Posted on Mar 9, 2013 :: InForum
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Engineering is a rapidly changing field today, given highly competitive global markets and rapidly changing technology. On top of that, filling leadership positions in manufacturing and related industries is becoming an enormous challenge for many companies. This is becoming even more challenging as the baby boomers age and the ranks of long-time employees retire, according to the Manufacturing Vitality Index (see page 24), a survey of regional companies conducted by the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.

To delve into this topic with our Insight on Manufacturing readers, we teamed up with Cheryl Perkins, president and founder of Innovationedge, a Neenah-based firm that provides consulting for Fortune 50 companies worldwide. Perkins led a round-table discussion – an “InForum,” as we call it – to explore the issue with thought leaders from throughout the New North region.

On these pages we offer a few key take-away ideas from the discussion. In our digital magazine online, we invite you to click on the photographs of each participant, including Perkins, and listen to their brief remarks following their discussion. The complete podcast of the InForum appears on our Insight YouTube site, InsightMagazineWI. In our digital magazine, click here:

Why is it so hard to fill leadership roles in engineering today – and what can we do about it?

InForum takeaways

If you look back over the last 10 to 15 years, many things are changing in the field of engineering. Among them:

• In-sourcing vs. outsourcing. For a while, work was being outsourced outside the United States, and now we’re seeing things “in-sourced.”

• Collaboration. We’re seeing multifunctional teams brought together – regardless of whether they are with the company itself or a partner from the outside, bringing the right expertise, the right functions together to deliver on the business proposition.

• A need for soft skills. We’re witnessing an evolution involving requirements for engineering skills. In the past we concentrated on purely technical skills and experience. But now more than ever, some of the soft leadership skills are even more important. Are you able to influence? Are you a lateral thinker, or can you bring different groups together and help them collaborate? Those that have these soft skills can even better exploit the engineering background that they have.

Tune in (online) and hear from some of these engineering leaders about what other things are evolving within their engineering functions today.  — Cheryl Perkins

“Historically, we had seen OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) be very focused in terms of what requirements they wanted their product to meet. What we’re seeing today is a much greater shift towards user needs. We’re recognizing that upfront, during conceptualization, we’ve got to go out and  meet the end-user. That’s going to create a product that’s going to be much more successful in the marketplace.”
— Oliver Mihm, vice president of engineering at Plexus

“Information modeling and working in the virtual construction environment has become a big part of our business. All of our projects have some degree of sustainability. Being able to understand our customers’ needs, and being able to translate those into design solutions for a building, are also important.”
— Greg Douglas, vice-president of Design Build Services with Miron Construction

“I don’t care if you’re 23 or 53, I don’t care if you’re from India or Indianapolis – in everyone’s heart, they want to be part of something bigger. Part of the challenge is just reviewing what it is we do – why we do it, and how big that impact can be – to have a sense that there’s a greater purpose or greater calling for the sometimes mundane (and not-so-mundane) work we do.”
— Bruce Albrecht, vice president of global innovation and engineering at ITW / Miller Electric