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Making Change

 

The manufacturing tech industry is building back fast, undeterred by significant labor and supply-chain challenges. To maintain this momentum, manufacturers should navigate elevated risks while advancing sustainability priorities. That’s the takeaway, at any rate, from a recent Deloitte report exploring five manufacturing industry trends that can help organizations turn risks into advantages and capture growth.

It’s unusual to see positive economic indicators paired with historic labor and supply-chain challenges. But this is the trajectory for the U.S. manufacturing industry in 2022 emerging from the pandemic. The recovery gained momentum in 2021 on the heels of vaccine rollout and rising demand. As industrial production and capacity utilization surpassed pre-pandemic levels this year, strong increases in new orders for all major subsectors signal growth continuing in 2022.

However, optimism around revenue growth is held in check by caution from ongoing risks. Workforce shortages and supply-chain instability are reducing operational efficiency and margins. Business agility can be critical for organizations seeking to operate through the turbulence from an unusually quick economic rebound — and to compete in the next growth period. As leaders look not only to defend against disruption but strengthen their offense, our 2022 manufacturing-industry outlook examines five important trends to consider for manufacturing playbooks in the year ahead.

 

1. Preparing for the future of work could be critical to resolving current talent scarcity. Record numbers of unfilled jobs are likely to limit higher productivity and growth in 2022, and last year we estimated a shortfall of 2.1 million skilled jobs by 2030. To attract and retain talent, manufacturers should pair strategies such as reskilling with a recasting of their employment brand.

Shrinking the industry’s public perception gap by making manufacturing jobs a more desirable entry point could be critical to meeting hiring needs in 2022. Engagement with a wider talent ecosystem of partners to reach diverse, skilled talent pools can help offset the recent wave of retirements and voluntary exits.

Manufacturing executives may also need to balance goals for retention, culture, and innovation. As flexible work is taking root in offices, manufacturers should explore ways to add flexibility across their organizations in order to attract and retain workers. Organizations that can manage through workforce shortages and a rapid pace of change today can come out ahead.

 

2. Manufacturers are remaking supply chains for advantage beyond the next disruption. Supply-chain challenges are acute and still unfolding. There’s no mistaking that manufacturers face near-continuous disruptions globally that add costs and test abilities to adapt. Purchasing manager reports continue to reveal systemwide complications from high demand, rising costs of raw materials and freight, and slow deliveries in the U.S.

Transportation challenges are likely to continue in 2022 as well, including driver shortages in trucking and congestion at U.S. container ports. As demand outpaces supply, higher costs are more likely to be passed on to customers.

Root causes for extended U.S. supply-chain instability may include overreliance on low inventories, rationalization of suppliers, and hollowing out of domestic capability. Supply-chain strategies in 2022 are expected to be multi-pronged. Digital supply networks and data analytics can be powerful enablers for more flexible, multi-tiered responses to disruptions.

 

3. Acceleration in digital technology adoption could bring operational efficiencies to scale. Manufacturers looking to capture growth and protect long-term profitability should embrace digital capabilities from corporate functions to the factory floor. Smart factories, including greenfield and brownfield investments for many manufacturers, are viewed as one of the keys to driving competitiveness.

More organizations are making progress and seeing results from more connected, reliable, efficient, and predictive processes at the plant. Emerging and evolving use cases can continue to scale up from isolated in-house technology projects to full production lines or factories, given the right mix of vision and execution.

U.S. manufacturers have room to run with advanced manufacturing compared to many competitors globally. Advanced global ‘lighthouse’ factories showcase the art of the possible in bringing smart manufacturing to scale. Investment in robots, cobots, and artificial intelligence can continue to transform operations. Foundational technologies such as cloud computing enable computational power, visibility, scale, and speed. Industrial 5G deployment may also expand in 2022 along with advances in technology and use cases.

 

4. Rising cybersecurity threats are leading the industry to new levels of preparedness. High-profile cyberattacks across industries and governments in the past year have elevated cybersecurity as a risk-management essential for most executives and boards. Surging threats during the pandemic added to business risk for manufacturers in the crosshairs for ransomware.

An expanding attack surface from the connection of operational technology (OT), information technology (IT), and external networks requires more controls. Legacy systems and technology weren’t purpose-fit for today’s sophisticated network challenges. Now, remote-work vulnerabilities leave manufacturers even more susceptible to breaches.

Manufacturers should look not only at their cyberdefenses, but also at the resiliency of their business in the event of a cyberattack. Cybercriminals can cause harm beyond intellectual-property theft and financial losses, using malware that now ties in AI and cryptocurrencies. They can also shut down operations and disrupt entire supplier networks, compromising safety as well as productivity. A patchwork of regulations for different industries could be consolidated under the current administration’s ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to protect critical infrastructure. The potential for additional oversight is likely to prompt more industrials to rethink preparedness for crisis response.

 

5. Manufacturers are likely to bring more resources and rigor to advancing sustainability. The fast rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors is redefining and elevating sustainability in manufacturing as never before. Cost of capital can be tied to ratings on ESG, making it a priority for organizational financial health and competitiveness. Expectations for reporting on diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics in manufacturing will likely continue to rise. Board diversity, while progressing slowly, is also showing some momentum. To attract talent and appeal to workforce expectations, most manufacturers are making ESG efforts more visible.

