A Conversation With: Richard Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley
LVB: Are supply chain issues continuing to plague manufacturers in the region, or is the problem getting better?
Hobbs: The quick answer to this question is both. The supply chain issues are improving, but they are still a plague to many manufacturers. To a large degree, it depends on your market segment/niche and whether you source products from far away, as in offshore, or you need some of the “tough to get” products out there. We see many manufacturers waiting months for what used to be weeks in deliveries. Imports are stuck in transit often, be it at the ports or on the ocean or on truck transit.
Many have turned to airfreight as an alternative, but capacity has been stretched thin there as well. All that said, many manufacturers have been able to bulk up on inventories, thus minimizing the impact of supply chain issues. While not the greatest financial move, it has helped to keep lead times in check and win business in some cases.
LVB: Many industries, including manufacturing, are having trouble finding the right talent. What is being done to help meet the labor demand?
Hobbs: This was a problem before the pandemic in manufacturing, but the pandemic has certainly made it worse. Ultimately there is a demographic issue at the root of this problem. There just aren’t enough workers to fill the open jobs, this is especially true in the Lehigh Valley. To combat this, employers are vying to become the “employer of choice” to attract and retain talent.
Many employers are getting creative and looking outside the box to alternate sources of labor such as immigrant workers, veterans, second chance (previously incarcerated) individuals etc. There has also been a lot more activity with regard to fostering apprenticeships and focusing on graduating high school and CTE (Career and Technical Education) students.
LVB: There has been a lot of effort being put into getting young people interested in manufacturing careers, are you seeing progress?
Hobbs: Yes, we are seeing progress, but a lot of this is difficult to measure. Qualitatively we are seeing more activity in the middle and high schools, but how much of this directly translates into manufacturing careers is a challenge to measure.
LVB: What are some of the challenges ahead for manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley and how is the MRC helping them address those challenges?
Hobbs: The main challenge is continuing to fill the pipeline for new workers and to retain the ones you already have! Simple to say, but much harder to do. Right behind the workforce challenges are the supply chain issues talked about earlier in this Q&A. The MRC continues to offer targeted trainings, consulting and coaching guidance, along with a suite of workforce initiatives (What’s So Cool About Manufacturing, The Dream Team, STEAM Club, apprenticeship opportunities) to help manufacturers through these two significant challenges.
Author: Stacy Wescoe
610-807-9619, ext. 4104.