By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Shortage or workers, lack of raw materials among problems facing the sector
Manufacturing represents a vital part of America’s economy and, more specifically, Central New York’s economy. Unique challenges face today’s manufacturers, some of which they have never experienced before.
Obtaining the supplies they need is a new everyday struggle for many manufactures. Chandra Marshall, vice president and general manager of the Lockheed Martin Syracuse site, said that supply chain disruption is one of “the most challenging issues in manufacturing today.”
Without the right raw materials to make goods and the means to distribute what they make, manufacturers have suffered financial losses.
According to IHL Group, the retail sector in 2020 lost $1.14 trillion worldwide because of out-of-stock goods. That does not count business to business or direct business to consumer sales.
“We have and will continue to work in concert alongside our customers and suppliers to ensure we can deliver products that keep military and civilians safe,” Marshall said.
Labor shortages have also been plaguing manufacturers. The retiring baby boomers and young people’s lack of interest in hands-on work are among the longstanding reasons for few skilled workers. The pandemic and its aftermath have exacerbated the problem.
“Filling open positions is also something we are focused on daily,” Marshall said. “We have been working with peers in the region and industry, as well as CenterState CEO, to address hiring needs and skill gaps.”
Retention is also one of Lockheed Martin’s strategies. Marshall said that competitive salaries, meaningful work and a good work environment are all part of the company’s retention plan.
For Huhtamaki, the largest manufacturing business in Fulton, it’s all about educating people.
“Our focus remains on education as we feel that it is the most critical element for the development of our labor pool in Central New York,” said Mark Southwick, Huhtamaki’s Fulton plant manager. “We want to provide opportunities to anyone looking to enter the manufacturing workforce and make sure that they can do that with a strong skillset.”
Partnering with organizations involved in labor, education and manufacturing has helped Huhtamaki recruit more workers. This includes the Oswego County Workforce Career Center; Oswego County P-TECH; CiTi (Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation); Cayuga Community College; Workforce Development Institute, Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY); and area high schools.
“We invite all businesses in our region to support these great organizations and help develop the workforce of the future,” Southwick said.
Tiffany Latino-Gerlock, speaking for MACNY, also said that the labor shortage is affecting the industry.
“It is definitely something that certain companies in manufacturing are dealing with in trying to find skilled labor,” she said. “There’s a major focus on workforce development initiatives. Apprenticeship programs are part of that. We do a lot with our manufacturer’s intermediary apprenticeship program.”
The program allows students to undertake learning on the job along with classroom time to earn certification in their field; all while receiving pay for their work. The program costs the students nothing.
“We also have a career and talent platform,” Latino-Gerlock said. “We’re trying to help connect employers and employees. Manufacturing careers are really good careers for people. A lot of our members are focused on community and getting people started on their career pathways.”
Rising costs and supply issues are another issue Latino-Gerlock listed. She views reshoring manufacturing as one answer, as it would bring home the making of the parts and supplies manufacturers rely upon.
Inflation is another. It affects any business. Gas prices and prices of supplies are going up, it impacts any business.
As the economy adjusts and shifts to post-pandemic life, it’s tough for some companies to transition. Some were very busy during the pandemic; others not as much. Consumer demand is one of the large factors in driving some of the wildest swings.
“Our biggest challenge is handling the extra work and uncertainty from our customers,” said Laura Miller, general manager with Darco Manufacturing, Inc. in Syracuse. “Job shops are built to handle chaos, but nowadays everybody starts conversations with, ‘We’re crazy busy.’ You can hear exhaustion in people’s voices as they follow with, ‘Good problem to have.’”
Regardless of the challenges facing manufacturing, creating the goods that we rely on will remain an important industry.