Insights into the forces shaping our industry.

Wire & Cable Labor Shortage

Hiring Advice, Industry Commentary

Nearly three years into the pandemic, America is still experiencing a labor shortage.  About 3.5 million workers are “missing “ from the workforce, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.  

Basically, there are more openings than job seekers. Retirements are largely to blame for this gap. The Federal Reserve found that retirements in the last two years account for “nearly all of the shortfall” in the labor force according to the report “The Great Retirement Boom” Finance & Economic Discussion Series 2022. Other factors include Childcare and Automation. 

The manufacturing industry faces a major setback after losing roughly 1.4 million jobs at the onset of the pandemic.  Since then, they have struggled to fill jobs, as of January 2023 there are 803,000 open manufacturing jobs.  

According to the World Bank, over the next decade, the number of people of working age (between 15 and 65) will decline in the US by over 3%.  

Egret Consulting sent out a survey to Owners, CEO & Presidents, and Human Resources Managers in the Wire & Cable industry.   We asked, in what areas are you seeing the most labor shortage?  The number one answer was Manufacturing  at 72%.  The second highest at 44% was Engineering/Product Development.  If you look at experience levels, 69% said shortages at Mid-level (5-10 years’ experience) and 65% said it was entry level (0-5 years of experience).

How do we solve the problem?

We must find candidates with the right soft skills and train them. Much of the Wire & Cable industry, at 71%, are looking for talent outside of the industry. They are recruiting from food service, retail, mechanics, and automotive manufacturing. Other ideas are to work with organizations like Heroes Make America, or your local parole office to hire second chance candidates. 

There is a very successful program that is being used at Continental Tire company in IL, which has 4,000 employees. They created a 4-week training program to help transition fast-food employees into a manufacturing role. The model uses a classroom setting with both lectures, hands on work and machine training.  This program teaches everything from how to read a tape measure to blueprints.  They also help them understand what it means to work a 3rd shift for work life balance.   Once the new employee transitions to the plant floor they have a mentor and regular check-ins with the trainer on how is going.

Automation has become the answer for a lot of companies in the areas of Manufacturing/Logistics and Warehouse, with 80% trying to find help with AI/Robotics.  This helps with the shortage but can add a new skill set needed for employees who understand controls, robotics, and software applications.  Other ideas for automation have been automated palletizer, customer service system for order entry, Robotics Automation Systems and robotics to improve old machinery.  

Most of our survey respondents are recruiting in College/University (80%),  Trade Schools (70%) and even down to the High School level (53%).   

There were a lot of ideas about how we can encourage people to join the wire & cable industry.  Here are a few mentioned in our survey.

  • Educate parents of middle school and high school age kids on manufacturing careers, using the Parent Teacher Association
  • Work with organizations like Illinois Tech or other colleges to get internships / apprenticeships established. Work with industry organizations (such as WHMA) that can support the effort to partner up with local colleges.
  • Increase messaging about aspects of the wire & cable industry that make a difference in people’s lives: renewable energy, E-mobility, grid rebuild when there is a flood/disaster, new construction of your home to lighting it.
  • Improve the climate in the plants – add HVAC, cleaner environments, and less heavy lifting so people can stay in a position without the physical demands of the job making them look elsewhere.
  • Be more flexible with work hours and hybrid availability. Helping with providing Childcare for employees can help to expand your workforce to include parents. 
  • One owner does a face-to-face meeting with groups of 10 employees, they then walk the floor to get suggestions for improvements.  This is done twice a week and they reward the people who give them ideas, this helps to get employee support and make them feel valued and heard.  As a benefit, their employees are more likely to refer their friends and family to the company when they are hiring.  
  • One company has their employees post job needs on their LinkedIn profiles because the employee referral is still the strongest way to get people to join the companies.  

Many people said that we need to focus on the career aspect of the industry.  We have people who did not “grow up” in the Wire & Cable industry but once they come in they stay.  People need to learn and come to appreciate that the Wire & Cable industry impacts every aspect of our personal lives.