Navigating Workforce Challenges: How Manufacturing Can Move Forward

Collaboration between packaged goods companies and OEMs is critical.

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The Great Resignation, which has seen more than 43 million Americans leave their jobs in the past year, shows no sign of slowing, as reported in the Washington Post.

Manufacturing has weathered the biggest surge in workers quitting – a nearly 60% jump compared with pre-pandemic. It is a buyers’ market for job seekers out there, and manufacturing is not seen as a desirable career choice.

In order to retain talent, both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies highlighted the need to engage the manufacturing workforce in the Key Challenges for Packaging and Processing Operations white paper produced by PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. 

The connection between technology and training

One way to accomplish this is through eliminating the more monotonous aspects of jobs and increasing automation; another is to provide better education and training. While automating less attractive manual jobs, coupled with upskilling workers to retain labor in more attractive positions, is seen as part of the solution, CPG companies are also seeking more intuitive equipment, making operating and maintaining equipment easier. 

Collaboration between CPGs and OEM in this area is critical. The director of packaging operations for a major food company emphasized that machine reliability and technical support from OEMs “is needed to help combat staffing issues arising from a lack of knowledge and training, and the constant turnover of staff.” 

While automation is looked at as one solution to the labor shortage, the PMMI white paper makes it clear that employers are not looking to get rid of workers – they want to redeploy them. Some CPGs specifically asked for OEMs to step in on the training front and teach their people how to operate their machinery. It is also clear that end users are giving thought to the need to promote from within, and to improve training and career development. Engaging staff, and keeping them “onboard,” has become critical as some sectors, such as the food industry, are seeing high rates of retirement, causing production lines to stand idle because of a lack of personnel.

But training and automation are not the only initiatives being looked at to contend with these workforce challenges. Lean manufacturing initiatives are another piece of the puzzle being considered to combat the labor shortage, according to PMMI’s newest white paper, Shaping the Future of Packaging Operations: Collaboration-Workforce-Productivity-Sustainability. Lean manufacturing principles incorporated into equipment designs and layouts can be as important as automation in reducing labor requirements. 

A well-rounded approach 

Increasing wages and improving working conditions are other areas cited by white paper participants to combat worker shortages. The reality is that the manufacturing sector no longer provides the good-paying jobs it once did. The Washington Post reports that from 1976 to 2006, average hourly pay for a rank-and-file factory worker was substantially higher than the average across all industries for non-supervisory workers. Now, manufacturing pay is below average. Food preparation facilities and meat packing plants are cited as prime examples of industries where the pay is low, and the conditions are harsh.

High employee turnover and absenteeism are key challenges for manufacturers from all sectors. Looking at offering more full-time positions to encourage commitment while relying less on temporary workers is another area of emphasis cited in the white paper. 

Additionally, both CPGs and OEMs mentioned the need to work more closely with schools and colleges to recruit young people as a critical tactic in the long-term battle against workforce shortages. Encouraging the next generation look at manufacturing as a career choice is an essential strategy to solving the labor crisis. To aid in this effort, PACK EXPO East (March 21-23, 2022; Pennsylvania Convention Center) hosts local high school robotics teams in the Future Innovators Robotics Showcase where they will display their robotics innovations and interact with industry professionals.

Find solutions at PACK EXPO East

No other East Coast event will offer such a wide range of state-of-the-art packaging and processing solutions as PACK EXPO East. With 400 exhibitors, PACK EXPO East provides a convenient and rewarding opportunity for CPG and life sciences professionals to explore packaging and processing technology, connect with suppliers and find the solutions needed to compete in a changing marketplace conveniently located just a drive or train-trip away for most of the east coast. To register or learn more, visit For information about the PACK Ready Health and Safety plan, visit

Maria Ferrante is senior director of workforce development at PMMI.

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