Manufacturing Angle Grinder mage by Patrick Grüterich from Pixabay (Knipsling)The “Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker” is a report from Epicor that identifies insights into the attitudes and morale of manufacturing workers in the United States. The report is based on a survey of 600 employees in several US manufacturing industries. It provides several insights that business leaders in the sector should take note of.

The manufacturing industry is changing. The next generation of workforce has different ideas of how, when and where they want to work, and manufacturing firms must adapt like other industries to the changes. The risk of not doing has already been highlighted in a report from Deloitte that indicates that the American manufacturing industry will face a shortage of 2 million workers by 2030.

While this relates to the US, the issue is far broader. The UK faces similar shortages, with PWC stating in 2020 that British Manufacturing faces its largest shortage since 1989. The same shortages extend to Europe. The German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) indicated that several manufacturing sectors reported they could not fill over 65% of vacancies. (Source: Reuters).

What is in the report?

The report is 37 pages long and has an executive summary, the details of the survey demographics and is followed by five sections:

  • Day-to-Day Work
  • Upskilling and New Skills Sets
  • Technology and Modernization
  • Outlook of Manufacturing Work
  • Actionable Takeaways for Manufacturing Leadership

Each section of the report displays visualizations of the data points from the survey answers, along with a brief commentary. An analysis of the results is presented in a summary at the end of each section. There is also no qualitative element within the report, meaning most answers appear to be limited to what the quantitative survey offered.

What it does offer are valuable insights into what the American Workforce thinks about a range of subjects providing insights from across the sector that manufacturing leaders need to understand. Most surveys are focused on business leaders or IT teams. It is refreshing that the Epicor report is aimed at manufacturers’ most important resource, their people.

Kerrie Jordan, VP, Product Management, Data Platform at Epicor Software
Kerrie Jordan, VP, Product Management, Data Platform at Epicor Software

Kerrie Jordan, VP of Product Management, Data Platform at Epicor, commented, “Manufacturing leaders have long investigated new and innovative ways to successfully run their companies. Our goal with this research was to go a layer deeper by connecting directly with manufacturing workers. Through these findings, we are better able to give leadership tangible evidence on how to harness change for the better, further understand their teams, and create initiatives that ensure growth, engagement, and satisfaction across their departments.”

Day-to-Day Work

Day-to-Day Work looks at what workers think about their work. It identifies that 52% of respondents believe their company has high morale, and only 6.9% low morale. As reflected in other surveys, bonuses and high pay (18%) are not the top reason for this. Respondents believe a flexible work schedule (25%) and more paid time off (22%) are the top two reasons. The authors did not speculate what flexible working means for manufacturing workers. Despite the high morale, 45% of respondents see a higher turnover within their company.

Low morale is caused by poor leadership (24%), which also manifests in poor response to issues (15%), lagging compensation (15%) and a lack of communication (10%). However, a lack of flexibility was not in the data reported and may not have been an option given to respondents.

Interestingly, whilst building something with their hand is important (27%), 25% also want to contribute to the company’s mission. This is further reflected by the top five challenges employees face with the increased cost of raw materials (29%). They indicate a desire for a wider understanding of the company’s mission. In contrast, personal challenges include workload (3rd) and bad supervisors (4th). The report then identifies what makes a bad supervisor

Some good news for business leaders is that 83% of workers are fairly compensated. With the rising cost of living, though, will that be maintained? This is the longest section and has other interesting insights as well.

Upskilling and New Skills Sets

80% of organisations prioritise upskilling, with 62% providing on-the-job training. 49% also have access to an online training platform, though it is unclear what skills these offer employees. A third of organisations also offer paid time off or cover tuition costs.

While this is positive, they is no trending information. Is this something that has happened post covid, and will employers continue to offer such benefits?  One unanswered question is what workers intend to do with this training. Is it to further their career goals within the organisation or a catalyst for a higher-paid job elsewhere?

Technology and Modernization

This section looks at the technology organisations use, and it throws up some surprises, which may indicate a lack of understanding.

41% say that Big Data is used, yet only 24% say cloud computing is used. Most big data solutions use the cloud, so what was the understanding of cloud solutions and what that defined in the question?

Other technologies in use include Robotics or AI (36%), Augmented reality (32%), 3D Printing (26%) and Nanotechnology (24%). IoT languages at 20%, though the answers did not include M2M tech.

Outlook of Manufacturing Work

Is there a coming crisis? Only 44% intend to stay in their current job for the next year? While the reasons for leaving are similar to those identified in the first section for high morale, it isn’t clear if they are leaving the company or the industry.

However, 63.5% believe their job will be automated within the next 5 years, which may mean people are leaving the industry completely to further a different career. Interestingly, 60% would take a pay cut to leave their company for a more technology-driven organisation.

Does this mean the jobs they go to go beyond automation and focus on something different? It is unclear. Sustainability is also increasing in importance, with 61% saying they would take a pay cut to join a more sustainable company. It would have been interesting to ask how many have already done so in the last year.

Why do companies go out of business? Workers believe the top three reasons are all to do with talent:

  • High Turnover, 19%
  • Low worker morale, 18%
  • Poor Management 17%

Cash flow management is often cited as the biggest reason for companies failing. This was only fifth under the mishandled financial category, which does not completely align.

Actionable Takeaways for Manufacturing Leadership

This section provides details about three actions employers can take to mitigate the risks highlighted in the report

  • Make technology and sustainability a priority
  • Provide flexible work schedules and paid time off
  • Continue to invest in upskilling

One cannot help but think there are other insights in the data. Employees also want better communication. There is an indication that they value transparency, and perhaps if offered a clear career path within their organization, they may not leave.

Enterprise Times: what does this mean

Epicor should be lauded for what is an innovative piece of research. While there are always further questions, such research raised that it has asked the workers rather than leaders within manufacturing throws different insights from many surveys. Few surveys look at what employees think about their firm, though HR firms often do.

While manufacturers use modern technology on the shop floor, some areas were not explored. They include such things as mobile technology, which Epicor supports. Hopefully, Epicor will repeat the survey next year, not only expanding the question set slightly, for instance, to include what applications the workers use, such as HR. Will they also elect to expand the survey outside of the US? Regardless, the trend information will be interesting, especially around why workers leave their current organisation.

It will also be interesting to see whether Epicor release further details about whether there are any differences across the manufacturing industries surveyed. In a blog supporting the report’s release, manufacturing leaders and employees can download the full report.


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