Up at Night: Manufacturers Report Common Challenges



As a researcher, one of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What problem keeps you up at night?” quickly followed by, “What question would you need to answer to address that problem?”

Apparently, I’m not alone. In recent months, both Deloitte and IndustryWeek published survey data on the pressing issues that are the biggest concern for manufacturers. These surveys, conducted in September and October 2021 respectively, reported remarkably consistent findings.


Our experts and Business Solutions Team have heard about these challenges loud and clear from the small and medium-size manufacturers we serve. As a result, we have tailored our services to address these most pressing issues, whether through new offerings, evolving existing training and consulting, and through meaningful partnerships.

Talent: It should come as no surprise that workforce shortages top both lists. We’ve been hearing for months about labor shortages. Virtually every business, across all sectors, is competing for employees and struggling to fill open positions. Manufacturing alone has nearly 900,000 job openings.[1]

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center) product portfolio includes options to help with reskilling and onboarding workers. In addition, we supply data on competitive wages, occupational gaps, and related occupations that might have the necessary skills to fill open positions.

Supply Chain: Second to workforce, supply chain disruptions from raw materials, components to final products are affecting all industries. We’ve heard from clients that delays can be upwards of six months for needed materials. Supply chain professionals struggle to address one shortage only to have more pop-up elsewhere. As Larry Culp, CEO of General Electric said, “It’s akin to playing a whack-a-mole.”[2]

The Center offers supplier scouting services at no-cost to Michigan businesses. Now is a tough time for everyone. Supplier scouting services can help track down an alternative supplier, local source a value-added service or connect with our MEP National Network to find a U.S.-based option for a hard-to-source material.

Digital Technology Adoption: Talent gaps and supply chain shortages are two of the reasons so many companies are looking at adopting these technologies. Sensors, robots and cobots, and AI-enabled tools can provide real-time insights on maintenance and tool-usage, while cobots and robots can take on material handling and other ergonomically challenging work, freeing up personnel for machine tending and other jobs.[3]

The Center can help companies assess their current operations and identify industry 4.0 adoption opportunities to enhance production. The no-cost technology assessment will evaluate your shop floor and produce a personalized implementation plan complete with ROI.

Cybersecurity: With the increase in hybrid work and work from home scenarios and the increase in cloud computing and other digital technology, comes an increased risk from cyber-attacks. Even prior to the pandemic-driven changes, ransomware, phishing and other cyber-attacks were becoming more sophisticated and frequent. No business, regardless of industry or size, is off-limits to these intrusions. Roughly 43% of cyber-attacks target small businesses, but only 14% of them are prepared to mount a defense.[4]

The Center’s cybersecurity services can help companies establish a framework from which it can create an incident response plan, with security controls and other processes in place to defend, respond and recover should an attack take place.

Environmental, Social, and Governance: Sustainability has long been a buzzword in manufacturing. Net Zero carbon goals are an increasing focus for large OEMs across industry sectors. The Climate Pledge, co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism in 2019, has seen a growing list of companies and organizations—215 and counting—signing on to reach net zero carbon by 2040. In addition to environmental issues, comes renewed attention to employee engagement, worker health and safety, and equity and diversity.[5]

The Center offers solutions to address environmental and sustainability initiatives. In addition, our recent partnership with the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement (CADIA) provides training to help companies navigate the DEI landscape, understand its history and make a business case to unlock potential and drive creativity and innovation in the workplace.  

As an advocate on behalf of Michigan’s small and medium-sized manufacturers, we continually track industry trends so that we can supply solutions to turn tomorrow’s challenges into today’s opportunities. To learn more, visit our website at The-Center.org or contact us at inquiry@the-center.org.

Rebekah McCarter, Lead Supplier ScoutRebekah McCarter, Lead Supplier Scout
Having spent more than 20 years with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, Rebekah views her fundamental responsibility as head cheerleader and advocate on behalf of Michigan’s manufacturing community. Officially, Rebekah is the Lead Supplier Scout for Michigan, part of a national program that effectively identifies domestic suppliers that meet the specifications of OEMs and other U.S. manufacturers, with a special focus on connecting Michigan companies with other Michigan companies. If you are looking to mitigate risk in your supply chain, transition to more local sourcing of raw materials or augment your minority suppliers, The Center can help. 


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.


[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings Levels and Rates by Industry and Region, Seasonally Adjusted, September 2021 (P). November 12, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t01.htm

[2] “U.S. Companies to Keep Prices High as Supply Chain Headaches Persist,” WTVBam.com, October 27, 2021, https://wtvbam.com/2021/10/27/u-s-companies-to-keep-prices-high-as-supply-chain-headaches-persist/

[3] Greenfield, D, “Top Industrial Uses Case for Cloud Computing,” Automation World, August 26, 2021, https://www.automationworld.com/factory/iiot/article/21627490/top-industrial-uses-case-for-cloud-computing

[4] “2021 Must-Know Cyber-Attack Statistics and Trends,” Embroker Blog, November 19, 2021, https://www.embroker.com/blog/cyber-attack-statistics/

[5]Davis,J, “Making the Case for a New Approach to Diversity and Inclusion Efforts in Manufacturing,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers, June 10, 2021, https://www.aem.org/news/making-the-case-for-a-new-approach-to-diversity-and-inclusion-efforts-in-manufacturing; “The Disappointing Truth About Diversity and Inclusion for U.S. Manufacturers,” Manufacturers Alliance, n.d. https://www.manufacturersalliance.org/research-insights/disappointing-truth-about-diversity-and-inclusion-us-manufacturers; “ESG Investment a Priority for C-Suite,” EHS Today Magazine, November 23, 2021, https://www.ehstoday.com/environment/article/21181917/esg-investment-a-priority-for-csuite

Categories: Cybersecurity, Data & Trends, Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, Supply Chain, The Center, U.S. Manufacturing, Workforce