As Some Downsize, Others Rise Up

by Thomas Masuch 2020/10/29

After years of continuous growth, the entire AM industry has been dealt a severe blow by Covid-19. This is reflected in the labor market, which – despite having recovered somewhat – appears to have bid farewell to 100 percent employment for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the impact the coronavirus has had on employees varies widely across individual companies, sectors, and regions. In some areas, skilled workers are still in short supply.

In recent years, the conditions the AM world offered employees were practically ideal. Qualified personnel was scarce, and the number of jobs grew along with the booming industry; employers offered good salaries and favorable terms for applicants’ contract negotiations. »Since I’ve been involved in the AM industry, the employment rate has been 100 percent and the unemployment has been close to zero. If you had experience in the industry, you were either employed or between jobs,« says Nick Pearce, founder and director of Alexander Daniels Global, a recruitment company specializing in the AM industry.

Those times are now over. In Europe, the demand for applicants has dropped significantly, and there was a real slump in the US in April 2020. »In March and April, there were experienced AM professionals who were unemployed, particularly in the US,« Pearce says. This quickly became noticeable, especially in sales and marketing. After all, it was impossible to travel and visit customers for weeks – which led to some jobs being put on hold, as Pearce reports. »Since you can hire and fire at will in the US, I think a lot of companies took the view of ’Let’s just fire them and get them off the payroll’. Labor laws are more favorable to employers there, which meant that there were significant layoffs of talent within additive manufacturing.«

»Enterprises ignore that there are some more microeconomic factors around specific skill shortages.«

While 3,500 vacancies were advertised in the European AM industry in 2019, by 2020 (up to the end of September) there were only 1,317 – a decline of 62 percent. The fact that this statistic has also fallen by around 60 percent in the US (see graph) is due to the fairly rapid rebound witnessed over the summer. At the same time, the number of people in the AM industry who are open to new job opportunities increased by 81 percent in the US, and by as much as 113 percent in Europe. Despite the clarity of these figures, Pearce has observed less of a »crisis mode« at companies in Europe. »The labor laws favor employees and their rights, so we didn’t see the same thing happen as in the US. Companies in Europe have taken a much longer-term view of the market.«

WORKFORCES CUT BY UP TO 20 PERCENT

The large AM companies listed on the stock exchange, some of which had already considered reorganizing their workforce structure even before the coronavirus, took decisive action amidst the pandemic. In early June, Stratasys announced that it would cut 10 percent of its global workforce, and 3D Systems followed suit in August with its own plans for a 20 percent reduction. While the major players have been looking to get leaner, however, Pearce has seen two different strategies emerging in the rest of the industry. »There are those who are still in a hiring freeze situation. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve seen a very different story with start-up businesses that have continued to grow and continued to hire,« he explains. After all, start-ups do not have to have healthy business figures right from the start; they can focus primarily on the development of their technology and their company. »In the start-up and scale-up areas of the market, we’ve even seen more growth and more job opportunities within the industry,« Pearce adds.

SUPPLY CHAIN COLLAPSE OFFERS AN OPENING

A look at the individual sectors also reveals a very different picture. For example, Pearce mentions AM contract manufacturers from China and the US, where production continued during the lockdown – thanks in part to digitalized production operations that require almost no human involvement. These companies jumped into the breach when the supply chains collapsed, winning new customers (and entering new business areas) even in the battered automotive and aerospace industries. No wonder that the demand for new personnel also continued. »In particular, these companies have been looking for people with a background in process engineering or quality assurance as it relates to the aerospace industry,« Pearce reports.

As he goes on to note, however, things are less rosy in the AM departments of larger manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive and aerospace industries. Here, production was temporarily switched to TPE and other materials to fight Covid-19. Pearce found that the largest drop in demand for personnel in the AM industry was among manufacturers of large AM equipment (costing €250,000 or more). This is an area where customers often face investment freezes.

A SIGNIFICANT DROP IN PAY

Although there are exceptions, the industry-wide decline in demand for personnel has certainly weakened the bargaining position of employees and applicants. According to Pearce's initial experiences, this has also had an impact on wages for new hires. There was, for instance, a machine manufacturer that was expanding in the US and looking to recruit a sales manager. »The salary guideline for the position was $80,000, and even that was below what I would consider the market rate to be,« Pearce recalls. Ultimately, the contracted salary was even 20% lower than that, but incentivized with targeted bonuses.

Alexander Daniels Global is currently collecting responses to their 2020 Additive Manufacturing Salary Survey, which will provide a more detailed picture of wage trends in the AM industry. The report will be published in early 2021.

Pearce advises companies (especially those in the US) not to exploit the current situation and continue to push wages down. »There is a problem that this could cause for the companies. At some point – and we don't know when that will be, but I suspect probably 12-18 months from now – the market will have rebounded and hiring will be back at the level it was.« As Pearce predicts, the demand for experienced professionals will then accelerate even faster. »If these companies don't adjust in line with the market as it starts to rebound, in the US in particular, these people will walk into other jobs.«

SPECIAL SKILLS STILL IN DEMAND

On the other hand, it should encourage job applicants that Pearce still sees areas where candidates are scarce and highly sought-after – especially in Europe. »There is still demand for talent,« he affirms. While enterprises are often not aware of this because they tend to look at the overall situation, Pearce believes they »ignore that there are some more microeconomic factors around specific skill shortages that don't align with that thinking.« This applies, for example, to specialists in applicationengineering, additive manufacturingengineering, and design engineering. »These are people who have a holistic view of the technology from the standpoints of processes, materials, and design, so they're able to leverage its full potential. This is still a skillset that is in high demand and difficult to find.«

According to Pearce’s experience, there are also other professions that still have promising prospects in Europe right now – engineers capable of optimizing production processes, for example, or even sales and channel managers. »In Germany, I’d have a hard time finding those professionals, whereas in the US, I could immediately give you five because of the different dynamics between the countries.«

Further Information:

  • Founded six years ago by Nick Pearce, Alexander Daniels Global has established itself internationally as a recruitment agency for the AM industry. The company employs six people in the UK, Spain, Germany, and the US.
  • alexanderdanielsglobal.com