The pace of business and technology is speeding up exponentially each year. Manufacturers, particularly smaller companies who may find costs prohibitive, struggle with prioritizing technology over other growth initiatives. According to the strategic direction of the leaders on the recent Manufacturing Voices panel, adopting new technologies will be necessary to remain competitive in the coming year.
Each year the Waukesha County Business Alliance brings together leaders in manufacturing in Wisconsin to discuss critical issues facing the industry in the coming year. The panel, which consisted of four CEOs of leading Wisconsin manufacturing companies, stressed that if manufacturers in SE WI are looking for a way to stay relevant, committing to technology could be the difference between successful growth and obsolescence. They cautioned that companies who don’t stay with the times run the risk of losing business down the line.
The impact of technology on talent acquisition and retention
One critical issue facing manufacturing companies across the nation is talent acquisition and retention. We already covered many of the strategies the panel suggested to address workforce challenges in our previous post, but one additional method for attracting young talent that the panel discussed is leveraging technology as a workforce benefit.
“It’s costly...but I’ve found that if you can provide the latest, greatest tools, cutting edge computer technology like ERP systems and more, the company can become very attractive to the younger generation,” said Dirk Maroske, President/CEO of Aztalan Engineering, Inc.
This was reinforced by the sentiment shared by the panel moderator: “Millennials find comfort in technology,” mentioned Roxanne Bauman, Director of Global Engagement of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP). It was the consensus of the panel that attracting and retaining millennial talent is a top priority for manufacturers in the coming year; if companies are looking for a way to Workforce challenges were clearly indicated as top priority, and the intersection of technology would give them an opportunity to
Technology supporting sales and marketing as a competitive advantage
Fred Varin, President of TopLine Results, acknowledged that back office systems like ERP, MRP, etc. tend to be prioritized among manufacturers, but sought the panel’s opinion on the value of front-office sales and digital marketing technology.
Immediately, the conversation turned to the way that consumer behavior has impacted sales, marketing, and the technology to support them. “People look up whatever they want to buy, they don’t want to talk to anybody, they want to do their own research,” said Dirk, of the shift in the way we purchase, or the buyer’s journey as it’s called in marketing.
If manufacturers want to remain competitive in today’s market, they must adapt their own sales and marketing strategies to reflect the current market. “You have to adapt your current software system to meet the need of what your current customers are doing,” advised Jennifer Hansen, the General Manager of Trelleborg & President/Owner of The Anderson Group, Anderson Packaging.
Roxanne credited Jennifer’s influence on Anderson Packaging’s reputation as a “customer-centric” company, and stressed the competitive advantage of understanding the value you bring to customers. Jennifer addressed the alternative to technology, which is the shift in how modern sales teams approach their process. “Salespeople should not be spending time saying what they sell. They should be spending time listening to what their customers need and figure out how they can be the best at delivering that,” she stipulated.
Emerging technology in manufacturing: AI, IOT, and E-commerce
New technologies emerge at an exponential rate, and it can be difficult to keep pace. This is especially true when adoption of new technology and processes tend to be more complex in manufacturing.
Audience member, Jeff Hoffman, Principal at Cushman & Wakefield | Boerke, brought to light the debate on whether artificial intelligence (AI) will be a job creator or destroyer: “As it relates to your specific industry, does AI and automation solve the talent problem?” Hoffman questioned whether the technology would help to create jobs or reduce jobs for manufacturers in Southeastern, WI.
Across the board, the panel agreed that AI would have little impact on their business, now and over the next five to ten years. Each stressed that it is due to the specific nature of their business, in some cases because of the extremely physical nature of the work their team completes. It seems replacing human bodies just isn’t cost-effective yet. However, most mentioned that IoT, the Internet of Things, is a technology trend that could impact the way they do business in the future.
Proactively address technology as a competitive advantage
In the coming year, the landscape of manufacturing is changing. To stay competitive, it will be essential to have a growth strategy in place, proactively address technology, and attract and retain talent.
As Roxanne mentioned earlier in the discussion, it’s vital that we start rebranding manufacturing. All of us who work close to manufacturing can contribute to changing the narrative and sharing how the industry has shifted dramatically over the last ten years. Though talent is the number one priority for many manufacturers, high technology will help attract millennials to the industry and the area. At this point, investing in technology is an investment in the future of your business and industry growth in Wisconsin.