CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio—The silicone industry needs to manage its image and rethink its workplace to attract young talent, according to Joe Walker, global technology director for materials and laboratories for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies and Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies.
Walker talked about ways to make the silicone industry—as well as the rubber industry in general—more friendly to younger professionals in his keynote address "Improving Competitiveness: Understanding the Generation Gap" at the 2018 International Silicone Conference, held recently in Cuyahoga Falls.
Faced with a loss of customers and competing emerging technologies, Walker said the question that every industry executive and professional needs to answer at the end of the day is "What are you doing to invest in your competitiveness?"
In a 2018 Association of Rubber Products Manufacturers state of the industry survey, 18 percent of executives said they would be adding new machines and equipment as the top result. Another 17 percent named plans for continuous improvement efforts, and building expansion and acquisition came in at 15 percent to round out the top three.
"Will just investing be enough?" Walker said. "Just adding more machines, making the machines smarter? Improving your processes. Will that be enough?"
Of all of the plans to improve competitiveness in the survey, "one on here is a linchpin," Walker said. "The linchpin to competitiveness is in work force development. It's at 9 percent. All these other plans to improve competitiveness are contingent on having the right people in place in order to do the job."
In ARPM's state of the industry survey, 86 percent of the executives polled said work force development concerns made up the top challenge of the industry in 2018, Walker said. In second place was sales strategy and diversification at 23 percent. Over the past three years, the number of executives listing work force development as the top concern has nearly tripled, from 30 percent in 2016, to 73 percent in 2017, up to 2018's result.