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A Manufacturing Day Look Into the Future: Sustainable and Digital

Manufacturing Day is all about paving the way for the next generation to see themselves in our field and sustain manufacturing into the future. Around the US, companies and schools are collaborating to give students a peek into our exciting world of modern manufacturing. Half the battle of getting young people into manufacturing is an exercise in educating them about what our interests are (and in many cases, that they even exist!). The other half, which is often overlooked, is an exercise in manufacturers learning about young people’s interests and preparing to meet them. .

The Next Generation of Manufacturing

Since you all know your stories well I’m going to focus on what we need to learn from young people. If there are two things that almost universally describe the developing generation, they are: A second-nature connection with technology. The iPhone was released in 2007,meaning every current high school student learned what a smartphone is before they entered kindergarten.

An almost dissociative sense of humor that attempts to normalize global issues like COVID, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and devastating climate events. Behind this is an extreme dissatisfaction with how the world got to where it is today, particularly around the environment.

This article isn’t about discussing the validity of teenage outlooks and attitudes. It is, however, acknowledging that the future of manufacturing is linked with people who are digitally savvy (conversely, intolerant of old systems) and environmentally conscious (conversely, intolerant of climate apathy). We, the keyholders of North America’s manufacturing fortress, cannot expect reinforcements to arrive without assuring them of safe passage. That said, data about digitization and sustainability is not just coming from teens. Let’s start with the environment:

These are reputable current-state statistics, and the numbers are staggering. Leaving the projections of climate scientists for another article, it is reasonable to predict that none of these numbers will magically shift in a “favorable” direction in the next few years, for business or the environment. The logical conclusion is that manufacturers must apply a familiar concept to these new challenges: rolling up our sleeves, making a pot of coffee and solving big problems.

Sustainability is Good for Business

One of the first big problems that we need to solve is the over-politicization of Sustainability. Talking heads are too focused on being louder than the other side of the aisle, and miss what’s perhaps the most relevant message: it’s good for business. Waste reduction is good for business. Risk management is good for business. Ethical supply chains are good for business. Transparency and collaboration are good for business. Engaged customers and consumers are good for business. Reducing waste, managing risk, ensuring ethical supply chains, collaborating to solve problems, and engaging with customers will all sustain our environment and our economy.

Fortunately, one of the best ways we can solve environmental problems dovetails perfectly with the other universal trait of Gen-Z: technology, technology, technology. In today’s atmosphere of ever-increasing disruption, enterprises can only hope to outpace change by embracing digital transformation. I’m not suggesting that human ingenuity is gone, rather, we are limiting future plans when all our energy is spent stitching segmented information into a grainy depiction of yesterday’s status. Manufacturing Day 2022, which is on October 7 this year, is defined by hybrid work, understaffed production floors and an ever-spinning roulette table of who is quarantining with COVID-19 this week. Businesses need centralized, real-time, accurate information that can be accessed from a rugged tablet on the shop floor, smartphone on the top floor, and laptop everywhere in between. Legacy, on-premise systems can’t provide the accessibility or security needed to keep operations running 24/7.

Digital Solutions for 2022 and Beyond

When the right digital solutions are implemented correctly, real monetary savings and competitive advantages can be achieved. Let’s use QAD SRM (Supplier Relationship Management) as an example:

  • Reduced effort: Suppliers are able to maintain their own data through self-service, cutting out data entry tasks from your team

  • Reliable visibility: One place to view all your supplier information and include environmental and social standards in sourcing decisions

  • High confidence: Weigh self-evaluations against third-party ratings from respected companies like EcoVadis

  • Peace of mind: World-class uptime and security, no local maintenance, and carbon neutrality ahead of Paris Agreement targets by deploying with QAD Cloud in AWS.

American Manufacturing is still a force to be reckoned with, but outsiders and (especially) insiders know that it needs a fresh influx of talent and passion. Teens and young adults are thirsty for good careers that don’t require six figures of student debt, and manufacturing can provide them at every level. That said, we have work to do in order to attract young people into our open jobs. Manufacturers must align our purposes and practices to the concerns and capabilities of 2022. Fortunately for us, increasing the focus on sustainability and digital transformation can improve our attractiveness to future generations and provide benefits for today’s stakeholders.

Check out QAD Adaptive ERP and the QAD Cloud—next generation ERP that’s rapid, agile and effective—another tool in your quest to overcome the skills gap.

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