When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the summer months…that final stretch of time that seemed to offer so much freedom. For the working parents, summers typically mean spotty childcare and a lot of pricey camps. Except with the current pandemic, working parents have been in this endless loop of feeling like it is the summer without the benefit of overpriced summer childcare options.
According to USNI News, defense industry company executives and government officials have cited productivity impacts from school closures and lack of childcare options. Even the Federal Reserve predicts workforce absenteeism as an issue that will continue for weeks and potentially months.
In order to make any conference calls happen, parents have to resort to unlimited goldfish and television or video games.I am guessing many parents will no longer complain about how hard summer childcare is…they will just be grateful when they have consistent and safe childcare.
But aside from making working parents’ lives more challenging to juggle, how does lack of childcare affect the defense industry?
For those who have to be onsite, it seems like productivity should be at normal levels, but what happens when no one will watch your kid? You can not just bring your kid into the SCIF with a few coloring books and a tablet. (You can’t even bring your own phone to answer those random questions from the high school babysitter you recently acquired). When you are expected to be physically present – but can’t – you can start to feel desperate.
Mike Petters, the chief executive of Huntington Ingalls Industries, said, “Folks have to decide how they’re going to take care of their kids, and all of the usual mechanisms for people to take care of their kids are not available either. So that’s our biggest driver in attendance.”
Supply Chain Slowdowns
Supply chains only remain flowing when employees are physically present at work. Companies like General Dynamics are hopeful that as the rate of infections is reduced, absenteeism will also go down with it. But the flow of the supply chain within the DoD is heavily dependent on employees being physically present. Worse yet, most facilities are too dangerous for small children to be onsite. Absenteeism has a direct impact on the supply chain.
Maybe some of you are getting a break from the coworker who talks nonstop, but for the working parents, the non stop talkers have just invaded the home office. It helps that these small invaders are a lot cuter than the annoying coworker. They also respond well initially to candy. However, not only do these tiny talkers have to be occupied, they even have to be educated by the working parent. For those with kids in the younger crowd, there is nothing relaxing about this pandemic, except that all of the evening extracurriculars have been canceled so you do not have to taxi your kids around to games and practices.
Distraction stops progress every time. Even if you are able to start producing, constant distraction means the thought process has to start and stop continually, leading to delayed schedules or things forgotten. When timelines get stretched due to distraction, the opportunities for mistakes or corner cutting measures increase as well. It also just feels really lame to ask a client for an extension because my kid was distracting me. It feels a little like telling a teacher that my dog ate my homework.
Typically, when working parents have childcare problems, workplaces can be very flippant about the situation. Of course, the flippancy comes from the fact that some parents make their personal problems everyone’s problem in the office. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a very unique situation that is impacting everyone differently. This is not the time to be cold and unaffected by the challenges facing the working parent.
Much has been done to increase telework options and increase contractor payments. The DoD has pushed additional funding to second and third-tier suppliers. But what happens when deliverables are late or over budget due to absent or distracted working parents? Will the laid back attitude continue? No one enjoys paying for what they do not receive.
Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, said, “To the extent that we have an opportunity to flow through and accelerate payments, we accelerate them to them as well as to our domestic suppliers in the U.S. They may face challenges of productivity or absenteeism and/or other constraints, and so we’ll continue to watch that closely. And frankly, that’s the area that we watch the most closely and why we’ve been so focused on it every week.”
If businesses are starting to make reopening plans with most schools closed until the end of the school year and summer camps already cancelled, many employees will still be unable to do their jobs at full capacity – especially those with younger children.
Without investing in the childcare situation, we cannot fully reopen. While teachers continued to work from home and private schools received tuition payments, daycares have been closed. Profit margins are already razor thin for daycare centers, so they will struggle with ongoing closures and reduced capacity reopenings. But with so much money lost every year due to a lack of childcare, it is even more important for this to be addressed as we try to fight our way out of the effects of the current pandemic.
While we are not in the clear yet, we are cautiously hopeful that positive trends will continue moving forward. Hopefully, we can find the right balance between safety and progress towards resuming our work.