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Still Underutilized, Apprenticeship Programs Prove Their Worth Amid Covid-19 Skill Shortages

Latest installment of North American Manufacturing Covid-19 Survey Series shows 38% of surveyed companies are hiring

Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2020 - 12:00

(Thomas: New York) -- Thomas, the leader in product sourcing, supplier selection, and marketing solutions for industry, has released the results of its latest survey canvassing North American manufacturing and industrial sectors. This installment in the Thomas Industrial Survey Series generated insights from 746 North American manufacturing and industrial suppliers to identify the major trends stemming from the global pandemic as the industrial sector pivots its supply chains and tactics to prepare for the new industrial landscape.

A key survey finding shows the value of apprenticeship programs in combating the skills gap—26 percent of companies surveyed have adopted such programs and industries that have done so were overall less impacted by the lack of available skilled labor.

The survey also indicated that while 91 percent of manufacturers are confident the industry will recover, many predict it will take months to several years to earn back the lost revenue.

“Manufacturing and industrial companies continue to demonstrate remarkable innovation and resilience to overcome the challenges brought on by Covid-19,” says Thomas president and CEO Tony Uphoff. “Our latest survey shows interest in reshoring acceleration. As companies work to adapt and implement the most impactful practices to support the industrial economy, the survey also shows expanding interest in automation, pivoting supply chains, and addressing the labor shortage. Clearly North American manufacturing is strategically adapting to this new era of industry.”

Additional key findings include:

The impact and future of automation: More than half of the respondents feel that they meet or exceed industry standards on automation processes. The top three automation technologies that manufacturers are most interested to invest in during the next 12 months are production performance (55%), product testing and quality assurance (48%), and process control (46%). Findings also reveal that in the wake of Covid-19, many companies have turned to AR to avoid sending technicians to customers in affected areas, and that automation has helped speed up the time it takes to finish products.

Reshoring and domestic sourcing trends: 69 percent of respondents report that they are extremely likely to bring production/sourcing back to North America in the future, with agricultural, energy/utilities, and food and beverage sectors leading in interest. Additionally, the top products North American manufacturers are looking to source domestically include metals (15%), machining tools and parts (13%), fabricated materials (13%), and personal protective equipment (12%).

Future of work and skilled labor: More than one in three companies report they are actively hiring. Additionally, while 52 percent of companies have continued their apprenticeship programs during the pandemic, 40 percent report they have paused their programs in place, and only 3 percent have ended it. Additional sentiment from the survey includes that reshoring will ultimately lead to an increase in high paying jobs, growing demand for skilled jobs, and the need for an exponential number of support jobs.


The study was conducted online using Qualtrics. Participating suppliers are mostly OEMs and custom manufacturers from a variety of industrial sectors with revenues spanning from less than $4.9 million to more than $500 million. The Thomas Industrial Survey Series was initially launched in February 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak and garnered a total of 4,653 respondents with 3,452 qualified responses. Click here to get a copy of the Thomas Industrial Survey report.

About Thomas' Covid-19 response

Thomas has launched a three-part Covid-19 response in light of the global pandemic. First, the Thomas Covid-19 Resource Hub provides mission-critical, real-time information and important updates to keep industrial business leaders up to date. Second, a new industrial sourcing filter on Thomasnet.com identifies suppliers with readily available products and service capabilities as Covid-19 Response Suppliers; more than 2,500 suppliers are now included in this group. Finally, Thomas is facilitating partnerships between manufacturing companies to keep industrial businesses moving forward during this time.


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