Despite Ongoing Challenges for Manufacturers, Opportunities Abound in 2022

  • Efforts are underway at the state and national level to change perceptions about manufacturing and attract the workforce of the future.The Leaders Bank

    Efforts are underway at the state and national level to change perceptions about manufacturing and attract the workforce of the future.The Leaders Bank

Updated 3/3/2022 9:00 AM

The pandemic era has proven exceptionally challenging for manufacturers. Supply chain disruptions have injected unprecedented uncertainty into raw material delivery timing. Inflation has generated frightful increases in raw material prices. Labor shortages have created hiring difficulties, and exacerbated an already daunting talent attraction and retention situation.

But too much focus on industry headwinds can obscure the fact enormous potential exists within the grasp of manufacturers in 2022.


The COVID-driven shift to onshoring or nearshoring is producing rich growth opportunities for manufacturers willing to invest in creating stronger ecosystems of geographically proximate suppliers. Support from government programs can spur investments in new industry technologies and workforce upskilling. Potential exists for manufacturers to surmount today's challenges and usher in a far brighter reality in the years ahead.

Onshoring and nearshoring

After decades of reliance on foreign suppliers, a confluence of factors has helped manufacturers rethink offshoring. Among the most prominent is the growing inevitability of supply chain disruptions. Across industries, companies can now depend on month-or-longer supply chain disruptions taking place approximately every 3.7 years. Result: The research group operated by McKinsey & Company, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), says within five years, $4.6 trillion of trade could shift onshore or nearshore, as U.S. manufacturers seek to make their supply chains more resilient.

Once, common belief held that supply chain resilience and efficiency were mutually exclusive. Today's technology has helped refute that supposition. Tech advances are altering production economics, speeding response times and orchestrating multiple supplier layers, MGI reports. Investment in these tools, along with additional yet-to-be-developed strategies, will help forward-thinking manufacturing organizations develop onshore and nearshore supply chains, and become more flexible, inventive companies.

Collaboration within chain

As manufacturers take more control over their supply chains and bring them progressively nearer their operations, opportunity also exists to foster collaborative, open-source thinking among their suppliers. In so doing, they can help generate a virtuous cycle, wherein collaborative innovation supplants siloed research and development across the supply ecosystem. Greater economies of scale and shared return on investment should result.

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Co-locating manufacturers and their suppliers near institutions engaging in research and development can also strengthen the manufacturing supply chain ecosystem, helping make it more resilient to shocks.

Workforce development

The hiring and retention hurdles manufacturers face can only be overcome if workforce development is viewed through a long-term lens. Here again, opportunities exist for the manufacturing sector that did not exist before now. Prominent among them is the $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus received by states, which can help support workforce development. Perhaps just as important is unprecedented focus on manufacturers collaborating with community colleges to train the next generations of skilled workers.

Increasingly, it's understood one training solution cannot solve all the hurdles of manufacturing industry hiring and retention. The issue can be best summarized by Blake Moret, CEO of Rockwell Automation, who said, "The concept is to have multiple on- and off-ramps to education."

This solution allows different types of individuals -- including recent high school grads, returning military veterans and mid-career job changers - from differing geographic settings to access manufacturing careers.


Among the many programs and tools helping job seekers start the road to training at both the national and Illinois level are the National Association of Manufacturers and Manufacturing Institute's "Creators Wanted"program. The nation's largest manufacturing workforce development campaign, "Creators Wanted" focuses on workforce initiatives using online events, digital content and tools and a nationwide tour aimed at students, women, veterans, workers and underrepresented communities. The goal: To build the talent pipeline and shift perceptions about manufacturing.

Others include National Manufacturing Day each October 1, the Illinois WorkNet Center, Manufacturing Careers Internship Program, and the Rock Valley College EAGLE program, training aviation maintenance technicians.

Technology-enabled training

Earlier, we explored ways technology is helping make onshoring and nearshoring a growing reality. Technology, including tech from the world of gaming, has also ushered in new training solutions for manufacturers.

Utilizing augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), manufacturers are able to train current workers in on-the-job applications for higher-level responsibilities. They are also able to use AR and VR simulations to assess strengths of newly hired employees, to better match them with positions appropriate for their skills or with the training to reach higher skill levels. Using AR- and VR-enabled wearables, employees are able to absorb lessons projected onto their helmets, hard hats or vests, mastering in the real-world teachings that could never be imparted in classroom sessions.

It is true today's manufacturing headwinds are difficult to battle. However, tools and strategies needed to forge a more profitable tomorrow are increasingly available to manufacturers today.

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