The Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Manufacturing Alliance announced its 12th annual “Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Vitality Index Study” at its Quarterly Membership meeting at Fox Valley Technical College. Mike Kawleski, public affairs manager for Georgia-Pacific and chair of the Alliance’s Communications Taskforce, shared the results of the study, which serves as an indication of the strength and vitality of manufacturing employers in the New North. “This year’s report finds that manufacturers sales recovered from 2020, however supply chain constraints and lack of talent are strong concerns from companies in the region. The study found a record number of manufacturers planning on investing in modernization than any other year of the study,” reported Kawleski. “In addition, over half are planning to hire in the first quarter of 2022. The biggest issue is that the skills shortage continues to be of great concern, especially in machinist and general labor/production occupations.”
The Alliance has commissioned the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services to administer the study over the past 12 years. Presidents and CEOs of northeast Wisconsin manufacturing companies with at least $3 million in revenue and 25 or more employees participated in the study. In total, 147 manufacturers participated in the survey conducted in fall 2021, answering questions related to financial health, business growth expansion, plant modernization, supply chain constraints, 2022 hiring intentions, and potential skills shortages.
Respondents said their companies are financially solid, with 98 percent projecting their firms’ financial health in the next 6 to 12 months will be “healthy” or “quite healthy.” In 2021, sales rebounded with an almost 70% reported increase sales. Manufacturers believe that they will have strong growth in sales in 2022 with 75% expecting an increase in sales. A record number of 7 out of 10 companies reported that they are investing in plant modernization. In addition, 35% report investing in expansion plans in the upcoming year.
The study asked a new question regarding if companies were experiencing any supply chain constraints. Over 96% stated that they have experienced supply chain constraints in 2021.
“The first quarter of 2022 should be strong for hiring, with over half of companies (56.8%) saying they plan on hiring in the first three months of next year. In subsequent quarters, over 50% plan on hiring,” noted Ann Franz, the Alliance’s executive director. “However, 91% of manufacturers are concerned that they will not find the workforce they need in the new year.” This is the highest percentage compared to the other years of the study. In fact, in the first year of the study in 2011 had only 29% reported a hiring concern.
Employees such as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinists, operators, general labor/production workers, engineers, welders, industrial maintenance/electro-mechanical technicians, and assemblers remain difficult to locate and are in high demand. Machinists/machine operator positions were noted as the hardest to fill in this year’s survey. Employability skills are also heavily in demand, especially attendance, communication, work ethic, teamwork, and math skills.