Workforce development is the biggest ongoing challenge facing mold makers, according the American Mold builders Association's Business Forecast Report.
"The No. 1 challenge that all we face actually deals with recruitment and retention of our workforce," AMBA Executive Director Troy Nix said in a webinar to present the results.
"When we asked about the challenges, 100 percent said workforce development, locating talent. And what you see is for the last three years is that workforce development is at 100 percent," Nix said.
Mold makers are beefing up recruitment and training. Some are teaming with local high schools, colleges and technical schools, he said.
And Nix added that 75 percent of survey respondents said they plan to add employees in 2019.
AMBA surveyed presidents, owners and senior executives of 136 mold builders. Companies with sales between $1 million and $14 million accounted for 83 percent of the total. Nix said 77 percent make injection molds, 16 percent produce molds for compression molding, rubber injection, thermoform tooling, blow molds, molds for liquid silicone rubber molding and stack molds. Another 7 percent make die-cast tooling.
While current business conditions during the survey period were positive — 67 percent said business was good or excellent — the outlook for the next several months was slightly less optimistic, the survey said. In 2018, conditions were much stronger, when 81 percent said good or excellent. Nix said that decrease is a red flag.
AMBA asked companies to list their most optimistic markets for 2019. The category of medical/dental/optical was first, listed by 33 percent, followed by automotive at 16 percent and consumer products at 13 percent, followed by aerospace and packaging.
But at the same time, automotive was listed by 47 percent of respondents as the least optimistic market — by far the highest negative category.
Nix said some of the caution is because U.S. vehicle sales are expected to drop below 17 million this year, and the industry is beginning to change to electric and autonomous vehicles.
Mold makers also listed their major challenges. Nix said company size matters. Smaller companies, those under $5 million in sales, listed health care, insurance and foreign competition. Larger mold makers said continuous improvement is the biggest challenge.
AMBA asked respondents what percent of revenue are represented by three expense categories expenses: sales and marketing (4 percent); employee health care (8 percent); and capital investments (10 percent).
Forty percent said their backlog is up, looking back to the three prior months. Nix said that's about the same number as the last eight survey years. Profitability also stayed the course over the longer-term trend.
Quoting activity was "slightly better than the eight-year averages," Nix said.