3 Underreported Trends That Will Accelerate Reshoring

Tags: Risk Management, Manufacturing

Thomas research shows an increase in the number of manufacturers that want to bring production back to the United States. These trends will help you capitalize on that opportunity.

Thomas has been tracking supply chain shifts since the pandemic began, and our data shows that the increased interest in reshoring is actually accelerating.

The statistics are significant, too: In February 2020, 54% of Thomasnet survey respondents said they wanted to bring production back to North America, but as of July, 69% were actively looking to do so. That's a15% leap.

However, according to the July 2020 Thomas Manufacturing Index (TMX), which measures industrial activity based on first-party data from the tens of thousands of interactions that occur daily on Thomasnet.com, there's acritical gapin industrial production in North America despite stock market gains.

"We are noticing a new equilibrium whereby industrial production is resuming, but at a much lower level than pre-crisis," says Dr. Hamid Benbrahim, head of data for Thomas.

Manufacturers do feel confident in the future, though. Among the industry professionals responding to Thomas' recent survey, 91% say they believe manufacturing in North America will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are three trends Thomas is tracking that will help manufacturers speed up their reshoring efforts.

1. Implement Smaller, Local Factories and Warehouses

In an era in which we've seen Boeing build the largest warehouse in the world, it may come as a shock to learn that demand for smaller warehouses is actually higher than demand for larger-sized ones. If you follow real estate, you know that rental rates for smaller units have increasedtwo times that of units larger than 120,000 square feet.

It might look worrying that warehouses are downsizing, suggesting that companies are decreasing inventory. But there's no cause for alarm. What's happening is that while downsizing the square footage of individual warehouses, companies are simultaneously increasing the number of warehouses they own and use.

With the new standard of same-day delivery established by Amazon Prime, e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers are discovering that local warehouses, even if they are smaller, are more efficient in meeting the needs of customers. Bottlenecks in the supply chain during the pandemic underscored this.

Walmart actually earned morethan its competitor Amazon during the pandemic, in part because it was able to use its 24,000 stores as mini fulfillment centers. These thousands of stores are spread throughout the country, which means that online orders can generally be shipped closer to where the customer is than if Walmart was exclusively shipping from just a handful of large warehouses.

The closer the fulfillment center is to a customer, the faster it will reach the customer—thereby improving customer satisfaction.

For another interesting case study, look to clothing retailer Zara, which was founded in Spain and now operates stores in nearly 100 countries. The fast-fashion retailer sets fashion trends by being able to change its offerings almost five times faster than its competitors.

The brand's secret? It brings a significant portion of production in-house.

Zara's investment in manufacturing clothing in-house reduces lead times, thereby maintaining the popular chain's ability to be on the cutting edge of the fashion industry. Keep in mind, too, that we're not just talking about the speed at which goods move from one part of the supply chain to the next—vertical integration improves controls and communication from the outset.

It's worth noting that there is a drawback for smaller, in-house manufacturing companies that use just-in-time production. To ensure fast turnarounds, materials will likely need to be sourced in bulk well before new designs are created. If you produce customized or highly individualistic goods that require a wider variety of supplies, this may not be the best option for you.

However, a savvy business could still stay competitive by taking a hybrid approach.

Two in three manufacturers (69%) responding to Thomasnet’s COVID-19 Manufacturing Survey indicate they are “likely” to “extremely likely” to reshore (up from 54% in February 2020). The agricultural, energy/utilities, and food & beverage sectors lead in interest.

2. Integrate Automation

As the pandemic forced many businesses to temporarily close, work with fewer staff members, or require employees to work remotely, we saw that companies with the strongest technical capabilities held a strong advantage over their competitors.

Of the companies surveyed, 55% say that within 12 months they're "very likely" to invest in production performance automation. Half of the companies report they're already at the industry standard for automation.

Automation is not only about being able to continue to work during a crisis, but also about working smarter year round.

Manufacturers should continue toinvest in technologyright now. I believe now more than ever that this is the year that Industry 4.0 becomes more fully realized.

More than half of the manufacturing companies surveyed report that they meet or exceed the industry standard for automation, establishing a demand for automation and for further innovation and implementation. As automation continues to gain traction, industry needs to be proactive. The top three automation technologies that manufacturers are most interested to invest in during the next 12 months are production performance, product testing and quality assurance, and process control.

3. Offer Apprenticeships & Mentorship Programs

Despite the spike in unemployment due to the pandemic, certain industries actually saw an uptick in their businesses. The manufacturing sector fared well in comparison to some other industries, as many manufacturing companies were deemed essential and some pivoted their factories to create critical PPE.

We're excited thatmore than one-quarter of the companies we surveyed are actively hiring right now.

As much as we want to bring jobs back to the United States, we have to face the stark reality that for a long time, manufacturing has suffered from an image problem. As a consequence, with fewer people entering the sector, there is a significant skills gap. Last year, a startling half a million jobs in manufacturing were left unfilled. If we don't do something to reverse this now, $454 billion in production will be at risk by 2028, according to Deloitte.

I recently spoke with Mary Person, the director of governmental relations and external affairs for FH Paschen. She remarked that enduring stereotypes about construction and other industry jobs often deter women from pursuing those roles. Only 29% of the manufacturing industry comprises women, according to the 2016 census.

Person suggests mentorship as a way to recruit more women and close the skills gap, and I fully agree with her. Both formal and informal mentorships are a great way to build up the next generation.

I had a similar conversation about the stereotypes and misconceptions held about the industry with Ralf Weiser, vice president of operations at Alexanderwerk. He offered another practical solution: apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are a win-win solution. Generally lasting between one and six years, these formal programs mix hands-on experience, classroom teaching, and mentorship. Apprentices get paid to be trained and mentored by those actively working in the industry, and companies get to mold apprentices into their dream workers.

More than half of the 26% of companies we surveyed that run apprenticeship programs continued to run them effectively through COVID-19. Perhaps more prescient, though, is the fact that the industries that have been running apprenticeships were not as affected by skilled labor shortages.

During a recent White House roundtable on trends in U.S. manufacturing, a participant asked me if the thousands of jobs open in the manufacturing sector were blue-collar jobs or white-collar jobs. I explained that they're neither—they're new-collar jobs.

The term accurately reflects the balance between traditional manufacturing skill sets and innovative, tech-driven education. It's a new and exciting field driven by America's great history of manufacturing as well as by today's Industry 4.0 innovations.

Opportunity Abounds

The manufacturing field is ripe with opportunity. By investing in people, technology, and infrastructure and reimagining what American manufacturing could look like, we can accelerate reshoring and bring manufacturing back.

Of the surveyed companies, 26% have apprenticeship programs in place. More than half of those programs were unaffected by the pandemic. And, industries that have adopted more apprenticeship programs were overall less impacted by the lack of skilled labor available. With one in three companies reporting that they are actively hiring, apprenticeships could be part of the solution for the skills gap crisis and help accelerate innovative reshoring efforts.

By Tony Uphoff, President & CEO, Thomas






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