Manufacturing leaders proved they were good in a crisis in 2020—creating new products, speeding up the production of essential materials and instituting safety policies in record time. And as they accelerated their production lines, they also focused on increasing their adoption of Manufacturing 4.0 technologies.
Now, the Manufacturing Leadership Council—the division of the National Association of Manufacturers focused on manufacturing’s digital transformation—is exploring what leaders learned during the pandemic about the importance of digitization. The MLC’s recent survey of manufacturing leaders gives us a window into their thoughts, expectations and plans for the future—after a year like no other. Below are some key insights.
A big impact: A full 54.8% of respondents said COVID-19 increased management’s focus on digital transformation. The changes they cited included new procedures for remote working, new disaster preparedness plans and increased integration across teams and structures.
And here’s another important finding: these changes seem permanent.
- 68.2% said new disaster preparedness plans and strategies will be permanent additions to their operations.
- 57.3% said more collaborative organizational structures will stick around.
- 62.2% expect to keep allowing both leaders and employees to work remotely.
The digital workforce: With baby boomers retiring, companies are looking for new manufacturing leaders and seeking to fill a range of jobs, even as the digital evolution of the industry requires new and different skills. Where are these workers coming from?
- 45.5% of respondents said they would come from internal sources—a drop of nearly 5% from last year’s survey. Leaders felt somewhat more in favor of finding talent elsewhere in the manufacturing industry.
- One-third of respondents said they would look within the industry for talent, while only 13.2% expected to find candidates from other industries.
But these results may soon change, as manufacturers are still figuring out what digital skills they need. Over time, leaders will likely develop different ideas about where to find workers—and how to train them.
- As the survey shows, manufacturers have a big opportunity to ramp up their digital training: only 22.3% of respondents this year said they have formal M4.0 training programs for workers and leadership.
Organizational shift: The emerging digital focus means many manufacturers are shifting toward a flatter, more collaborative working style. The numbers tell the tale:
- Nearly 48.5% of respondents identified understanding how the company should be organized as a result of new technologies as a key challenge—an increase of 23% from last year.
The MLC says: As MLC Executive Director and NAM Vice President David Brousell put it, “Many manufacturing executives acknowledge that the equivalent of several years’ change has been compressed into the past year. Now, manufacturing leadership has the responsibility to see these changes through. If they are successful in doing so, they will take the industry to a new and better level, raising the bar for all and redefining the rules of competition.”