Bill Szilagyi
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Readers Respond: What Is Manufacturing's Biggest Challenge?

March 13, 2017
We asked this question of respondents in the 2017 IndustryWeek Salary Survey. Here is a cross-section of answers, arranged by age.

In our 2017 Salary Survey, we asked, among other open-ended questions, “What Is the Biggest Challenge Facing the Manufacturing Industry Today?” Respondents were concerned about finding and training skilled workers, the lack of soft skills in new recruits, implementing new technology effectively on the shop floor and pressure from foreign competition, to name a few.

Here are some of the most astute responses, arranged by age group, from a cross-section of people.

21-29 year-olds

“In the food and beverage processing industry, I believe the biggest challenge is the shift in focus towards food safety and conformance with FSMA regulations. The shift in paradigm in spending towards sanitary design is something that every plant will have to embrace.”—male, engineering management,$100-$500 million company.

“Balancing the roles of machine and human interaction in intelligent manufacturing environments.”— engineering management, chemicals industry.

“Having management think that because I have only been in this role for a couple years, my ideas are not relevant. They need to change and adapt to new innovations so we can stay open and competitive, or else other countries will take all our business.”—male, sales/marketing management, metals industry.


“Application of technology that reduces labor cost and time to manufacture from the shop floor to the back office.”—male, purchasing/procurement/sourcing management, industrial machinery.


“Growth opportunities within various industries in manufacturing. Which leads to slow development periods in my career path.”— female, manufacturing/production management, chemicals.

“I think it is lack of flexibility, meaning that manufacturers don't seem interested in changing their product, approach, etc. in order to keep up with changes in the world. I understand that people do not like change but if we don't change approaches and even products, we will never adapt to the world as it is now. In my industry, more time is spent blaming government, laws, and people than figuring out with a way for the company to remain innovative and relevant in the current economy.”—female, Environmental Health and Safety management, 11-15 years in manufacturing.

“Rapid need for engineers to be talented in both electrical as well as mechanical technologies.”—male, engineering manager, automotive/transportation.


“The biggest challenge is the raising pressure to manufacture with less and less cost in order to be able to compete with the low salary countries. As long as this is not being recognized by government and companies and companies only follow the idea "How can I get rich fast?" more and more manufacturing jobs will disappear.”—male, IT/IS management, 11-15 years in manufacturing.

“The constant need to reduce cost yet maintain quality, on-time delivery and revenue with drastically reduced resources.”—female, sales/marketing management, $1 billion-$20 billion company, construction/building equipment manufacturing.

“Many US manufacturers seem to be stuck in old ways of treating employees and have a difficult time creating cultures of continuous improvement where employees' minds are engaged.”—male, corporate/executive management, $100-$500 million industrial machinery company.

“Maintaining profitability as we bridge the gap between the old school processes of management and operation, and the automation and technology that is now necessary for both front and back office processes in our current global marketplace.”— female, financial management/controller, metals.


“Labor. High school doesn't prepare them for even the most basic positions.”—male, vice president of manufacturing/production, 26+ years in manufacturing.

“I have seen a move away from in-house engineering. I believe that relying too much on integrators to design and install systems carries with it too many potential pitfalls in getting systems that meet users' needs.”— male, engineering management, pharmaceuticals/healthcare.

“Although it has varied in degrees of the years, I still think the biggest challenge is the low return on the capital invested for most manufacturing entities. Not very attractive to Wall Street nor the current individual expectation to get rich quick.”—R&D/product development, aerospace & defense.

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