Depending on a manufacturer’s end markets, environmental accountability is increasingly a focus. To develop and deliver against net-zero or carbon-neutral goals, more organizations are dedicating or redesigning sustainability roles and initiatives and quantifying efforts and results around energy consumption. And the fast-evolving ESG landscape may require close monitoring in 2022 for manufacturers.

Many organizations are complying voluntarily within a complex network of reporting regulations, ratings, and disclosure frameworks. But regulators globally are also moving toward requiring disclosure for more non-financial metrics. Proactive approaches may help manufacturers stay ahead of the change and create competitive advantage.

Law Special Coverage

What Can Business Owners and Managers Expect in 2022?

This past year was a busy one on the employment-law front, with a number of new measures and mandates for employers to follow and some emerging trends, such as unionizing activities, to watch. As the new year dawns, these matters will continue to be at the forefront, and obviously bear watching.

By John S. Gannon, Esq. and Meaghan E. Murphy, Esq.

Last year, we saw legislators and employers trying to pivot from COVID-19 safety measures to more traditional labor and employment-law issues. However, with the Delta and Omicron variants wreaking havoc across the globe, businesses and lawmakers are once again looking for ways to stop the spread of the pandemic. Here are some labor and employment highlights from 2021 that are sure to impact employers in 2022.

John Gannon

John Gannon

Meaghan Murphy

Meaghan Murphy

Employer Vaccination Mandates

In September 2021, President Biden signed several orders requiring federal employees, federal contractors, and most healthcare workers across the country to be vaccinated against COVID-19. He also instructed OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard directing private employers with 100 or more employees to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates or require weekly testing for their unvaccinated employees. These mandates have been challenged in courts around the county, with varying results. For example, in early December, a federal court in Georgia issued a countrywide stay of the federal-contractor vaccine mandate.

The OSHA ‘shot-or-test’ rule was similarly blocked by one court late last year, but a few weeks later, a different court ruled in favor of the Biden administration and reinstated the emergency standard. It appears the U.S. Supreme Court will have to sort all of this out, and we expect they will rule on these issues early in 2022.

“Unionization campaigns at some of the country’s largest companies have been heating up.”

Here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, state mandates are in place for employees working in long-term care and assisted living, certain home-care workers, and executive-level state workers (including law enforcement). Legal challenges to the vaccine mandates were filed in Massachusetts courts, but to date all of them have failed.

 

Accommodations to Vaccination

In October, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance making it clear that all employers, regardless of size or industry, can require that employees receive the COVID vaccine. There is one big caveat: federal and most state laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs, disabilities, or pregnancy-related reasons. These are commonly referred to as medical and religious exemptions. Employers that are considering a mandatory vaccination program should have policies explaining how these exemptions work, as well as exemption forms ready for employees to fill out.

 

Biden Administration’s Support for Unions

In June, President Biden appointed Jennifer Abruzzo as the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new general counsel. She quickly made clear her (and the new Democratic administration’s) pro-labor stance on various issues through a series of memoranda issued by her office. Not surprisingly, Abruzzo has vowed to undo much of the NLRB’s activity under former President Trump, which tended to be pro-business.

Unionization campaigns at some of the country’s largest companies have been heating up. Employees at a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y. voted to unionize. Starbucks has agreed to sit down at the table and bargain with the union. This is the first time organized labor has gained a foothold in one of Starbucks’ U.S. locations, but it certainly does not seem like it will be the last. Employees at Starbucks in several other states, including Massachusetts, Washington, and Arizona, are also seeking to unionize.

In addition, employees at an Alabama Amazon warehouse recently voted not to unionize, but the union trying to organize those employees alleged that Amazon intentionally interfered with its union-organizing efforts. In one of its biggest actions under President Biden, the NLRB announced that Amazon had committed to allow more room for employees to conduct union activity and to send an e-mail directly to current and former employees to inform them of their labor rights. It is the clearest example to date of how Democratic officials in this administration will seek to use federal power to help employees organize.

 

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Starting Jan. 1, 2022, most Connecticut employees will be able to take paid time off to attend to personal and family health needs. Under the program, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid-leave benefits, and up to 14 weeks if an employee experiences a serious health condition that occurs during a pregnancy.

This program is similar to the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which went live at the beginning of last year. The Department of Family and Medical Leave published data stating that the department approved 43,440 applications between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021. Benefits totaling $167,915,781 were paid out during this time. This was before employees could take PFML to care for family members, which became available on July 1.

 

Employee Mobility: Tackling the Labor Shortage

A record 4.4. million Americans quit their jobs in September 2021. The high quit rates were commonly dubbed the ‘Great Resignation,’ and made it clear that Americans are switching jobs for better pay, starting their own businesses, or continuing to struggle with child care and school schedules.

As the pandemic lingers, it’s likely that the quit rates will remain high for the next several months. As a result, employers will need to raise wages and/or offer more lucrative benefit packages to attract and retain talent. Businesses should also consider offering employees who do not physically need to be in the office every day some sort of a hybrid work-from-home schedule, a model that has dramatically increased in popularity over the last year.

 

John Gannon and Meaghan Murphy are attorneys at the firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; [email protected]

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