By Tyler Micik
Although this week was a fairly quiet week in Dover, the State Chamber hosted our annual Spring Manufacturing and Policy Conference on Wednesday, March 16th. The half-day, virtual conference featured keynote remarks from Governor John Carney and NIIMBL's Director Kelvin Lee, two panel discussions, and the chance to network.
The first panel, Where Did All the Workers Go?, addressed the labor shortage here in Delaware and across the country. Scott Malfitano, chair of the Delaware Workforce Development Board moderated a conversation with Nakishia Bailey of Dot Foods; Taryn Dalmasso from Edgewell Personal Care; Dale Cook of Mountaire Farms; and the National Association of Workforce Board's (NAWB) Ron Painter. The discussion highlighted several factors that are impacting the labor market: aging population, automation, adult learning, and the need for funding.
By 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older. With low birth rates and immigration, the exchange rate of people entering the workforce is not keeping up with the exit. In addition to the knowledge and skill gaps that manufacturers are experiencing, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for nighttime/weekend shifts to be filled with workers due to the fact that child care isn't offered during those hours. Lacking the skills and experience to have the leverage to choose their hours over more senior employees, low-skill and entry-level workers are often forced to stay home and care for their children instead of working.
Automation was also discussed. Ron Painter referenced a study out of Canada which found that low-skill and high-end positions increased due to automation while middle skill roles and management decreased. He stressed that with this sort of knowledge, manufacturers need to rethink how they onboard and upskill their workforce when the traditional method of “moving up the ranks” is no longer an option with technology replacing those middle level roles. NAWB estimates that estimates it will cost $80 billion to upskill the American workforce to meet global needs and standards.
So, what’s the solution? The panelists stressed that businesses need to lead on identifying alternative funding and training solutions that work for their people. Investing in your own talent is a sure way to grow your workforce.
The second panel, Playbooks for the Future, turned toward “what’s working” and how we can build upon successful workforce programs like Zip Code Wilmington, Delaware Pathways, Intern Delaware, and Elevate Delaware. Michael Fleming, president of the Delaware BioScience Association moderated a conversation with Desa Burton of Zip Code Wilmington; Kelly DeCurtis of Delmarva Power; M. Davis & Son's John Gooden; and Steve Jackson from Aviation High School in New York City.
How can Delawareans build upon successes like these and replicate models that work to address the needs in manufacturing and other industries important to the state? This is a conversation the State Chamber will continue to explore.
The Delaware Manufacturing Association held their quarterly board meeting after the event to talk about the conference, discuss issues manufacturers are facing, and talk about possible solutions.