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By Amy N. Susan, Missouri Enterprise Director of Communications and Marketing

Full disclosure, this is a "perspective" piece. After more than ten years working in government, I am fresh out and now writing for the non-profit manufacturing-focused consulting firm, Missouri Enterprise. Before working stateside, I was a news reporter. What this means… is that I promise to provide qualifiers and stats galore as well as actionable information. (close-up shot) Reporting live on the "Body Gap", Amy N. Susan, Missouri Enterprise News

We know that the population is not growing at a rate that can sustain industry, leaving a void in the workforce. According to an Industry Week article written last month by Buckley Brinkman (Executive Director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity), there will be a national gap of 20 million workers nationwide.

Even as technology advances and machines automate some jobs, who will be left to operate manufacturing plants? We are well into what the Federal Reserve considers "full employment", which is a base unemployment rate of 5.0 to 5.2 percent (the national rate in Nov. 2017 was 4.1 percent and Missouri's was 3.4). This is great news for the workforce with more and more people in jobs. But for manufacturers eager to fill positions vacated by tenured staff or turnover, it could mean for slim pickins'.

Now we could all applaud House Speaker Paul Ryan for recently encouraging folks to get on the baby train and make up for a record low national birth rate, which was 62 births per 1,000 women in 2016 (queue Huggies Baby-Making Station on Pandora).

Huggies

Purchasing a very expensive ticket for the train (Note: I am a mother of two. You're welcome, America.), exposing our youth to STEM, and encouraging our emerging workers to take a serious look at technical careers (like MANUFACTURING-- it's common knowledge that those with a tech/trade certificate can often make more money out of school than of those graduating with a Bachelor's degree), are all solid efforts to make long-term strides towards softening the "skilled" body gap blow. But what can manufacturers do NOW?

One: Help Develop the Body Pipeline

Partner with a technical school (think Ranken Technical College) or a community college or another workforce development agency to institute a feeder program. There are so many examples of how beneficial this is for the company as well as other companies in the region. By investing in a classroom, purchasing equipment for the students to train on, or better yet-- offer apprenticeships, you will have access to a ready-to-work and trained labor force.

Two: Stop Pointing the Finger

Unless it is at yourself (the employer), stop pointing it at the workforce. As a manufacturing consulting and solutions non-profit, we've heard it all-- …"we can't find workers that want to work in our dumpy plant"… "no one wants these low-wage jobs"… "The younger generation just doesn't want to work".

Okay, we would have to agree with all but the last comment. The first two can be remedied by the employers themselves. I mean, who WOULD want to work at a dumpy grungy, filthy plant--especially if there are other options? And based on the data we already reviewed, these folks have lots of other choices. And low-wages--I seriously doubt you will find a candidate waiting at the front door just thrilled to get in a day's minimum wage work at your fine establishment.

So, as employers, how can we fix this?

First, take some pride in your shop. Clean it up, put some fresh paint on the wall, modernize the break room, and finally invest a little cash into the facilities (those that help take care of the human breaks…ah hmm).

Truck Movers

We realize this could mean for taking out a loan or skipping on ordering more promotional items (we are not knocking the flare companies out there-- we rely on them, too, and understand many are manufacturers themselves). But by taking good care of your business, workers are more likely to think that you are going to take good care of them.  And if productivity goes up-- you should make sure compensation to your workers follows (hint: be sure to mention that in your job ad and interview).                                                

As for the last statement about millennials not wanting to work-- it's not that it's incorrect, it's just that the statement is incomplete.

It should be: The younger generation doesn't want to work at a low-paying dumpy, grungy establishment for a company that doesn't have a purpose outside of making money and most importantly, doesn't offer free wifi.

These millennials have been coined as being "the dreamers". But at their essence, they are a passionate bunch. They want to be empowered, know that they are making a difference and gosh darn it-- be able to check their Instagram during their breaks in a "chill" environment (that's slang for a room that doesn't feature crusty furniture with stains and leftovers from decades ago but rather offers phone chargers, perhaps a ping pong table, and a snack or cappuccino machine).

Just making these small upgrades can go a long way in attracting these workers who are also likely to be much more tech savvy than your CPA who "worked" with Dreamweaver a decade ago. Side note-- I am not a CPA but I did work in Dreamweaver more than a decade ago. (#RedFace).

Three: Take a Helping Hand from the Pros

The saying, "It takes a village", could also be applicable to the business world. There is no one manufacturer that is exactly like the other. Sure, they all have similar problems, but the solutions need to be customized to meet their needs. That is where the professionals at Missouri Enterprise can help. It's a non-profit organization that walks into a manufacturing plant, assesses any issues, identifies growth opportunities, and develops affordable (remember-- it’s a non-profit), solutions that can change the game for the company. And addressing the "body gap" is at the top of our radar. Before joining the Missouri Enterprise team, I worked alongside it via a partner agency for four years-- I am a believer in what these folks can do.

This year, Missouri Enterprise will launch a seminar series devoted to helping manufacturers tackle the workforce issue, along with other mainstream topics such as technology and continuous improvement, among others.

And because we also agree that it takes a village, we are going to invite some of our partners on the state level to provide insight into their resources that are specifically for Missouri manufacturers. If you like this post, we will be sure to reach out to you in the coming weeks as the agenda and locations are set. We plan to hold workshops in Missouri's major metros including Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia, etc. Or, at any time, you can always reach out to your Area Business Manager and have them come to your facility for a free consultation (https://goo.gl/3C2V1A).

The moral of the story is… (as one of my old bosses would often say), to change the course of the "man" gap in manufacturing, start with the "man" in the mirror and act today.