Manufacturing could well be the industry poised to bounce back most thoroughly from the Covid recession, but a chronic headache for the industry has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Even back in 2015 Deloitte, in association with The Manufacturing Institute, projected that manufacturing would face a labor shortage of some 2 million workers by 2030, even under normal conditions. We all know 2020 and 2021 have left us operating under less than normal conditions.

As a manufacturer, you know you’re going to have to get creative to deal with this labor shortage to meet clients’ and customers’ expectations for your ability to put out the goods. Out of these labor pains, the manufacturing sector will survive only by birthing a new era of industrial automation, what already has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Is your company prepared?

How severe is the labor shortage?

In their 2021 manufacturing outlook, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute now project the skills gap will leave the sector with 2.1 million unfilled positions by 2030, potentially costing the U.S. economy $1 trillion. A whopping 77 percent of survey participants said they expect to have difficulty filling open positions in 2021 and beyond.

Deloitte’s survey found the pandemic cost U.S. manufacturing 1.4 million jobs. By the end of 2020, 820,000 of those jobs had been recouped, but manufacturing employment remained 570,000 jobs below the pre-pandemic level, despite some 500,000 job openings.

Manufacturers report finding the right skills to fill these open positions is 36 percent harder than it was in 2018, despite an unemployment rate nearly double what it was then.

Another survey by The Workforce Center at UKG echoes these concerns. In a survey of more than 300 companies, both U.S.-based and multinationals with a large U.S. imprint, 54 percent reported having trouble finding workers with the needed skill set, up from 38 percent pre-pandemic. More than a third of respondents reported these struggles are hitting them with a double whammy: lower production (37 percent) and higher overtime costs (34 percent).

The survey also unearthed that 68 percent (more than 2 in 3) companies let employees go because of poor attendance, and 13 percent had to adjust schedules every day because of attendance issues. Turnover rates are up 15 percent, as well. If all of this sounds familiar, know that you are not alone.

How are companies responding?

Despite the ongoing labor pressures, the manufacturing sector recorded its 16th consecutive month of growth in September, according to the Manufacturing PMI® from the Institute of Supply Management. The September index stood at 61.1 percent, up 1.2 percentage points over August, and well above the growth threshold of 50 percent.

Manufacturers are managing this growth despite staffing and supply chain issues through creative use of current staff and automation. The UKG survey found 63 percent of companies are retraining employees to attain desired skill sets while 60 percent are cross-training employees.

Companies also are looking to hire non-traditional or alternative employees to fill needed positions. Some 62 percent reported hiring people with disabilities or special needs, 56 percent are recruiting retirees, and 52 percent have considered previously incarcerated or “second-chance” workers.

Moving forward, manufacturers are going to need to overcome obstacles to getting younger workers into their workforce. FANUC points out that recruiters need to counter the antiquated ideas about manufacturing being haunted by the three D’s: dirty, dull and dangerous.

Ironically, automation, which some consider a threat to manufacturing jobs, opens the door to appealing to younger, tech-savvy workers because they come with skills that will be beneficial in the future of manufacturing.

How robotics can help your labor struggles

Beyond the youth appeal, (after all, how cool are robots) industrial robots provide several benefits for your company along with filling roles you might be unable to staff with humans.:

  • Robots don’t mind repetitive tasks. Actually, robots are quite proficient at repetitive tasks, bringing a higher level of precision to your manufacturing process.
  • Robots don’t mind heavy lifting. Well-maintained robotic arms can lift all day without getting tired and without getting injured. They also aren’t likely to slip and fall while carrying heavy packages.
  • Robots don’t need raises and benefits. Most robotics pay for themselves within a year or two, depending upon their scale and complexity. They also don’t have frequent absences, nor do they go looking for another job once you’ve trained them.

These little scenarios are just meant to show you how robotics system integration can improve your company’s proficiency, improve safety and provide a quick return on investment.

Getting to the right automation solution for your company

Of course, getting to exactly how robotics can assist your company and address your labor pains will require as unique of a solution as your company is unique in your industry.

Maybe you just need warehouse assistance in packing pallets. Maybe you need customized processes to package your product. Maybe you need to automate your entire line to speed up efficiency.

Robotics can address your needs in big ways or in small ways that might not scare you off with a monstrous price tag. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are a relatively inexpensive solution for small companies where the robots work alongside your human employees to help with certain tasks and to allow for social distancing. They also can be installed quickly and fit within your current workspace.

At RMH, we offer a unique opportunity for your company to learn how robotics can address your most serious labor headaches. Because we offer a full suite of industrial solutions — material handling, packaging, robotics, cranes, engineering services and maintenance — we can bring all of our industry experts together to solve your greatest needs. Our team can survey, analyze the current system and integrate automation to improve efficiency.

Many customers come to us with a perceived solution but are pleasantly surprised when our expert team of industrial automation system integrators crafts an even better process that addresses needs throughout their plants.

If you’re ready to discuss the quickest, most efficient method to address your frustrating labor shortage, contact our experts today to get your company moving forward again.