How Can Manufacturers Improve and Expand Their Workforce?

Manufacturers’ workplaces are among the topics discussed in a recent industry study.

Brand Story – In-depth study by Schwabe and Aldrich shows biggest challenges, priorities, and solutions for manufacturing leaders.

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Out of more than 100 manufacturers surveyed in the Pacific Northwest, over 75% reported the same top-of-mind challenge to growth: attracting and retaining a skilled workforce.

The study, titled “State of Manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest,” was conducted by law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in partnership with accounting firm Aldrich CPAs + Advisors. Both firms focus on serving clients in the manufacturing, distribution, and retail industries.

Last year, Schwabe hosted a Manufacturing Symposium, inviting company leaders to discuss the industry’s most pressing issues. The attendees expressed a strong desire to hear not just what challenges other manufacturers are facing, but also how they are handling them.
In response, Schwabe performed a deep dive study.

“Our approach was: What industry-wide analysis can we give these leaders that they can’t find within their own company’s experience?” said Jennifer Campbell, Industry Group Leader for Schwabe’s Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail team. “Identifying a problem and providing data are great, but that doesn’t help solve the problem. So our job was to obtain the data and distill it for local manufacturers: ‘Here are the trends, the drivers of those trends and here’s how we can help your company find solutions.’”

Campbell JenniferPReJennifer Campbell, Industry Group Leader for Schwabe’s Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail team.

The study—which is free and available for download—provides first-hand perspectives on “what keeps manufacturers awake at night,” as well as professional insights into how leaders are addressing those issues. Forty-two percent of the survey’s participants included either presidents or CEOs (with 68% holding executive leadership positions) from 10 different sectors of the manufacturing industry across the Pacific Northwest.

Beyond workforce issues, the study also delves into executive leadership transition, tax policies, automation, and overall industry outlook.

Hiring skilled workers is “a multi-faceted issue,” said Campbell. Low unemployment and misconceptions about career paths in manufacturing create a smaller hiring pool, which shrinks even further when filtering out unqualified applicants.

Manufacturing companies are now forced to think outside the box, both internally and externally. Companies have recruited more proactively, reaching out to form partnerships with technical colleges, high schools, and even middle schools to pique students’ interest and alter their conceptions about working in the manufacturing industry. Some are partnering with placement agencies or exploring non-traditional sources, like employing non-violent offenders.

The study also reveals employee retention strategies, such as ways to make employees feel more invested in their organizations and how to improve company culture.

The study aligns with Schwabe’s “solutions-oriented” mindset.

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a non-traditional law firm. It focuses on six industries, and each attorney chooses one or two in which to specialize. Attorneys gain industry experience by keeping abreast of industry trends, maintaining an open dialogue with clients, attending industry conferences, and actively participating in the industry. This allows them to act more as trusted partners, as opposed to advisors on discrete legal issues, and to provide more targeted solutions.

“When you’re a lawyer, the best part of your job is helping someone solve a problem,” said Campbell. “We take that commitment very seriously. As a firm, we don’t assume to know what our clients need—we ask.”

Despite these challenges, manufacturing executives are optimistic about the future: 94% plan to keep their business in the Pacific Northwest for at least the next five years, and 90% feel optimistic about their company’s overall future. And they have good reason: with collaborative problem-solving and committed service providers, they have all the pieces to meet these challenges head-on.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.