What is COVID-19 doing to the workforce and employer demand in manufacturing?

Well, we made it to Phase 3! As the new ED for the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, there has been nothing normal about my first year.

In so many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated things that were shifting in the workplace. We are seeing new ways of learning and working for some people who may not need to be in the office everyday. And we see that some people need to be going into work everyday to ensure we have and can access food, health care and things we need to live. This period we are in is just the newest version of normal that will be probably be changing and shifting over the next 3 years or beyond. And manufacturing can position itself well, but first we need to start with some stats to figure out how COVID-19 has impacted this change.

Prior to COVID-19, there were extensive stats on the manufacturing industry that workers were needed and some jobs were going vacant. In the Workforce Planning Board’s EmployerOne survey done in January 2020, 98 manufacturers reported that they hired 2,048 people in 2019 and had 1,702 separate from their organizations. That is a lot of churn for 98 organizations and a lot of dollars spent on recruiting, especially when 1,035 of the separations had the employees decide to pull the plug on the working relationship. Combine that with 72% of companies reporting that positions were taking longer to fill than normal – especially CNC machinists, welders and general labourers – and the issue expands to include lost production time, lost productivity and lost potential income and growth. 86% of companies thought they would hire in 2020 and then COVID-19 hit!

We followed up with manufacturers who had done our survey in January, hearing from almost half of them. Temporary lay-offs dominated separations as was to be expected, but those 40 employers also hired 367 people from the end of January to the middle of June. Of the 49 companies that answered our follow-up, 32 planned to hire by the end of the year – most 1 to 5 people. There was still some concern around retaining people, but the % was half what it was at the end of January (60% to 33%). The Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium’s Industry Pulse backs up some of these pieces. They report 67% of manufacturers were back up and running as of the end of May and 30% were looking to hire. Now in August, the industry seems to have  done a great job of being able to ramp up many of its production facilities, institute new safety protocols and encourage their people to return.

Tracking job postings for the first 2 months of the pandemic, we saw that while actual job posting numbers fell, many of the positions that had been in demand pre-COVID were still the most in demand, even if actual job posting numbers fell. Since May, using local job aggregator www.findyourjob.ca , the number one on-line job postings in manufacturing was Other labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities which has grown from 160 postings to 258 postings in June which was also the most in-demand position pre-COVID 19 pandemic.

That is a quick overview of what has happened in manufacturing pre-COVID-19 and during the early stages of the pandemic. So, our next normal is upon us and I look forward to continuing to share data and insights into the larger workforce picture. If you have something you would like me to speak to, please reach out. I look forward to sharing what is going on in the Waterloo Region labour market.

 

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