Written by Bob Gross, President, Gross Automation
Can Automation Alleviate Many Supply Chain Labor Issues & Increase U.S. Manufacturing?
On June 7th, 2022 I had the honor of addressing the local chapter of the MBBI of Wisconsin (Midwest Business Brokers and Intermediaries) on this subject at the Wisconsin Club. This is the second in a three-part discussion on the topic.
The Labor Issue
Going into the pandemic, we knew that it was going to be a challenge. As businesses closed around us, our team kept looking for assurances that things were going to be OK. After all, it was only going to last a couple of weeks to flatten the curve.
In February of 2020, we had just returned a team from Mexico and on that Friday before the lockdown, we brought our final team back from Canada. The border closed that Sunday and we all locked down on Tuesday. As an essential business supplying industry and government, we never truly shut down and used every available tool at our disposal to maintain our operations. I am proud to say we had no workforce separations due to the pandemic. That doesn’t mean we didn’t lose some of our team, but that it was mostly their decision to get off the bus.
Now, fast forward to today. It is not surprising to me that some people have yet to return to work. In our opinion, that is causing some of the core issues relative to having the appropriate labor force in place and functional here at Gross Automation.
We Are An Essential Business – Perhaps one of the worst things we could do to anyone, is to tell them that they are not essential. What was our government thinking when it chose the language here? This continues today to be a barrier to bringing people back into the workforce. During the pandemic, we went to great lengths to make the case to our team that we were truly essential and I think that we came through stronger because our team today understands their role in the manufacturing environment. It also helped that our manufacturing partners also recognized that role in the supply chain and that they came forward and said so, both in words and in letters.
We Are 27 Strong with 63 Lives – First of all, as businesses, we do ourselves a disservice by saying we have “just 27” employees. Much more than that sit at the table. There are the spouses and their children, sometimes even parents that rely on that single job. We are proud of counting those and we directly represent 63 lives.
This year, 2022, we have already lost (5) of our people, and have been able to hire (3) replacements. Those that we lost, decided to exit the company and we are OK with most of that. One thing that particularly irritates me is that we had hired two wonderful employees that had been laid off by a governmental entity that shut down for the length of the pandemic. Over the 6-8 months that they were here, we invested heavily in their training. When those governmental offices reopened, they were offered their jobs back — at an increase in pay and continued benefits including their pensions. There is no way we can financially compete with that. We can’t fault them for doing what they did but we can’t help but feel a bit used by the very government that we support with our taxes.
Work From Home – Since we never really closed, this is a relatively minor issue for us but one that did cost us an employee. Before the pandemic, we only really had our remote outside sales team work from home. The expectation was that everyone else comes into the office. Now, positions in marketing, inside sales, and engineering were going remote. One of our people decided to upgrade their family with a new dog and that necessitated them being home. When it came time to have meetings, collaborations, or just plain supervisory time, she resisted and became a hostage. Time to return to work and she refused.
The Price of Gas – It just wasn’t that long ago that gas was $1.99 a gallon. And with discounts, frequent buyer miles, and promotions, there were occasional opportunities to purchase it for less. Employees used to be willing to drive, sometimes, really long distances for opportunities to grow and advance. That is harder to do when the cost of that commute is substantial. At the end of the day, this reduces the available workforces for any given facility, our included. We’ve had several employees strongly resist coming to work because of the cost of fuel.
Family and Culture are Everything – People like to be with people they like. We operate like a family. Sometimes, we can fight better than most but at the end of the day, each of our team members is a part of the family and we come together to get things done. Last summer, we took the entire team, their spouses, their children, and even their parents to the Milwaukee County Zoo for a family day out, complete with a picnic and access to the zoo’s attractions. This month, we will have everyone in for the same at the end of our open house so they can golf the miniature golf course and enjoy a taco buffet. All this is in addition to celebrating monthly birthdays, National Hot Dog Day, and the Cinco de Molex.
In the September IBAW Newsletter, I will tie this discussion together by defining our view of what automation is while bringing it home with some helpful solutions for our local industry.