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Pharmaceutical manufacturing

Outlook 2022: Employee Flexibility Becomes Key to Survival

Dec. 28, 2021
Industry leaders share their thoughts on how recent history has forced companies to rethink staffing or double down on existing policies to keep good workers.

Editor’s note: Given the remarkable changes in the industrial world during our two years of COVID-19, IndustryWeek’s editors asked contributors and business leaders to share how their outlooks have been changed by the ongoing challenges. The following is a collection of short answers gathered by Executive Editor Jill Jusko, Senior Editor Laura Putre and Senior Editor Adrienne Selko.

A question as broad as “How has your outlook changed because of recent history?” generates a wide variety of opinions, yet 2020 and 2021 left many IndustryWeek contributors and business leaders with similar thoughts.

Strained supply chains, new safety protocols, inflation and materials shortages forced business leaders to rely more heavily on their workforces than ever before, and in most cases, those workers delivered. The following are thoughts from business experts about the role workers have played in surviving the COVID-19 era.

Walking the Walk

The past couple of years have been less about identifying new problems and more about making old challenges important. Many always said they cared about employee engagement, but now retention challenges alone require that we really mean it. Many always said they cared about strategy supplier relationships, but with the current supply chain challenges, many are finally getting around to it. A crisis has a funny way of making some underlying fundamentals matter even more. —Jamie Flinchbaugh, author, host of IndustryWeek’s “Factory Talk” and lean leadership consultant

Flexibility for the Future

[Because of the pandemic] manufacturing leaders have had to be more flexible than ever before, which is especially challenging in an industry where reliability and consistency are paramount. In addition, manufacturing workers have to come to work. Working from home is not an option for most plant facilities. Creative solutions to shift schedules, reconfiguring workspaces and revamping supply chains have dominated the hearts and minds of many manufacturing leaders. Where does that leave them? In my opinion, it leaves them even more prepared for what the future may bring.

The pandemic was the grand reset of how work is performed across all industries. My hope is that this has accelerated manufacturing’s evolution into the next era of how work is done in a way that serves this industry for years to come. —Carolyn Hendrickson, executive consultant, CEO and founder of the Tandem Group

Hard-Working People Make it Happen

Every manufacturing leader I talk to these days, I ask, "How is your team doing?" We all know what a difficult year it was with COVID changes weekly, supply chain breakdowns, price increases, record production highs and of course the ever-present lack of talent. All of those stressors have been concentrated onto the backs of CEOs and management teams for over 18 months.

Based on responses I get, 2021 didn't just push our supply chains to their limit, but our people, too. Managers and leaders are excited for the new year, but anxious that it won't bring the break in nonstop work that we all collectively could use as a country.

It is easy to talk about the "new normal" or believe that "this too shall pass" because in some ways it is and it will. But we will only make it through if we can keep our top talent motivated, calm and working together. 

The new normal has come at the expense of immensely hard-working people all year. From procurement managers thinking they are failing because they can't get goods, to HR not finding enough new hires, to operations unable to fulfill on-time deliveries or all orders, to salespeople throttling back finding new orders while foisting seven price increases this year on customers: Any semblance of normalcy has taken management teams heroic efforts to achieve. —IndustryWeek contributor and MAGNET President and CEO Ethan Karp

Overcoming Challenges in Steel

Within the steel industry, we seem to continually have challenges of all of all type. COVID was just another black-swan event for us. I think we took it as we do any challenge: head on. We put in policies and procedures and practices to protect our employees and make sure as we continued to work that it was safer to be at work than even at home.

Safety has always been a huge focus at Steel Dynamics. And so, I'm not sure COVID changed the mindset at all. It was just a matter of “It's a challenge and how do we tackle it and keep executing day to day.” —Steel Dynamics President and CEO Mark Millett

Rallying Behind the Mission

The past 20 plus months have presented unique challenges, with COVID-19 causing nearly every industry to examine its approach to workplace policies as the health crisis unfolded and evolved. Although the pandemic caused uncertainties, it demonstrated our employees’ ability to quickly solve hard problems and continuously adapt. The team nearly instantaneously pivoted to new working models to ensure business continuity for our customers, the large majority of which were deemed essential businesses.

Prioritizing safety and teamwork, and driven to succeed, our teams rallied behind Seegrid’s mission to help our customers safely and reliably keep materials moving. With a unified vision, individuals came together with a shared purpose. While we haven't all been working together in person, our teams found new ways to ensure productivity and collaboration and it shows that—regardless of the situation—we can accomplish anything. It's been an honor to be a part of all of our accomplishments, and we look forward to many more. —Seegrid CEO Jim Rock

Doing More with Less

2020 was shaping up to be an incredible year of growth for Onex. Then, a worldwide pandemic hit, and the year finished flat. 2021 became the year of incredible growth but had the challenges of a labor shortage and supply chain disruptions.

As we enter 2022, not much has changed as the virus and its variants are continuing to wreak havoc. However, our outlook remains strong. We are grateful for our suppliers for going above and beyond to help us identify what is available in the market that will meet our needs. Our staff continues to put in the overtime necessary to keep domestic manufacturers online. Our main concern is keeping everyone happy and healthy while doing more with less. —Onex President Ashleigh Walters  

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