The Manufacturing Institute–BKD Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturers Survey

February 2021: The ‘New Normal’ and Post-Pandemic Workforce Challenges

Read the Entire Report

Access the Report


This is the first in a series of special surveys of small and medium-sized manufacturers (i.e., those with fewer than 500 employees) that are being conducted by The Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research and BKD, a national CPA and advisory firm. The topic will vary with each report, and for this initial survey, manufacturing leaders were asked to describe the “new normal” for their operations in the aftermath of severe disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic—to the extent that they have coalesced around what that might look like for their businesses.


  • Workforce challenges: Despite a dramatically altered labor market, manufacturers consistently suggest that they have trouble attracting and retaining sufficient workers. More than 77% of small and medium-sized firms expect to continue struggling to identify talent in 2021 and beyond.
  • Keys to growth: Three-quarters of respondents said that a stronger domestic economy was key to driving growth for their companies, followed by increased efficiencies (59.2%), new product development (53.6%), investments in new technologies (43.9%) and worker training, upskilling and professional development (42.9%).
  • Technology: More than 77% were making technological investments at their businesses to achieve cost efficiencies in the production process, with 73.4% doing so to improve their operational performance.
  • Safety: More than 83% had enhanced workplace safety measures and requirements, with nearly two-thirds noting a need for increased worker flexibility.
  • Remote work: Nearly 64% had reevaluated what work could be done remotely where possible, and 55.8% noted that their business was working to reengineer the production process with social distancing in mind.
  • Supply chain: Roughly 47% of SMMs were reevaluating their supply chain. Moreover, one in five respondents cited the need to accelerate automation in their operations, with roughly the same percentage stating that the pandemic provided the opportunity to offer new products or services to their customers.
  • New normal: Respondents offered free response comments, featured below, on what the “new normal” looks like for them—assuming they know what that means just yet.

Research Partners

Download the Entire Report