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How COVID-19 is Reshaping the Workplace

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

The COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of ending anytime soon, due to less-than-stellar vaccination rates and other factors. That means we will be coping with the consequences of the pandemic for the foreseeable future. So what have manufacturers learned from dealing with COVID-19?

A semiannual survey from The Manufacturing Institute and BKD, a CPA and advisory firm, focused on this key topic. It looks at workforce impacts and the “new normal” for manufacturers with 500 or fewer employees, and found that:

  • Nearly 79 percent of small and medium manufacturers (SMMs) have enhanced workplace safety measures and requirements since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
  • More than 71 percent of respondents said their firms had not encountered resistance or hesitance to returning to work.
  • 56 percent noted a need for increased worker flexibility, and about half had re-evaluated what work could be done remotely. Even so, 41 percent said their business was re-engineering the production process for social distancing.

Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers and director of the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research, said, “The battle for employees is intense, and small business leaders have stressed the importance of being flexible in a safe and healthy workplace environment.” Supply chain issues and the ability to attract, train and retain employees are the two top challenges facing manufacturers, the survey said.

Those supply chain problems were created by the aftershock from the COVID-19 pandemic. Verusen, which focuses on supply chain intelligence, released its 2021 State of Supply Chain report based on research conducted in August. According to the survey:

90 percent of companies are focused on cost reduction, and 75 percent are focused on operational risk reduction—focus areas that are often in conflict with each other.

65 percent of companies’ materials management strategies haven’t changed since the beginning of the pandemic, while 43 percent are intentionally inflating their inventories to protect against disruptions.

Data complexity and poor data quality are by far the most prevalent causes cited for poor materials management and planning.

So what to make of all this? Clearly, two huge challenges for businesses amid the pandemic are to keep their people safe and navigate a highly disrupted supply chain. Our lead feature in this issue looks at how the aerospace and defense industry is coping with its supply chain issues.

But given the daunting challenges the manufacturing industry has faced, we can be proud of how companies have remained resilient, employing creative responses to the most challenging crisis in years. No doubt that resiliency will be further challenged in the years ahead as we continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

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