Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Editorial: Building a stronger community


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There is power in community. Last year, our communities stepped up and supported us at the onset of the pandemic. Family, friends, colleagues, yes – but also our wider networks. For manufacturers who had spent years developing relationships within the sector, that meant when it came time to switch gears and get PPE out the door and into hospitals, the right tools and partners were just a few calls away.

Recently, I was chatting with Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, the new president of our association partner Automate Canada, as well as the Canadian Association of Mold Makers. Her mandate is to support and strengthen the automation industry and manufacturing supply chain through advocacy – and to look at ways to recruit the next generation of workers. Among her goals are increasing access to programs that attract youth, such as Manufacturing Day (or MFG Day as it’s better known), which takes place every year on the first Friday in October.

The U.S.-based initiative, started a number of years ago by the Manufacturing Institute, showcases modern manufacturing careers with a doors-open format that sees students, teachers and local residents tour through plants across the country. MFG Day has been gaining ground in Canada – for example, the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin has participated for several years, staging bus trips and in-person plant visits. On Oct. 1, they’ll be posting video tours of area manufacturers online for the second year in a row due to COVID-19.

But thus far, MFG Day programs in Canada have been fragmented. Lassaline-Berglund says there needs to be a more concerted community effort across industry to make MFG Day a must-participate event for both industry and students – and, in the spirit of supporting a sector that accounts for more than 10 per cent of the country’s GDP, there should be financial support from the government to make it happen.

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Logistically, opening a plant for a tour can be challenging, but the awareness it provides in return will pay dividends down the road. We’re acutely aware of the skills gap in manufacturing – a 2020 survey by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) said that eight in 10 manufacturers have an immediate skills and labour shortage that has intensified because of the pandemic.

The thing is, the workers are there. The industry just needs to reach them. There are some reports that Generation Z (people born up to about 2012) will eclipse the Millennial generation in size.

If the future workforce doesn’t know how companies operate, and what options are available to them, they’re not going to feel connected to the sector. That means they’re not going to consider manufacturing when choosing their post-secondary path.

If you haven’t thought much about Gen Z, it’s time you do – and here’s where that community building comes in. Opening your doors with events like MFG Day can show Gen Z the diverse career paths and workplace environments available in the advanced manufacturing sector.

There is, of course, other work to be done internally to ensure Gen Z views your company as a viable place to be. “To attract Gen Z, employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the external environment. That means developing robust training and leadership programs, with a real and tangible focus on diversity,” say Tiffany Mawhinney and Kimberly Betts of Deloitte Consulting in a recent article.

“Companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens. And actions speak louder than words: Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges.”

This is your future workforce. The latest generation of teens are digital natives. They’re problem solvers. They spot inefficiencies and make innovative suggestions, and they care about the environment more than ever. They’re not afraid to hold leaders accountable. For a manager who loves the status quo, that sounds scary. But the best leaders don’t – just ask columnist Paul Hogendoorn, whose first post-retirement missive appears on p. 8 in MA‘s upcoming September issue.

Gen Z wants technology? Show it to them. Wants to reduce waste? Take them on a gemba walk around the plant. Wants to know how they can make a difference? Show them how your business serves the community by creating jobs and giving back.

If the future workforce doesn’t know how companies operate, and what options are available to them, they’re not going to feel connected to the sector. That means they’re not going to consider manufacturing when choosing their post-secondary path.

Together, we must show students that this is a community worth investing their lives in. And there have been some excellent programs over the years that are doing just that. NGen’s new CareersoftheFuture.ca site comes to mind, and CME celebrates Manufacturing Month in October with stories from across the sector.

We need more. MA plans to do its part – over the coming months you’ll see a number of new initiatives focused on bolstering the manufacturing automation community. There are exciting things in store for 2022.

On that note, it has been a wonderful few years connecting with the industry, but this is my final editor’s letter as I move on to a new challenge at MA‘s parent company Annex Business Media. I’m pleased to introduce Sukanya Ray Ghosh as our new editor – join me in welcoming her at SRayGhosh@annexbusinessmedia.com. (You can still reach me here.)

To our readers, thank you for showing me the power of a well-connected manufacturing community, and all the very best as you continue to build it.

This article appears in the upcoming September 2021 edition of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.