The Pandemic Changed My Job Function!
Very Young Salesman (media by Jeff Clos)
The pandemic had affected everyone and everything. I was no different as I was working for a company that had reached capacity. We were now at a point where we could add no more new customers. Our once short lead times had been pushed from 6 weeks to as long as 50 weeks. Can you imagine ordering a product and receiving it in 50 weeks? Even worse, it had happened almost overnight. We were a non-union shop that may as well have been union when our factory workers came to us en masse and “requested” we shut down in March of 2020. We were in the hotbed of the Detroit area, and COVID was running rampant. The employees pushed to stay home as they did not feel safe.
Our shutdown lasted every bit of the next eight weeks and getting back up to pre-pandemic capacity required several months more. Labor had become a massive issue as it was becoming harder and harder to find reliable or even any workers to run some of our lines. Working with a skeleton crew was often routine, and my job function as a salesman shifted to being a line worker. The Company needed several of us at various lines to ensure the product could keep flowing. Manufacturing was deemed essential, but workers did not view labor as crucial. It was an intriguing time and one I won’t expound upon in this article.
I was no stranger to working our lines, as it had been something I participated in from time to time. We often performed trial runs for our new customers or new product introductions for our existing ones. Now working the line had become a daily ritual. Going home to find my exercise rings on my watch were closed well before the evening hours was always a plus. After a few months of this new routine, I was becoming disheartened. I was a salesman, and I thrived on bringing in new accounts, developing new products, and seeking out new markets. I was getting none of this at this point. Now I was tasked with making sure the product was getting produced and was leaving our facility.
What would it take to return to the office and rediscover what it meant to be a salesman? Indeed, labor was needed, and we needed to increase capacity. Our Company could only do this through continued equipment efficiencies and investment in additional capital, as our reliance on labor seemed to be our downfall at the moment. We were a custom packager which had become a detriment as we were too “Customized.” The amount of customization would need to be limited. What was once our niche had become our crutch.
We could do nothing significant in a short amount of time. This was no small feat, and plans would have to be discussed. Our lengthy lead times had been established, and schedules had been created. The labor force started to see a rebound as we raised our lowest-wage hourly wage had been increased to mirror the work environment near us. It was in no way at pre-pandemic levels, but we were staffed to run our main shift. Any thoughts of a second shift were quickly shuffled to the back of our minds, given the amount of training needed. As each day went by, there was no guarantee a recent hire would return the next day. Such was the routine as we had a fair amount of temporary labor throughout our plant.
Our new way of life has seen the lead times shrink, albeit very slowly. Supply chain issues have become the new normal. If it was scheduled to run this week, it may get pushed out a few weeks. waiting for a component which may or may not be delivered. There are many improvements we have made to improve efficiencies, but these will take time to implement. The capital expenditures, machinery improvement, are dependent on the equipment manufacturers, which have also inflated their lead times. The “snowball’ effect has never been more apparent. For now, I am no longer a line worker, barely a salesman, and primarily involved in administration. Perhaps I will take up writing full time!