There is a need for a strong labor pool and more
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, several factors will influence whether Central New York manufacturers will grow.
“The current labor shortage grabs everyone’s attention. But, the need for a strong labor pool is not anything new and it calls for a sustained, long-term effort to meet the needs of our business,” said Mark Southwick, plant manager at Huhtamaki in Fulton.
He said that talent generators and educational institutions in the area are essential for meeting the labor demand, including Huhtamaki’s own partnerships, which include Oswego County Workforce Career Center, Oswego County PTECH, Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation, Cayuga Community College BOCES, Workforce Development Institute, Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), Mayor Deana Michaels of the city of Fulton and area high schools.
He said that he would like to see all businesses in the area support these organizations to help increase the size of the future workforce.
Randy Wolken, president and CEO of Manufacturers Association of Central New York, Inc. (MACNY) in Syracuse, also said that the labor pool continues to stymie growth in manufacturing and the root of the issue lies in education. He lauds the state’s “excellent educational system” yet wishes that more emphasis in education would be given to manufacturing jobs as career options.
“We need the entire population more familiar with STEM careers,” he said. “At the schools, both local, and at the state level, we need to leverage those. We need more people to go into skilled trades, whether apprenticeships, associates or bachelor’s. The worker shortage is not going away.”
Wolken said that with many skilled workers of the baby boom generation retiring, the “gray tsunami” of employee turnover will mean many more openings with few to fill them unless educators, parents and mentors emphasize manufacturing careers.
Wolken hopes to see the area undertake more infrastructure upgrades—“a huge win for manufacturers. There are a lot of manufacturing jobs when you do that construction,” Wolken said.
He added that infrastructure upgrades would also bring much-needed money to the state’s economy, which also benefits central New York.
“Capital is inexpensive, so there are a lot of resources to make capital investments,” Wolken said. “Availability of investment will always be a top priority for manufacturers.”
He also views the desire to have manufacturing in Central New York as a way of investing in manufacturing. Historically, the area has been home to many well-known manufacturers.
“We like to make things and grow things, but growing things is increasingly making things,” Wolken said. “Willingness to have these great jobs is something we need to want to have. From local jobs to the government, we need to be welcoming to investment and industry. Everyone’s involved, from local officials all the way up to the governor’s office. Local zoning helps. It helps manufacturers feel welcomed.”
CNY may have the talent and resources to attract new manufacturers, but that will not happen if they do not know about the area.
“We all in our daily lives are engaged with global customers but we haven’t reached the larger audience of the industrial world,” said Laura Miller, talent and community engagement manager at Darco Manufacturing, Inc., in Syracuse. “We need to communicate better not only among ourselves but to potential investors and customers. We have an incredibly competent workforce right here.”
Miller views current manufacturing companies in the area as small but productive, nimble, lean and creative.”
But she also hopes the area can pull in some larger manufacturers to help strengthen the drive and knowledge base of existing small manufacturers.
“We also get the benefit of the seasoned employees who want to go from a big company down to a smaller company,” Miller added. “They bring their broader experience to smaller companies. That’s very helpful.”
She finds the current re-shoring trend as positive, as well as some of the general side effects of the pandemic.
“We’re sharing work with our friends, competitors and peers,” Miller said. “COVID is making us stronger. We’re figuring stuff out that we didn’t before. Among those things is what our neighbors can do. We are growing. Orders are growing.”
Hotspot for Manufacturing
Like Miller, Jim D’Agostino, director and CEO of TDO Center in Liverpool, also wants to see CNY promoted as a hotspot for manufacturing.
“If more knew about our capabilities and our ecosystem in CNY, we’d see a lot more traction going on,” D’Agostino said. “There are a lot of stigmas attached to CNY with weather and legislation. I’m not saying this is the most business-friendly environment, but with that said, we have a lot of really good things going for us that a lot of people don’t realize.”
How employers reach out to potential employees may also affect their labor pool. D’Agostino hopes to see more workers returning to manufacturing jobs once the enhanced unemployment benefits end, which he believes provides “a lot of incentive to hand on the sidelines. If we could tip the scales on that with wages, benefits and wellness programs, there’s an opportunity to help companies hang onto and recruit some of the available help that’s out there.”
He also thinks that employee wellness programs and improved benefits could help.