Manufacturing executives from across the Midwest virtually connected mid-January to discuss continued pandemic impacts on business, the new relief bill, and what the year ahead may hold. The nature of this industry has forced executives to navigate the challenges of keeping operations going and keeping employees healthy with scattered work-from-home options, if any.
Continued Pandemic Conditions
The pandemic presented an opportunity for employees and business owners to assess their priorities and make a change. As a result, executives noticed an uptick in early retirements among their shop floor employees and peers alike. The bright side: merger and acquisition activity has the potential to boom in 2021, so manufacturers can consider an acquisition of talent and business or the sale of their business or equipment. The downside: backfilling and building the workforce. Despite robust cleaning protocols, some offering free COVID-19 and antibody testing, and accommodating schedules, manufacturers have had to turn to temporary employment agencies or build stronger partnerships with trade schools to keep up with demand.
For the employees they do have, remote or socially distant work has taken a toll. Some executives struggle to find ways to keep organic conversations alive and have added the extra hat of “social director” to their job description. Simply checking in with their employees seems to help but isn’t producing the same pre-pandemic morale.
The New Relief Bill
The second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and an update to the Employer Retention Credit (ERC) was on everyone’s mind. Some companies on the line were still working through the loan forgiveness process for the first round of PPP, while others had already applied for round two. Banks rolled out applications and loans a little more cautiously this time around, looking to Congress for clear guidelines. There was still a lot of unknowns and ambiguity around the updates to the Employer Retention Credit, but executives were antsy to figure out if they were eligible. Sikich recently provided an ERC FAQs sheet to try to shed light on the many questions we’ve fielded.
The vaccine is here, and in some states, becoming available to essential businesses, which many manufacturers qualify as. With some on the call down as much as 6-10% of their workforce to positive COVID cases, the vaccine brings hope. It also brings a lot of questions: “Do we require employees to get vaccinated?” or “What do we do if they decline to get vaccinated?” Employers have a delicate line to walk with their employees’ health and the health of their business operations.
While manufacturers have a handle on doing their best to protect their workforce’s physical well-being, from mask-wearing to expensive full facility sanitation cleaning, mental well-being does not seem to be on their radar for now.
The executives closed with optimism, saying the warmer months coupled with vaccine rollout will allow for a semblance of normalcy later this year. If you’d like to be a part of the conversation, let your voice be heard in our Manufacturing and Distribution Survey hitting in March.