The People Challenge

April 1, 2011
At Brock Solutions’ recent holiday party, one of our new employees who spent the previous 30 years at a large consumer products company remarked to me how young the group looked.

The conversation revealed that his former employer hadn’t hired anyone in more than 15 years. That intrigued me.  Was this an aberration or a trend? So I asked around, and sure enough, I found several companies with a similar profile. And in the past few years, the situation has become exacerbated for two reasons—the aging workforce and the fact that many organizations have restructured, focusing on core operations.

What does this mean for manufacturers, producers and other organizations that operate real-time systems? Several questions and considerations come to mind:

• Who will support all of those legacy systems if/when key people with specialized knowledge retire?

• Demands are increasing, not decreasing. Changes in regulations, reporting needs and business requirements are putting net new demands on organizations. Who will do the work?

• If there are plans to update legacy systems, what is the role of internal people? What about third-party service providers?

• With no new blood, where are the fresh ideas coming from?
Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA, members whom I have spoken with have addressed these challenges in a variety of ways:

Define what is core. This needs to come from the top. As a general philosophy, if a role isn’t directly involved with what the business actually does (however that is defined), it is a candidate for outsourcing.

Redefined and retrained internal personnel. For many, these changes have been the most challenging. Companies that were used to being self-sufficient now rely on third parties. This means directing the work, not doing the work. And of course, understanding what needs to be done and taking responsibility for outcomes.

Choosing partners carefully. Software providers, outsourcers and integrators all have to work toward a common goal.

What’s also been interesting to see and hear from the MESA community is a renewed focus on recruiting young talent. But the game has certainly changed. The competition for engineering and software talent from the high-tech world is formidable—manufacturers need to up their game with a well-defined value proposition that clearly states why manufacturing is “an exciting place to be.” Organizations will not only need to have clarity on future opportunities and value proposition for young employees, but also what investments they plan to make in technology going forward.

John Southcott, [email protected], is Co-Chief Executive Officer of Brock Solutions, a system integrator in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and  Chair of the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) International Board of Directors. An interview with Southcott was published in the February issue of Automation World (

Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association

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