- On May 12, 2020
strong>When the Going Gets Tough, Manufacturers Find a Way: Manufacturers Traversing Turbulent Times
By Lisa Derby Oden
In our previous blog, Part 1, we began sharing the experiences manufacturers are having as they make their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, there are difficulties, and manufacturers are finding their way day by day. There are also new insights and bright spots. We continue their stories here, with a look ahead at what might benefit manufacturers as the country re-opens.
Paula Martel, HR Generalist for North Easton Machine, responds to our question about legislative changes that could help manufacturers in the future in this situation or a similar one. “When faced with this adversity it became apparent quickly that other groups of people need to be tested, beyond the front line medical. Guidance regarding how to expand employment in pandemic, how to safe guard current employees to take in new employees, is needed. The definition of Essential Workers that need to be tested should be expanded. Guidance about employment and testing is not legislative perhaps. I think that regulations are still trying to catch up with the novel coronavirus and its impact. Right now I’m not aware of any legislation on the books that is inhibiting us. I do know that there will be lots of lessons looking back, for example how to prevent hoarding…groceries, PPE, supplies. If I had the Governor’s ear for a minute I’d tell him that we need guidance about how to transition back or re-enter for employees that have been out. We need to know how to hire if we have a business uptick, and how to communicate to current employees that it is safe to hire. We need access to testing for non-symptomatic employees.”
Paula continues, “We are seeing that our employees view their jobs as more significant than they did prior to pandemic, that they do important work. Everyone’s mental health is suffering, and everyone needs more patience and understanding. Despite that our employees are all genuinely interested in their colleagues’ mental health and ability to cope at home. Many are having to deal with home schooling, or trying to figure out how to take care of parents that they can’t go see. We have had a couple of employees that had non-covid deaths, and those families can’t really grieve and have a funeral. These circumstances are bringing out the best in our employees while they are at work.”
As to what MassMEP can do to help during this time, Paula shares, “The online training access that MassMEP is providing is great – we are able to participate when can’t gather in person. As far as OJT goes, we’ve had to suspend it during the pandemic, so this training is lagging. Our current policy is that if you don’t know how to fix your machine or do a specific piece of the work, then you need to walk away so someone else can step in and do it. Tribal knowledge is not being transferred. In the future, working with MassMEP to get training grants will get us back on track in this realm.”
“At AccuRounds, we’ve been so busy dealing with this on day to day basis that we haven’t had a chance to step back and consider beneficial legislative change yet,” says Diane Fererra, Human Resources Manager for AccuRounds. “Though I can say that the unemployment issue has been a tough situation for us. I’m referring to the additional $600/week that the unemployed are getting in addition to their regular unemployment. Those that are still working take a look at that and think they would be better off out of work. Some companies have been increasing pay to keep people, while still other companies have had pay reductions in order to stay afloat. We’re trying to give everyone all sides of the story and remind them that at the end of all this they are still employed. We didn’t budget for the 2 weeks of paid sick leave that was implemented, but we will be okay.”
“On the positive side, people are stepping up that we wouldn’t see during regular times. For example, employees will buy sanitizers, wipes, disinfectants, things like that, when shopping and bring it to work for everyone here. If someone is high risk and out for now, others are stepping up to cover for them. We are all impacted by this, and I am aware that how I behave impacts the worker. I am trying to remain calm, so it helps to keep them calm too. This will make us stronger – we are all here for each other and to support one another,” Diane observes.
Diane concludes with, “I know that MassMEP is working with MERT. I agree with Paula that the online training is great. I realize that it’s more challenging to do 5S online, but that is going fine. The apprenticeships are still going and that’s great. We see the impact from where they started to where they are today. The people that we have, I think they want to stay at AccuRounds, so they need to learn and grow. MassMEP plays a significant part with resources for their growth.”
Phillips Precision, located in Boylston, MA, is a full service ISO9001:2015 registered machine shop and manufacturer of unique work holding products. Cathy Phillips, Business Manager and Co-Owner of Phillips Precision, comments, “This COVID-19 situation really throws you for a loop. We have essential employer designation because we make medical device, IT, and other components. Early on we furloughed a few employees, but we applied for the PPP loan and received it, so everyone is back. It’s tough to overcome the $600 unemployment incentive – we need to come up with bonus money for those are working.”
Cathy continues, “One of the hardest things is the emotional part and the anxiety that everyone is dealing with. That adds a different dimension. Every day is a new challenge, and we work hard to make sure that everyone’s concerns are heard and discussed. For our company, future work is a concern. We think we may see a slow down this summer. We’ve been okay as far as supplies go, as most of our suppliers are primarily in the US. I would say that manufacturers could benefit from legislation that addresses supply chain, outsourcing overseas and tariffs. As far as regulatory obstacles, the EPA is doubling down on storm water control. No one is making it easy – that could impact all manufacturers.”
Cathy adds that there has been a silver lining to all this. “We’ve used videoconferencing for years as well as email with video embedded. Some of our distributors and customers previously have not been up to speed with it. We may be viewed differently now, as ahead of the curve, as the need to embrace technology changes is currently not optional.”
Phillips Precision has also contributed to PPE needs. They produced a PPE Mask Ear Relief band that they distributed all over the state. The ear relief band provides healthcare workers with a more comfortable way to wear their protective masks and take pressure off their ears. In addition to producing these, they have shared the CAD file around the US on their website.