.

Expansion during this economy takes guts, but to me, the most gutsy thing these companies are doing is staffing up for their futures. Field Fastener, for example, is hiring for positions across the enterprise, from engineers to warehouse personnel. Brandon Plock, Sourcing Team Leader, is quoted as saying these investments reflect the company's confidence in continuing its double-digit growth for the long term.

His company has company. Among respondents to the IMB Survey, 43 percent say they will hire skilled trade workers, 36 percent will hire line workers, and 35 percent will bring in engineering staff.

Why is that so gutsy? Because their search will not be an easy one, according to a couple other reports that just came out. For example, while McGladrey's Summer Manufacturing & Distribution Monitor indicates that the manufacturers it surveyed say they're feeling pessimistic about the state of the U.S. and global economy, the majority still plan to hire in the coming year. Apparently they make a distinction between what's outside their control (such as the U.S. and global economies, rising commodities prices and other key risk factors) and what they feel falls within their control—i.e., whom they choose to hire.

According to McGladrey's spring and summer surveys, a majority of manufacturers said they planned to increase the workforce by an average of 7%. Respondents who said they increased their productivity seemed especially likely to do more hiring. In fact they are also more likely to be investing in workforce training.

Training and education are the new survival skills of this era, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report titled “Achieving Excellence in Production and Supply.” This report states that CEOs worldwide are citing a lack of key skills as the hottest issue on their agenda.

“Managing talent has overtaken risk as top of the CEO agenda and two thirds report that lack of the right skills is their biggest talent challenge,” the report says. “Manufacturing is no exception and companies in many different countries report shortages of suitably qualified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) qualified workers.”

The report also identifies softer skills that seem to be in short supply—things like problem solving and team working, that are needed for collaborative working up and down the supply chain.

If hiring talent is on your to-do list in the next few months, PwC suggest you ask yourself the following questions first:

• Are your assessment of skillset requirements and your people development and recruitment activities keeping up with the changing needs of your customer and supply chain strategies?

• Are you making the appropriate investment in in-house development packages and future talent programs?

• Do you have metrics in place to assess the return on such investments?

• Are you making the most of ways in which you could reach up the future talent supply chain and collaborate with schools and universities?

• What are the opportunities for shared initiatives across your supply chain or with other companies in your sector?

This is not only a good checklist, but it will ultimately be a good test of your company's resolve to surpass this economy's “New Normal.”

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