Workforce, global uncertainty top manufacturers’ concerns in survey

Many planning 2016 capital equipment investments

Developing the next generation workforce and handling an unpredictable global economy were among the top concerns of Midwest manufacturers in a survey conducted by Wauwatosa-based professional development organization The Paranet Group.

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The survey found that finding and retaining new talent, creating awareness of manufacturing jobs, cross training, developing retirement transition plans and understanding generational and cultural differences were among the top issues in managing workforce needs.

The challenges of a global economy were highlighted by a need to remain flexible, manage quality and cost, reduce lead times, become more lean, introduce new products overseas and consider potential building expansions.

The survey found nearly 82 percent of respondents, who were members of Paranet’s network of companies, planned to invest in purchasing capital equipment. The survey had not found a percentage that high since 2007.

Willingness to move forward with facility expansions was not quite as high. Sixty percent said they were not planning any building changes. A quarter said they would be remodeling their existing facilities, 10 percent planned to build new buildings and 5 percent planned to make additions. Paranet’s report on the survey said the percentage looking to expand facilities was significant for a number of reasons.

“It reveals that growth across a variety of metrics has been stable and increasing, while this also suggest that these business are responding – cautiously – to a recovering economy that may finally be reaching a predictable measure of stability,” the report says.

The survey found 60 percent of respondents had experienced growth in 2015, while 30 percent said their business was stable and 10 percent saw a contraction.

A majority of companies reported expanding their salaried and hourly workforce at 56 and 59 percent respectively.

The lessons respondents reported that they learned from 2015 included a need to focus on continuous planning, invest in workforce training, stay informed on supply and demand, focus on customers’ needs, avoid becoming overconfident or comfortable, diversify to lessen the impact of any one market and plan for the long and short term.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.