Workforce concerns dominate Next Generation Manufacturing Summit

Companies never arrive at the next generation, Quadracci says [PHOTO GALLERY]

Alan Antoniewicz, Spancrete Group, Inc president and chief operating officer, Joel Quadracci, Quad/Graphics chairman, president and chief executive officer, and Michael Reader, Precision Plus president, at the Next Generation Manufacturing Summit. Photo by Paul Gaertner.

Last updated on July 18th, 2019 at 02:03 pm

The idea of next generation manufacturing is to continually innovate and look for better ways to do things. If a company believes it has actually achieved next generation status, it is likely becoming complacent and will soon be passed by competitors, said Joel Quadracci, Quad/Graphics chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Quadracci was among the speakers at the Next Generation Manufacturing Summit last week. The event was presented by BizTimes Media and Milwaukee 7 and was hosted by Quad at its Sussex headquarters. Attendees watched a panel discussion including Quadracci, Alan Antoniewicz, Spancrete Group, Inc. president and chief operating officer, and Michael Reader, Precision Plus president.

Jay Williams, U.S. Department of Commerce assistant secretary for economic development, started the event with remarks on manufacturing, telling the audience that surveys show young people still consider the industry among their last career choices despite years of effort to change the perception of it.

While there is a role for companies based on ideas and services, Williams said the notion that the United States can get away from making things and still have a dynamic economy is flawed.

He joked that even though it can be frustrating to step on the pieces, he prefers to see his son playing with Legos instead of on a phone because it means he’s making something.

The former Youngstown, Ohio mayor acknowledged there are downsides to a globalized economy, noting his city was hit hard as manufacturing jobs left. He said the city survived because small businesses engaged in the larger economy and exported.

Panelists spent much of their time discussing their strategies for attracting and retaining talent at their companies.

Despite having only 70 employees, Reader said Precision Plus has taken a number of steps to invest in developing a workforce. That includes hiring an educator, developing an intern program, investing in Gateway Technical College and opening the doors of his operations. He said he’s often asked about the return on investment for all these actions.

“What’s the ROI of doing nothing,” he said.

Reader said he goes after the top students from local high schools and believes the industry needs to make manufacturing careers a destination, not just a place of last resort. He also said investing in young talent has boosted morale throughout the company.

“We’ve made it almost a sin not to want to go to a four-year college,” Quadracci said, noting the skills gap has developed “because we took our eyes of the basics as a country.”

He stressed that to recruit people from across the demographic spectrum, it is important to have people in place that understand different communities. That means having younger employees to recruit Millennials or minorities to recruit from their communities. He also said Quad is starting a program to take some of the top manufacturing talent off the shop floor and have them spend two years recruiting before moving up to higher positions in the company.

Antoniewicz said Spancrete is increasingly moving away from holding annual or semi-annual performance reviews. Instead, the company is focusing on employee development and providing feedback on a constant basis.

He also noted there are currently four generations of employees in the workforce and sometimes that presents a challenge to figure out how technology can work for everyone. He said many people get to the middle of their career and think they are too old to learn new technology, but it really is about having a mindset that they can do it.

Quadracci said a lot of the innovation that Quad has been able to make has been incremental and it often comes from listening to employees on the shop floor.

He also said technological advances have allowed Quad to take on costs for customers by doing tasks more efficiently. It has helped Quad grow its business and become more integrated with customers.

Following the panel discussion, Next Generation Manufacturing Summit attendees had the opportunity to sit in on some of 17 different roundtable discussions on manufacturing business strategy topics.

See a BizTimes Around Town gallery from the event on the multimedia page. 

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.