Editor’s note: Welcome to So That Happened, our editors’ takes on things going on in the manufacturing world that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.
Business Roundtable Says Let’s Hire for Skills, Not Just Degrees
While this isn’t a new concept, when an organization such as the Business Table, with none other than GM CEO Mary Barra in charge, it should get a lot more play.
On Sept. 29, the organization offered a number of resources that they said are going to “help employers reform their hiring and advancement practices to emphasize the value of skills, rather than just degrees.”
The group further tied the ever-important DE&I efforts to their goals, by saying that “skill-based talent strategies are key to expanding jobs and economic opportunity to more American, including by increasing diversity and equity in employment.”
The program, called Multiple Pathways Initiative (MPI) released these resources:
- Skills-based success stories from over 50 companies
- Guides on innovation, internal mobility and metrics
- Innovative Skills-Based Talent Practices
- Skills-Based Internal Mobility Playbook & Executive Summary
- Measuring the Impact of Skills-Based Talent Practices
- A Guide to Improving Recruitment, Retention, Advancement and Equity developed by Business Roundtable, The Burning Glass Institute and Lightcast
No One Wants to Make French Fries
One of the most common refrains I hear from manufacturers when it comes to concerns over employee buy-in and robotics is allaying fears that robots will take their jobs. That's not what robots do for the most part in industrial manufacturing. They take the dirty, dangerous jobs and let humans do more important things that require brains vs. processors.
Then every so often I run into a robot that seems like it very well might take away a human gig.Over at my old EBM magazine, Vision Systems Design, we wrote in June 2020 about a robot named Flippy, an automated food cooker. This was in the middle of the pandemic when no one wanted to work in food service so the technology seemed ideal.
On October 4, Flippy’s manufacturer, Miso Robotics, began rolling out the sequel, Flippy 2, dedicated specifically to deep frying.
Have you ever burned yourself with splattering oil from a small deep fryer in your kitchen? Now imagine that, all day, with an industrial-sized fryer. Flippy 2 might be a Godsend for some people – but how many workers does the burger/taco/whatever line require? Does it really need someone else, slid over from the fry station? Could Flippy 2 eliminate jobs?
I don’t know, but based on how often fast food restaurants screw up my order, fully-automated kitchens paired with AI at the drive-thru that can accurately take my order don’t sound like the worst idea in the world.
Up, Down and Uncertain
World Trade Organization economists are anticipating a sharp turndown in global merchandise trade in 2023, weighed down by multiple factors, including the war in Ukraine, monetary policy tightening and continued production disruptions due to COVID-19, particularly in China.
Global merchandise trade volumes will grow by 3.5% in 2022, which marks a small increase from the 3.0% forecast in April, according to an updated forecast released Oct. 5. However, in 2023 the increase plunges to 1.0%, a forecast that has been revised down sharply from the organization’s previous estimate of 3.4%.
"Policymakers are confronted with unenviable choices as they try to find an optimal balance among tackling inflation, maintaining full employment, and advancing important policy goals such as transitioning to clean energy,” said WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with the data’s release.
The director-general urged nations to resist the temptation to restrict trade in response, noting that it would only “deepen inflationary pressures, leading to slower economic growth and reduced living standards over time.”
In sharing its forecast, the WTO noted that it included “a high degree of uncertainty” due to quickly shifting events. Growth in 2022 could end up between 2.0% and 4.9%, while 2023 numbers could range from -2.8% to 4.6%.
Do announcements of joint ventures or partnerships create short-term value? That’s one question the consultants at Ankura studied in a new report focused on the automotive industry’s fast-growing use of such structures as it tackles the transition to electric vehicles. The answer is a hesitant “Yes.”
The Ankura team of Lois D’Costa Fernandes, Joshua Kwicinski and Mark Savage noted that the number of deals involving batteries, autonomous technologies and other projects in the auto sector has nearly tripled since the beginning of last year. (The flip side: Restructurings and exits from JVs have nearly doubled over that time.) A good number of those have been between big publicly traded names so that there’s a good sample of events to assess investors’ reactions.
Going back to 2016, Ankura says the stocks of automotive companies announcing more than 300 partnerships rose 61% of the time for an average abnormal return of 5.3%. Those numbers are in line with a multi-industry universe of more than 2,200 announcements for the frequency of gains but nearly a percentage point below the average returns. The place to be for the most consistently positive reactions was chemicals, where 71% of news items were greeted warmly, while only 45% of oil and gas announcements led to at least one of the companies’ stocks climbing in a statistically significant way over the short run.
Of course, there are far more things at play here than short-term stock gains. The pressure to make rapid progress on EVs, including by partnering to secure access to scarce resources, while figuring out how to make legacy operations leaner means executives everywhere are having to focus more on partnering with peers. That doesn’t look likely to change soon.
“There is no better time than now for industry players to hone their capability at the front-end of deal making to—both, creatively and efficiently—originate, screen, shape and close deals,” Ankura’s analysts wrote. You can check out the firm’s report here.
Making Whites Whiter—Even in Deep Space
A white paint produced by researchers at Purdue University hit the big time when Stephen Colbert mentioned it in a monologue: “It’s so white, they’re calling the color ‘Conan O’Brien’”
“I’ve been contacted by everyone from spacecraft manufacturers to architects to companies that make clothes and shoes,” Xiulin Ruan, paint developer and Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, stated in a press release. “They mostly had two questions: Where can I buy it, and can you make it thinner?”
Ruan and his team took on the challenge with Herculean verve, “pushing the limits of materials’ capability to scatter sunlight,” according to the release. The new paint goes on only 150 microns thick, making it applicable to the exterior of airplanes, cars or trains—even spacecraft—to cut down on energy use for cooling.
Our suggested next project for Ruan and his team to tackle? Lightweighting the average high school kid's backpack.