In celebration of Manufacturing Day, and to kick off Manufacturing Month, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted representatives of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) for a quarterly Manufacturing Roundtable on October 1.
Approximately 25 Chamber members from different sectors within the manufacturing industry gathered in the Chamber’s conference room to hear from MassMEP’s President and CEO John Killam, as well as Senior Director of Public Affairs Judy Sylvia.
MassMEP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which operates under the direction of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). As put by Mr. Killam, MEPs — which are present in every state across the nation — were “designed to improve the operations of manufacturers and help them grow profitably.”
MassMEP is considered the leading manufacturing partner in the Bay State, working closely with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), MassHire, colleges and universities, and others. The organization works with manufacturers and their partners to help them identify waste in their process, cost, and time; and offer resources to help fill their needs. Ultimately, their focus is on helping manufacturing companies run more efficiently and effectively.
Like many other facets of our world, though, the manufacturing industry has been facing more problems recently as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “The idea that you have to operate your business efficiently and effectively is just a given,” said Mr. Killam. But now, “you have all these other new things going on, particularly with COVID,” he continued, noting the two most pressing challenges manufacturers are facing right now: disrupted supply chains and labor shortages.
Particularly at the pandemic’s first peak in the spring of 2020, businesses in all types of industries worldwide felt the impact of supply chains being disrupted. Now more than a year later, manufacturers are still feeling that lasting impact, trying to play catch-up. “When you shut down a facility like that, you can’t just turn a key and start right back up again. Because you’ve interrupted the supply of materials and goods,” said Mr. Killam of the ongoing struggle to meet demand. “The supply chain is broken. We can’t even make PPE [personal protective equipment] in volume to support the country.”
According to him, “The supply chain issue isn’t going to be solved by one MEP center. We need the national network to step up and work with the appropriate people at the federal level so they’re addressing the supply chain. It’s not a bottom-up fix — it’s gotta be led from the top down.”
As for the labor shortage, “Our manufacturers are always looking for workers,” said Ms. Sylvia, which is why they meet regularly with the manufacturers to identify their needs and gaps, and meet with community colleges to create a pipeline of employees for these companies. “We act as kind of the glue — the boots on the ground,” she said on making these connections.
The Worcester Chamber is one of the state’s strongest advocates for increasing access to vocational technical education for all, which is another crucial element of the industry’s talent pipeline. In fact, the Chamber is a co-founder of the Alliance for Vocational Training Education (AVTE), a group of professionals advocating for the expansion of vocational education, as there are currently waiting lists hindering students’ access to this training.
Additionally, MassMEP also works with manufacturers on their workforce development, innovative growth strategies/creating new products, bottom line and top line growth, and cybersecurity.
Sponsored by two of the region’s most prominent manufacturers, AIS (Affordable Interior Systems) and FLEXcon Company, the Chamber’s quarterly Manufacturing Roundtable brings together professionals in the manufacturing industry to discuss timely topics impacting their sector, challenges they face, and opportunities.
The Chamber hosts industry-specific roundtable discussions each quarter to bring together members of that industry and provide them with opportunities to: share issues they face as they operate their business, seek support from each other, and learn about programs and benefits to assist them. The next Manufacturing Roundtable will be held in December — keep an eye out on worcesterchamber.org for updates regarding date, time, and topic.
Dominique Goyette-Connerty is the Director of Communications at the Worcester Chamber. She can be reached by email here.