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I love the smell of manufacturing in the morning!

There is nothing better than walking through a manufacturing company that is humming with the throngs of growth. And growth is what Paranet’s Year End Manufacturing Survey is showing. In fact, there is almost a 20 percent jump in manufacturers in growth mode versus 2016.

While our members should be wearing big smiles, they are nervous. The last time there was such strong confidence was in 2007, and everyone remembers 2008. Members wonder if the things that got us in trouble then have been fixed. Are the safeguards put in place really working? Is the financial sector of our world solid and not a game of smoke and mirrors? We are not naïve enough to think that we have learned our lessons; after all, this was 10 years ago. Memories are short. However, the solid progress and improvements in manufacturing should bring smiles.

Manufacturers have embraced quite a bit of change over the past several years. No company can grow and thrive without change. In the past 10 years, we have seen many buyouts and acquisitions. Some went well and some not so well. Usually when both sides of the table are somewhat unhappy, it means that the deal is probably fair. But the deal is just the beginning of the transaction. Many manufacturing companies have struggled with the effect on culture when a buyout/acquisition happens. In talking with manufacturers involved, it seems no one is ever prepared for the reality of this transaction.

The workforce has changed dramatically. Developing and sustaining a strong workforce is a strategic initiative. Many manufacturers work closely with educators at all levels. Intern programs, mentoring and training/development programs are being honed through skill assessments. Manufacturers are striving towards becoming a “best place to work.” This requires flexibility, benefits and career path planning for our younger generations. Paranet coaches its members to become even better leaders in this world of change.

Going forward, manufacturers recognize the need for more automation as one of the ways to fill in the skills gap. Robots are getting smarter and cheaper every day.

Last year, manufacturers experienced positive impacts on their business. Some of these achievements were due to efforts they could control, such as continuous improvement processes (Lean & Kata), improved hiring practices and development programs, smart automation choices, teams pulling together to exceed customer expectations, and investment back into the business. Innovation is attributed to much new business and record sales. New products, markets and customers have driven sales upward.

Manufacturers also benefit from things they don’t control, such as the strong markets and strength of the U.S. dollar. Oil and gas markets are showing renewed life. The agricultural market is gaining momentum. Consumer confidence is building as evidenced by the strong holiday season.

To quote Paul Ryan, Foxconn is a game changer! Area manufacturers are concerned about the tight pool of potential employees. Wages and benefit packages will be more competitive. Beyond that, some are already quoting future Foxconn business and speculating about Wisconsin’s ability to pull potential employees to the area. I wonder what we will say in five years.

There is a new confidence in manufacturers and their ability to attract new business and people. This didn’t happen overnight. It took commitment to change the image of manufacturing as an employer, and it still has a way to go. The commitment of our manufacturing leadership, state and federal legislators, the STEM program, internships, educator partnerships, and beyond is gaining traction. This is an exciting time to be in manufacturing.

Future learning curves will include 3D printing, the Internet of Things, Industrie 4.0, Bitcoin, Blockchain and an influx of technology not even thought of yet. We need to learn how to manage the 24/7 clock, work remotely, collaborate internally and across companies, embrace technology to improve communications and keep humanity in all of this.

Manufacturing constantly changes to embrace its place in the world as the number-one employer. Paranet has had to keep on top of manufacturing trends to accommodate this exciting industry. Members may be a little nervous, but they are eager to see what 2018 will bring. One thing is constant: manufacturing is never dull!

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Linda Kiedrowski
Linda Kiedrowski is CEO and owner of The Paranet Group, Inc. She established Paranet in 1988, and today there are more than 200 members throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. Linda's strengths are marketing and coaching CEO's and senior executives. She has coached senior executives for more than 20 years.

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