Positive indicators abound for North America's manufacturing sector, but the upward trajectory might not be sustainable, according to the latest Industry Market Barometer from ThomasNet. The survey included responses from about 500 manufacturers, mostly small and midsize companies.
Survey responses indicated that companies are hiring, increasing production capacity and investing in future growth. More than half (58 percent) grew in 2013, and 63 percent expect even more gains by the end of 2014, according to a release on the report.
More manufacturers are selling overseas, and one-third of those companies expect that business to increase.
The challenge arises with hiring plans. More than half (52 percent) expect to add staff in the next several months, up from the 42 percent last year. Respondents are looking for trained, experienced people, such as manufacturing/production management, line workers, skilled trade workers and engineers. But the pipeline for such talent is less than "robust," said Mark Holst-Knudsen, president of ThomasNet.
Nearly half of this year’s respondents (49 percent) are 55 and older, and 38 percent plan to retire in one to 10 years. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they don't have a succession plan.
Even more troubling, there are few young people in the workforce ready to take on these roles as the boomers retire.
“We need new talent everywhere – on the plant floor, in the field, and in management – and getting young people to look at manufacturing isn’t easy,” said Karen Norheim, executive vice president, American Crane & Equipment Corporation, Douglassville, PA. “To ensure our company’s success, our employees have become brand ambassadors for manufacturing. We’re bringing our children to our plants, looking at new internship programs, and reaching out to local colleges and trade schools. By making a local footprint, we’re helping to address a national problem.”
Younger people still perceive manufacturing as "blue collar" work and not a career path for them, the report says. Baby boomers’ perceptions of millennials exacerbate the challenge, with 43 percent of respondents saying they believe this generation lacks the work ethic and discipline to succeed.