Survey: Manufacturing sectors in need of more applicants

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Kinexus has been working on a series of surveys to look at several work sectors in order to measure the health of Southwest Michigan’s industries.

The Benton Harbor-based economic development organization completed and released results from its manufacturing sector survey, which included companies throughout Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. The companies that participated in the survey remained anonymous to ensure the results remained accurate.

The feedback was staggering.

A high degree of product diversity has become the norm across industries in recent years as manufacturers expanded their product portfolios to capture new revenue sources, the survey showed.

The product variations reported by the tri-county manufacturers include plastics (68 percent), automotive (52 percent), textile (41 percent) and energy (28 percent).

In addition to a diverse product portfolio, 21 percent of those surveyed said they create products in a finished state for the consumer marketplace. An additional 38 percent produce components used by other manufacturers, called Tier 1 suppliers.

Rounding out the supply chain process, 31 percent are Tier 2 manufacturers, who supply to Tier 1, while 10 percent are Tier 3 suppliers, producing their product for the Tier 2 manufacturer.

“Manufacturing is our region’s most vital industry, providing an estimated 17,500 jobs and a $2.1 billion impact on Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties,” said Todd Gustafson, CEO of Kinexus, in a news release. “The data we collected is not only valuable to the manufacturers in our region, but also to our team as we work to address their business challenges and assist them with their growth strategies.”

Need for skilled workers

More than a third of the manufacturers indicated that the lack of applicants applying was a concern in terms of organizational growth. In addition, 20 percent indicated global competition was the second-largest issue disrupting growth strategies.

A survey respondent said: “We consistently encounter employees who either fail to show up for work or arrive on time when they do show up. We strive to create a good work culture and provide necessary training for our employees and simply need people who are reliable.”

The survey highlighted that though there is a lack of technical skill competencies in the labor pool, 33 percent place emphasis on lack of soft skills as challenges in filling open positions.

Another 33 percent are concerned with the work force’s inflexibility in shift times.

Alex Grumbine, director of business and industry for Kinexus, said global issues mirrored the results of the local survey. He said the results indicate a lack of available and technical skills being the largest constraints in filling jobs.

“Topping the survey results for in-demand occupations include machinists, programmers, maintenance mechanics and engineers,” Grumbine said. “Survey results revealed that 70 percent of manufacturers reported are providing more training, development, and higher starting salaries for both new and existing talent with increased benefits.”

Kinexus will release its second series of surveys concerning the health care sector in August.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 20, 2016)


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