Rethink 2021: Learnings from Next Generation Manufacturing Leaders

What draws the next generation of leaders to a career in manufacturing?

Next-Generation Leadership PanelWhile the specifics may vary from person to person, it’s the challenge, and the satisfaction, of seeing a product through from design to being in the hands of satisfied customers in the best, fastest way possible while continuously learning all along the way, according to members of the Next-Generation Panel session at the MLC’s 2021 Rethink Summit this week.

The three 2021 Manufacturing Leadership Award Winners on the panel — Kat Duggan, Coatings Business Learning Leader at Dow; Kasia Karimee Garcia Bracho, Supply Chain Lead at IBM; and Katia Valenzuela, Communications and Design Association, MxD — had so much enthusiasm for their chosen career path that the audience at the virtual event couldn’t help but cheer them on.

Duggan said her experience so far has “really been a joy,” while Valenzuela added, “It’s such a wonderful, innovative world…it was like [I discovered] a treasure trove of opportunities I didn’t even know existed within manufacturing.”

To thrive in that continuously innovating world as it moves into the future, next generation leaders will need some hard and soft skills that perhaps their predecessors did not, such as how to quickly analyze data to make critical decisions, let go of past traditions, and have the flexibility to be open to new ideas, new tools, new technologies, and the new M4.0 culture. Future leaders, they said, must be open and empathetic, able to listen and contribute back to their communities, and able to collaborate with all the people on their teams.

To attract the next generation of leaders, manufacturers also need to ensure that their workforce, especially at the upper echelons, are diverse. As Valenzuela said, “It’s very important to see people who look and act and think like you do in positions of leadership, not just because they bring their own diverse set of perspectives, experiences, and knowledge, but also because they can give someone like me a role model to look up to.”

Bracho also emphasized the importance of fostering a culture where everyone feels welcomed and respected. “Let’s be active and proactive” when it comes to hiring from the outside and promoting from within, added Duggan.

Sustainability is also important to the next generation, they added. New technologies such as blockchain can increase transparency and trust in a company’s ability to maintain standards at every stage of manufacturing. While local or global regulation may drive some sustainability efforts, consistent consumer pressure is ultimately what’s going to change business attitudes and how money is spent.

Bracho cited an IBM survey of more than 414,000 people in nine countries that found environmental responsibility to be a key factor for consumers. “The trend toward sustainability is growing, and it’s something that companies should focus on,” she said.

As to what we’ve learned from the pandemic? Digital is going to be the biggest winner for manufacturing, they said. And with that increasing focus on digital technology comes adaptability, flexibility, a culture of continuous improvement, and the need for an increased focus on cybersecurity.

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