On-boarding the next generation has become an industry imperative

By Susan Orr, Senior Director, Partner Program Management, ThomasNet

Who wants to be in manufacturing?  Let’s see a show of hands.  Anyone? Okay, so it’s a bit of a hyperbole, but not much.  The fact of the matter is we have a labor crisis on our hands. In our annual ThomasNet.com® Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey, we learned that nearly half of the 1600 manufacturers who responded were planning to hire new, skilled workers. Despite a current 7.6% unemployment rate, jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.  

The most popular positions in demand are for Line Workers (52%); Skilled Trade Workers (48%); and Engineers (40%). The most troubling thing isn’t the problem itself.  The bigger concern is that the industry as a whole needs to do more — much more — to address it.  We are our own worst enemy in that we’ve yet to fully embrace the truth:  manufacturing is suffering from a bad rap.  The next generation thinks it’s low-tech, low paying and low on intellectually stimulating and challenging careers. Naturally as a marketer, I see this as a marketing issue and successfully addressing it means changing the way we look at the next generation. 

The Intelligent Industrial Marketer -- Executive Branch Determined to Level the International Playing Field; Boost US Exports in 2013

By Susan Orr, Senior Director, Strategic Partner Initiatives, ThomasNet

“The key to creating new jobs is opening markets for American goods…for every $1 billion we increase exports, thousands of jobs are supported here at home.” - President Obama

During his State-of-the-Union address, the President focused on U.S. manufacturing as a powerful source of new jobs and an important factor in the economic recovery. He then proceeded to outline a number of initiatives to help level the international playing field and expand access to American-made goods. The President isn’t the only one who sees 2013 as the year for American industrial manufacturers to make their move and seek new markets beyond our borders. In fact, ThomasNet.com’s 2012 Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey revealed that two thirds (67 percent) of the more than 1,600 manufacturers who responded were already selling overseas; and more than one third of them planned to increase their international sales.

According to the annual market forecast released by the Valve Manufacturers Association (VMA), shipments for the U.S. industrial valve industry will grow by 3 percent in 2013, increasing to nearly $4.3 billion. Not only does this mark the fourth consecutive year of growth for the valve market following the recession, it also exceeds the industry's previous 10-year peak in 2008.

"As VMA starts its 75th year, I'm optimistic about the outlook for our industry," VMA President William Sandler said. "We have rebounded from the downturn, which is a good sign for us and the overall economy. If the end users of our products are ordering from us, then they too are producing. I'm also proud of VMA's important role in strengthening an industry that is the backbone for so many others and that stands out for its level of excellence."

Indeed, not only is this good news for the health of the manufacturing industry, it also bodes well for the construction, power, oil and gas, and pulp and paper markets.

You Get What You Give

By Susan Orr, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Initiatives, Thomas Industrial Network

If your goal is to get engaged – you need to nurture a relationship, before you are rewarded with a commitment. Engaging new customers through social media is similar. You can’t expect overnight success, but the good news is you get what you give, and strong relationships can ultimately drive sales. When you take the reigns of a social media program, or hand them to experts on business-to-business “match-making”, you’re taking the first step - putting your company out there and letting specific communities know you are ready to connect, and you have a lot to offer.

For business-to-business organizations, social media engagement comes from being strategic about relationships you pursue. This means knowing the company you want to keep and managing expectations as you make initial introductions and things begin to develop. Social media has a role to play in nearly every step of the buying cycle, or relationship continuum. It can heavily impact early stages of getting your name recognized, as well as when it is time to share more details about your experience and what you can offer.

Are you throwing good money after bad, with your marketing?

By Susan Orr, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Initiatives, Thomas Industrial Network

To get real value from this blog, you have to be ready to answer this question with brutal honesty. What am I talking about? Tracking and measurement – not a new idea but a very important one to put into action for your marketing to be the best it can be. You don’t need a PhD in quantitative or qualitative marketing analytics but you do need a basic understanding of what’s working and what’s not, to consistently improve and increase the return on your marketing dollars. But can you really accomplish this with your existing team and budget? Of course!

Let’s face it - most of us are challenged with limited human resources and budgets – but that doesn’t mean measurement and tracking should be put aside. There are basic steps you can and absolutely should take no matter how small your team is, and they are all the more crucial to your success and impact with a leaner team and tighter budget.

As manufacturing business continues to pick up, even small operations may be interested in expanding overseas, getting a larger cut of the global marketplace. And although that expansion may be a smart move, choosing the right location is critical to the expansion's success. Even when choosing to expand in Europe, not all locations are created equal.

"Expanding to Europe is a wise business decision for many companies," says Bas Pulles, commissioner of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA). "Strategic locations, pro-business policies and a highly qualified local workforce can all add up to success. But choosing the right place requires research and analysis."

The need to develop the next generation of manufacturing workers is on many companies' minds, and manufacturers are addressing this issue in a number of ways. Many are working with local colleges and high schools by offering internships and training programs to students, while others have partnered with local and regional business development groups or technology centers to promote the industry.

Yes, it’s important for the manufacturing industry to have a major role in the development of its own workforce, but George Kirkman and Bing Jiang have found a way to show kids just how exciting and fun working with technology can be. Husband-and-wife team Kirkman and Jiang were two long-term aerospace engineers who sought to develop a business based on their three passions: kids, technology and teaching.

Hello manufacturers! Thank you for reading our print edition and seeking us out on the web. (If you have yet to see our magazine, you can check out our digital version.)

Our blog may be new, but we promise that it will provide the same quality of management best practices, information on market trends and effective strategies that you have come to expect in every issue of Manufacturing Today.

Manufacturing Today constantly strives to help our readers with their continuous improvement goals, including workforce development. We’ve heard from many companies who have been having a hard time filling some of their skilled positions, so we’ve been on the lookout for programs, groups and partnerships available to the industry. 

One of the most recent offerings is from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). Last week at IMTS, SME released its national action plan – Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy – which calls for manufacturers, educators, professional organizations and government agencies to coordinate and standardize efforts for developing a skilled workforce for the industry’s high-tech manufacturing jobs. The SME’s white paper addresses the current issues faced by the manufacturing industry, where 600,000 jobs are currently unfilled due to a shortage of skilled workers, according to the society. By 2015, SME estimates that number will reach 3 million job openings.

Does Your Online Marketing Weed Out Tire Kickers And Drive Real Leads? 
The Keys Are a Killer Website & Ever-present Online Marketing Strategy

By Susan Orr

A million leads aren’t worth a hill of beans if they’re not qualified. Manufacturers can attract this type of lead like a magnet - with the right approach. An ever-present online marketing strategy is key to attracting the most qualified leads. The cornerstone of the strategy should be your website.

With more business conducted online every day, this is where you can turn browsers into buyers and buyers into devoted long-term customers. A good website will seamlessly persuade visitors to self-qualify. It will anticipate and answer their questions, presenting your products and services, experience and expertise. This is key to ensuring your killer web strategy attracts and engages high quality leads to do business with you. Increasingly, companies are recognizing this.

Manufacturing Today just came out with our Buy America issue (check it out here) and we can't be more proud of the U.S. manufacturers that we highlighted. There are so many more companies, however, that are doing exciting things, and we want to give attention to them, as well.

North American Composites (NAC) is one such company. Based in Lino Lakes, Minn., NAC serves manufacturers in the marine, cast polymer, corrosion, construction, consumer and related industries as a national distributor and full-service supplier of composites raw materials. In an effort to expand further into the Midwest, this summer NAC purchased a 41,000-square-foot facility in Mishawaka, Ind., which will allow the company to serve customers throughout Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

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