manufacturing conversation

A Roadmap for Pushing Manufacturing Forward

Stay nimble, embrace change, work with schools and connect with your consumers, says Mars Wrigley's Tracey Massey.

A sector once thought to be on its last legs continues to surprise. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 24,000 manufacturing jobs were added in April. This suggests that despite the sea change happening for businesses today—driven by fluctuating commodities, tariff wars and trade standoffs—manufacturing remains a reliable economic engine.

From my point of view, developed over decades spent on factory floors around the world, we’ll continue to see growth in the sector. For guidance on how to stay competitive and weather market fluctuations, I invite business leaders to observe the dynamic and consistent growth of manufacturing industry.

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, over the last 15 years, the number of jobs in manufacturing industry has declined in the United States, but it remains the largest economic sector. In fact, every $1 spent in manufacturing adds $1.81 to the U.S. economy: the highest multiplier effect of any sector. And globally, the manufacturing of goods is strong. Between 2000 and 2014, the World Trade Organization reports that global trade in manufactured goods has nearly tripled, from $4.8 trillion to $12.2 trillion.

However, in the U.S. at least, many wonder how manufacturing will continue to grow, as production processes evolve, jobs shift and the value chain is disrupted. The increasing sophistication of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are also seen as threats to the traditional factory line.

As long as there is strong consumer demand for consumer goods, from clothing to cars to candy, manufacturing will thrive. This is true in developed and maturing markets alike. Moreover, the manufacturing mindset, held by leaders across the industry, has been proven to drive growth. This mindset prioritizes adaptability and a human touch, and is applicable across all industries, borders and corporate cultures.

To successfully produce at scale, manufacturers must stay nimble. Today’s factories can no longer rely on outdated processes to meet consumer demand. We have learned to embrace change by investing significantly to integrate the Internet of Things, robotics and analytics to our processes. These innovations do not put our business at risk; rather, they offer us an opportunity to use ingenuity to ensure efficiencies and promote growth.

That said, manufacturers who produce packaged goods must always keep in mind the end user: consumers. Our connection with consumers is our most valuable asset. Manufacturing facilities, often perceived as a complex maze of machinery and noise, cannot succeed without a human touch. Consumer feedback shapes Mars Wrigley’s entire product cycle, from identifying flavors for new products to developing marketing campaigns. For instance, for our current M&M’S Crunchy Flavor Vote campaign, we will end up producing the top-voted flavor based solely on consumer inputs.

Through technological revolutions, business shifts and political turbulence, the manufacturing industry has remained a steadfast global economic generator and shows no signs of slowing down. Technologies will transform how we work, from cloud-based crowdsourcing of new products to embedding intelligence and analytics to speed processes. These and other innovations are just now being explored. I believe the next manufacturing revolution is just beginning.

To successfully attract and retain the best talent, and succeed in the next wave of manufacturing innovation, we must continue to foster STEM skills among the next generation of workers. That’s why Mars Wrigley Confectionery partners with technical schools, colleges, universities and high schools nationwide to shape curriculums, source apprentices and develop top-tier manufacturing talent. 

At the University of Kansas, we’ve partnered with the School of Engineering to provide a Capstone senior engineering project, inviting students to workshop solutions to manufacturing challenges. Students benefit from applying their learning to a real-world problem, and we appreciate the outside-in perspective they offer. And at Athens Tech in Georgia, during our three-year apprenticeship program, students spend up to 10 hours a week in class in addition to working at our site, blending classroom and hands-on learning. These apprenticeship graduates are some of our strongest associates – and with more than 3.5 million manufacturing job vacancies estimated over the next decade, we must invest in the next generation now.

In our always-on, 24/7 news cycle, some say every company should be a media company. I would add that every company should think like a manufacturing company, by applying tried-and-true factory-floor grit with agility and a deft human touch. This is the mindset that will drive growth and innovation into the 21st century and beyond.

Tracey Massey is president of the Americas for Mars Wrigley Confectionery.

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