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Manufacturing Outlook: Nikki Holden

Custom Metalcraft Inc. Managing Partner

Posted online

Nikki Holden is a knowledgeable voice in the industry that recognizes its challenges and opportunities, as she’s accrued a quarter-century of experience at stainless steel manufacturer Custom Metalcraft Inc.

2019 Projection: The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, if ratified and functioning as intended, should be advantageous to the manufacturing industry.

SBJ: What is the current climate of the manufacturing industry?
Holden: Like anybody else, we still have a lot of challenges in finding skilled labor. I think everybody has a very positive outlook. We’re not seeing decreases in growth. We’re seeing it sustain. The challenges are just making sure we can find an adequate supply of labor as we have some of these tenured and experienced employees retiring.
 
SBJ: What could disrupt the industry?
Holden: Continued impact from tariffs. When news of the tariffs broke, we were all very uncomfortable. We were all very aware of how it could potentially take our business. We also recognized everybody else was in the same boat. Some of those items are out of your control. You can’t control your own material prices, unless you make some design changes. Even switching to a different supplier, you may not be able to take advantage of material savings. It kind of ties your hands behind your back. But again, everybody was in the same boat.

SBJ: What are the big challenges ahead?
Holden: The biggest one is the workforce. We’re going to have to find ways to adapt to how we work to be able to attract a millennial employee. That may mean we need to look to involve more robotics, more operator-driven kind of manufacturing rather than old-school, hands-on options where somebody is actually using a welder. We can’t replace that individual with that type of experience. Millennials like to game, they like to be on their phones and do all these things with their devices. We’re going to have to figure out ways to adapt and make ourselves relevant in that fashion.

Obviously, the increased cost of health care is a challenge to everybody. Now, we’re having to look outside the box in terms of what is enticing and engaging in terms of recruitment.
 
SBJ: How is technology impacting manufacturing?
Holden: Thinking in a full circle, we are in an Amazon world. We are able to go on our phones, order things and have them in two days. Now, we recognize the customer wants that. They want something immediately, so we have to respond and be prepared for that. We’re seeing more people with online purchases. It’s definitely not the norm with us, but we’re seeing a slight increase of people going online and purchasing parts through our store and we ship them out.

SBJ: How would you rate the workforce pool in the area? What are the needs?
Holden: We have a solid workforce. We’ve got (Ozarks Technical Community College) and others trying to establish specific classes to teach students a variety of skills. They’re coming along, but you can’t take the place of somebody who has spent 35 years perfecting their skills. I wouldn’t say the workforce is weak – it’s just changing.

I feel like we’re being proactive, through the GO CAPS program and just how we are increasing awareness in general about manufacturing. There’s Manufacturing Day in October. There have been places holding open houses trying to get people to come in and take tours. I don’t feel like there’s a stone unturned.

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