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Small Manufacturers 'New Normal'

A Look at the "New Normal" for Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturers

Oct. 19, 2021
"The battle for employees is intense right now, and small business leaders have stressed the importance of being flexible in a safe and healthy workplace environment," says NAM.

The Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research and national CPA and advisory firm BKD released results from their fall survey of small and medium-sized manufacturers. This semiannual survey looks at workforce impacts and the “new normal” for manufacturers with 500 or fewer employees.  

Key survey findings include the following:

  • Workplace safety: Nearly 79% of small and medium-sized manufacturers have enhanced workplace safety measures and requirements since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In addition, firms reevaluated their supply chain, increased worker flexibility, instituted more remote work and reengineered their production processes with social distancing in mind.
  • New normal: Many of the survey respondents reported additional workplace flexibility, with others noting supply chain and workforce challenges. At the same time, several companies noted that the changes they needed to implement have made them a stronger company and more prepared for future crises. Some respondents noted that their new normal is not much different from the old one or that it is too soon to tell.
  • New workforce models: Since the beginning of the pandemic, companies have needed to adapt, with more work taking place remotely, understanding that much of the production process is not able to shift work away from the shop floor. Still, for those employees where it is possible, companies have shifted their perceptions of the value of remote work, and many see a hybrid model continuing post-pandemic.
  • Return to work: More than 71% of respondents said their firms had not received any resistance or hesitance to returning to work, where working remotely was an option, with 18.4% saying they had faced some resistance.
  • Transitioning the business: Nearly one-quarter of respondents said the pandemic had changed or heightened their desire to transition or sell their business. Of those who said this, 68.1% were working on a plan where they might not have before.
  • Disruptive technology investments: One-third of SMMs had accelerated their investments in disruptive technologies since the pandemic began, with 61.4% noting that such investments were done to improve the operational performance in production. Other motivations included achieving greater efficiencies and to stay competitive with others in the industry. Worker shortages were also a factor.
  • Worker needs in light of technology investments: Respondents offered free response comments, featured below, on both how the worker profile might change as a result of investment in disruptive technologies and how upskilling opportunities for existing employees might be altered.

 “Small and medium-sized manufacturers have needed to be pragmatic and flexible in the face of extraordinary challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Center for Manufacturing Research Director and National Association of Manufacturers Chief Economist Chad Moutray, said in a statement.

“The battle for employees is intense right now, and small business leaders have stressed the importance of being flexible in a safe and healthy workplace environment," Moutray added. " Adding to the worker challenge, the adoption of new technologies has continued to alter the worker profile and the types of training and upskilling that are required in a modern shop floor environment.

This survey underscores the mission of Creators Wanted , the joint campaign of the MI and NAM to build the workforce of tomorrow—and excite, educate and empower a new generation of creators in the United States today.”

 “It has been said by many that the pace of change will never be as slow as it is now, meaning future changes will continue at a more rapid rate and on a continuous basis,” said BKD, LLP Partner John Mather. “As seen in the key findings noted below and in the details of the fall survey, many companies do not have a solid handle on what is the “new normal” as it varies by company and seemingly changes every day. What is prevalent is that supply chain concerns and the ability to attract, train and retain employees continue to be the two top challenges facing manufacturers today..”

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