What Do We Really Know about Modern Manufacturing Culture?

Challenges: Community, Workforce, Read

Posted by Christine Schmitz

Estimated Reading Time : 5 min.

In this week’s MakingChips news segment the guys took a look at a recent article, “10 Tips for Changing Your Company’s Culture—and Making It Stick”, published by The Society for Human Resource Management. This got me thinking about manufacturing culture as a whole; what it is, what it’s been, and what it’s becoming.

Culture definition


Creating smart changes

One of the first articles to catch my eye came from The Technology Record, entitled, “How to create a new smart manufacturing culture”, in which Mike James from ATS Global explains how manufacturers are negotiating the change from process-first to culture-first as they work through digital transformation.

One of the most interesting observations James makes is that, within the manufacturing industry, we are drilled to inherently follow the process, leaning on the premise: if the process is perfect, the product will be perfect. Therefore it comes as no surprise that some within our industry may hesitate to transition from a ­process-first approach to a culture-first approach.

Is such a change beneficial?

James thinks so. He explains that, historically, it’s been manufacturing engineers and managers who follow a process to implement solutions, and it’s the shop floor where there seems to have always been a culture-first attitude. Moving forward, it will be critical to get both sides in the same room and figure out ways to combine culture and process to improve business and embrace smart digital transformation.


Covering all the gaps

Advanced Manufacturing put out a great article breaking down the survey, “A Look Ahead: How Modern Manufacturers Can Create Positive Perceptions with the US Public,” published in 2018 by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute.

As we have covered in past articles, the skills gap was the primary focus of the article. However, this survey also covered a few other gaps as well.

First, there is a knowledge gap. Survey responses showed only one in every three parents said they would consider encouraging their child to go into manufacturing. Another finding was that many people have inaccurate perceptions of the industry.

Dan Turner, vice-president of global talent and sourcing at Kelly Services, said “There is a perception around what manufacturing looks and feels like: it’s dirty, it’s loud, it’s dangerous.”

Turner also mentions there is lingering fear from what happened in 2008 and 2009 when the recession hit, and suggests we need to modernize brand awareness by doing more to change the perception around manufacturing and promote it as being an exciting career.

Besides improving public awareness of what modern manufacturing is, it’s also important to show how our industry can provide lucrative career opportunities. Communication and outreach are keys to dispelling misperceptions about manufacturing, as we strive to get away from the outdated stigma parents have of manufacturing being a dirty business kids shouldn’t consider.

According to Turner, the landscape and culture of manufacturing is improving, but the message that manufacturing is modern, clean, safe and fun needs to be better communicated.

Another gap covered in this article is the one between baby boomers and millennials. As manufacturers continue to report sizeable gaps between the talent needed to keep their businesses growing and the talent they can actually find, baby boomer retirements are a major contributing factor.

Nick Graff, executive director of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centers for Dallas County Community College District and president-elect of the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers said, “When we talk about advanced manufacturing these days, we’re obviously talking about additive and 3D printing. We’re talking about use of lasers. We’re talking about robotics and automation. We want to recruit people who are tech-savvy.”

This may work in our favor if we embrace it, as the millennial generation has both the interest and experience in technology needed for a successful career in manufacturing. Yet not everyone may be leveraging this as a daily recruiting tool for the younger workforce.

“You want to talk about a generation enamored with technology? One of the ways we attract top talent to manufacturing is to talk about all of the technology they’re going to be able to work with,” said Turner.

Finally, an obvious but often overlooked gap is mentioned: the lack of female employees from the shop floor to the corner office. This article reports that, while there are a number of apprenticeship programs across the country with dollars earmarked for women, and despite being great candidates for industrial jobs, women are rarely seen in the manufacturing workforce. This is clearly an area that needs to show dramatic improvement if we are to move forward successfully.

 Converting Customer Experiences


Converting customer experiences

In this article from The Manufacturer, Colin Masson, Microsoft’s global industry director for manufacturing and distribution, is given the question, “For manufacturers, what constitutes the biggest barrier to achieving a significant step-change in performance?” He has an interesting reply.


Masson believes the biggest barrier to progress is simply imagining what actually might be possible. He advises us all to ignore the various buzzwords in circulation, and instead pursue manufacturing strategies that directly address customer needs and the underlying challenges posed by the new digital world.


“Huge changes in the manufacturing industry are underway,” he points out. “Manufacturers are shifting from making and selling products, to identifying and meeting customer needs, and it’s taking them in some wholly new directions.”


Masson says it boils down to doing three things, and doing them well.


  1. Aim to enhance the customer experience: “Any movement in that direction will clearly pay dividends”.
  2. Become more responsive: “Realign manufacturing and supply chain culture and metrics with customer experience goals”.
  3. Undertake a transformation to becoming a digital business, from digital marketing to digital design and manufacturing: “Progress will pay dividends in the form of more connected supply chains, faster new product introduction, higher productivity, and greater responsiveness.”

Manufacturing has not typically been thought of as an industry driving digital transformation. In fact, just 12 percent are deemed to be leading-edge innovators. However, from embracing the unique skills of our younger generations to leveraging digital marketing platforms to modernizing our manufacturing processes, it seems all signs are pointing toward digital playing a critical role in our evolving history and in finding future success within our industry.


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