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Small Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2021

While you’re watching the pandemic and the economy, keep an eye on these three important small manufacturing trends for 2021.

By William Krueger
 3 min read
4.5 Ways to Protect Your Employees on the Shop Floor From COVID-19
September 17, 2020
 5 min read

The ongoing disruptions related to COVID-19 and uncertainty around additional economic relief are top-of-mind for all of us. In addition to managing those urgent issues, we’ve got to keep our eyes on three other prevailing factors as we head into 2021:

Skilled Labor Shortages

The ongoing issues of an aging workforce and a shortage of skilled labor still warrant attention in 2021. BLS data show that almost two-thirds of the entire manufacturing workforce is over 35. The median age is even higher, coming in at 44 for the sector overall, 45 for machinery manufacturing, and 46 for primary metals and fabricated metal products manufacturing. 

One example: according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, machinists and tool and die maker employment is projected to grow 3% from 2019 to 2029 — this is less from actual growth and more, the report notes “from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.” 

“With so many workers nearing retirement age, the industry will not only lose a large number of workers but also their most seasoned and knowledgeable workers. This trend coupled with the ongoing skilled labor shortage presents a big challenge,” notes Tony Glockler, CEO and co-founder of SolidProfessor, an e-learning company specializing in software applications for engineering and design, and periodic contributor for American Machinist

Diversity and Inclusion

A raft of data shows that companies employing people with different skills, experiences, and knowledge outperform those financially and operationally who don’t. A deliberate focus on diversity and inclusion can not only boost your bottom line but can also help stem labor shortage issues. 

Data from the BLS show how big the opportunity for improvement is. White people make up 79.5% of the sector’s workforce; 10.4% Black or African-American; 16.8% Hispanic or Latino and 6.8% Asian. Women make up less than one-third — just 29.4% — of the workforce. 

Diversity is more than race, ethnicity, and gender. A comprehensive diversity and inclusion approach also considers ability, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

Data and Analytics

It’s never been easier to use data to improve operations and control costs. Analytics capabilities are embedded in many ERP software packages and on may modern CNC machines and industrial 3D printers, yet a lot of us still don’t capitalize on them. If you’ve been reluctant to adopt analytics, 2021 is a good year to launch a pilot program. 

“Use problems as an opportunity,” suggests Louis Columbus, principal, DELMIAWORKS, a division of Dassault Systèmes. “For example, let’s say you want to minimize scrap to reduce costs. You can figure out what’s causing the scrap by gathering data on the areas of waste and analyzing that to see what the root issues are. The findings have a bottom-line impact. You can also use that data to understand demand forecasting and operation planning.” Other opportunities to deploy analytics:  accurately predict maintenance cycles, test quality, optimize products, and efficiently schedule supply orders and deliveries. 

“Manufacturing is so rich with data,” Columbus concludes. “It’s there, so why not be goal-focused in how you use it?”

Planning your response to these important trends creates a competitive advantage and empowers you to operate from a position of knowledge and strength.

William Krueger
As a digital marketing specialist, William works with all forms of media from photography and video to content writing and graphic design to tell the story of American manufacturing. He holds a B.A. in Communication from Wittenberg University.

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