How COVID-19 is Changing the Manufacturing Workforce

October 2, 2020

Jim Skees

Manufacturing is one of our nation’s oldest industries. It has gone through numerous renovations throughout the decades, spurring the Industrial Revolution, and continuously reinventing itself with advanced technologies and automation. When COVID-19 hit the U.S. earlier this year, many industries saw a decrease in revenue, followed by cuts to staff and production. While some manufacturers were spared, they still faced workforce shortages and the challenge of implementing new procedures to keep workers safe.

In the Lincoln-Trail region, manufacturers are leveraging the changes of 2020 to stay competitive. Our industry leaders recognize that the pandemic has created drastic changes in consumer demand. While a loss of income for some households has resulted in a drop in luxury items, other products such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer have seen a drastic spike in production. Some companies willing and able to adjust their business models have been fortunate to find new opportunities during the pandemic.

Bardstown’s Heaven Hill Distillery is a prime example. Heaven Hill kept on a full staff by pivoting a percentage of their production line to create and bottle hand sanitizer as early as March. In the first few weeks alone, the company produced nearly 100,000 liters of sanitizer.

Layoffs in other industries have also increased the number of job seekers available to manufacturers. Before the pandemic, the manufacturing industry had a staggering 500,000 jobs open in the U.S., according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). With many individuals suddenly thrown back into the job market, manufacturing companies are marketing themselves to those considering a career change. Many manufacturing jobs offer reliable hours, competitive wages, above-average benefits and paid time off.

Elizabethtown’s AGC Automotive is leveraging services offered by the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail and Elizabethtown Community and Technical College (ECTC) to help filter through the increase in applicants and better train new employees.

AGC is working with the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail to take advantage of On-the-job training (OJT), a federal program funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). OJT specialists help employers find the right talent, and employers receive up to 50% of the costs to provide on-the-job training for individuals hired through the public workforce system.

“Once an OJT employee is approved, they are paired with a current employee and begin learning right away,” said Scott Guenther, AGC plant manager. “New hires who come to us through the OJT program quickly receive the training they need to thrive and are more likely to stay with the company long-term.”

AGC is also working with the SkillsU division of ECTC after meeting its director Diane Kelley at a job fair before the pandemic.

“Diane shared information with us about SkillsU’s career readiness counseling and the various testing programs they offer,” said Guenther. “Now, the first step when applying to AGC is to reach out to Diane to schedule a TABE test.”

Aligned with national College and Career Readiness Standards, the TABE test assesses math, reading and language skills. Adding the test to the hiring process has proven to be very successful for AGC in securing skilled employees.

“The pandemic has undoubtedly led to extensive changes throughout the manufacturing industry,” said Guenther. “Our goal is to use this time to evaluate our processes, learn new and better ways of operating and develop a more skilled workforce so that we come out of this stronger than we were before.”

For more information on services available to employers through the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail, please visit ltcareercenter.org.

Jim Skees is the business liaison for Lincoln Trail Area Development District and regional business services team lead for Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, which is overseen by the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. He can be reached at 270-769-2393 or jim@ltadd.org.

The Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail helps match job seekers with local employment and training opportunities. Our business solutions team offers employers of all sizes and industries personalized support to build a competitive workforce. We are an equal opportunity employer.
Program is funded with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I funds through the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board.
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