Building
resilience

Continued change in manufacturing means continued change for people, communities, and companies. Coping with that change—and thriving in the face of it—requires resilience. Judith Rodin, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania, defines resilience as the capacity to prepare for disruptions, recover from shocks and stresses, and adapt and grow from disruptive experiences. She identifies five main characteristics: awareness, adaptivity, diversity, integration, and self-regulation. And there’s good news: any individual, community, or organization can grow its resilience.

The many sources who informed this three-part series exploring the changing face of manufacturing offered ways in which workers, communities, and companies could build resilience. Below are a number of their suggestions.

Awareness

Awareness means knowing one’s strengths and assets, liabilities and vulnerabilities, and threats to and risks of being able to prepare for, respond to, and bounce back from disruptions.

Workers might

  • Ask themselves what are their next best alternatives to the jobs they have today. If those alternatives are a significant step down in pay, appeal, or location, they might work to change what their next best alternatives are.

Community leaders might

  • Examine how they can become less tied to the fortunes of one company or one industry if their communities rely disproportionately on one or a few manufacturers.
  • Support housing development—to recruit the workforce necessary to attract companies, there must be affordable places for people to live.

Manufacturers might

  • Solicit advice from outside their organizations, perhaps via boards of advisors that are willing to look at and give honest, unfettered feedback about their numbers and the way they run their businesses.

Adaptivity

Adaptivity means being able to adjust to changing circumstances by developing new plans, taking new actions, or modifying behaviors.

Workers might

  • Attend local job fairs and join professional organizations to gain networking opportunities and to stay informed of their industries’ trends.

Community leaders might

  • Ensure that workforce development programs are responsive to companies’ long-term needs, so that employers have the workers they need to operate at a level that rewards productivity, retains their customers, and grows their industry. To the extent possible, involve employers or coalitions of employers within a given industry in these decisions.
  • Invest in educational offerings and coaching that give people of all ages the skills they need for work environments that exist now and in the future economy. Revisit curricula regularly.

Manufacturers might

  • Invest in training workers who are capable of doing a variety of tasks that need to be done, for example, on a production line. Workers who have more skills tend to have more job stability, and cross-training means more varied, interesting work for employees and increased resilience for workers and companies.
  • Educate workers about their career ladders: If workers know how people advance at companies and within the sector, that knowledge might encourage them to stay. Particularly at a time when finding workers is difficult, retaining workers is key.

Diversity

Diversity means not relying completely on one element for a critical function, but instead having alternatives and backups one can call on during a disruption.

Workers might

  • Devise a plan A, B, and C for who will watch their children or elderly parents during a work shift, so if one arrangement fails, they have others to fall back on.
  • Familiarize themselves with alternative forms of transportation in case the usual one fails or is unavailable.
  • Search out opportunities to learn relevant skills, or take on other tasks that expose them to different aspects of the business.

Community leaders might

  • Buy or set aside land strategically so that they have the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities to develop sites in locations that are attractive to businesses and accessible to workers.

Manufacturers might

  • Train management—not just front-line workers—on how machines work and to analyze data to understand why machines might fail. With that know-how, managers could mitigate large-scale risk or failure and increase long-term productivity.

Integration

Integration means sharing information, collaboratively developing ideas and solutions, and communicating with those involved and affected. It’s often achieved via a “feedback loop,” or some method of gathering information, analyzing it, and responding to it to keep functioning.

Workers might

Community leaders might

  • Have ongoing conversations with employers and workforce development leaders about short- and long-term labor force needs. Conversations and partnerships between municipal bodies, non-profits, and businesses can unearth companies’ shared experiences and identify difficulties and opportunities as they emerge—and even before.
  • Place greater emphasis on helping workers to navigate and/or cope with the effects of local, state, and federal policies, from trade agreements to changing work requirements (that may affect benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps) to the loss of public benefits due to a promotion or an increase in earnings or hours (called the benefits cliff) to minimum wage adjustments.
  • Explore participation in or collaboration with a local Manufacturing Extension Partnership partner. The MEP is a public-private partnership with centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico that works to help manufacturers grow and create jobs.

Manufacturers might

  • Institute programs wherein workers are asked to suggest how to improve the manufacturing they do and have a plan for who will organize and address the suggestions that are made.
  • Look for and fill unmet needs. If one company doesn’t make the next new product, another will.

Self-regulation

Self-regulation means controlling oneself in ways that make it possible to deal with disruptions without extreme malfunction or catastrophic collapse.

Workers might

  • Invest in developing and diversifying their skills before a layoff. It can be easier to afford continuing one’s education when one is still earning an income than it might be after a job loss.
  • Follow passions for creating something outside their work days, as time and energy allow, that has the potential to evolve into something more permanent and that earns money.

Community leaders might

  • Lobby for change to policies that are determined by others but constrain their communities.
  • Try to link up with larger communities that have local anchor institutions around which they might coordinate economic development efforts.

Manufacturers might

  • Diversify the customers they serve. That way, they’re less likely to be exposed if one of their customers experiences trouble.
  • Consider various ways to introduce programs that are responsive to workforce needs and make business sense. This is especially important for those workers who fill lower-wage, entry-level positions and who may rely on public transportation, childcare providers, and other supports to come to work. For example, manufacturers might get creative about when shifts begin and end so workers who rely on others for support, such as rides to work and childcare, may find more reliable assistance. This employer toolkit produced by the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation offers more ideas and information.

Explore the full "Manufacturing under Pressure" series.