Mary Scianna, editorClick image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

When you’ve been working in the same industry for many years, you make observations and find patterns in how people and companies operate to succeed. For the past 24 years as editor of manufacturing magazines, I have travelled to countries in Europe, such as Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, and to Japan, and seen how some manufacturers run their operations.

How do these manufacturers operate successfully in comparably high cost of business economies?

Here are four top factors that North American manufacturers would do well to adopt to succeed here.

Investing in technology. Investing in new manufacturing technologies is a given, but it doesn’t always mean investing in automation. It does mean understanding the technologies that can help to optimize productivity throughout the organization. These companies invest in ERPs, lean manufacturing processes, software, machinery and accessory tooling that allow them to work not only faster, but better. More importantly, they continually assess and improve on technologies when required.

Investing in people. In the race to compete and grow, sometimes companies lose sight of what matters most, the people in their organizations. The companies I’ve seen in other parts of the world invest in people by providing engaging work environments in which people take pride in what they do. These companies invest in skills training, support apprentices and respond to workers' needs via flexible work schedules and varied benefits.

Investing in manufacturing know-how. If you understand why you do what you do, you’ll do it better. It’s not just skills training, although that is part of the strategy. It is also about giving your employees the opportunities to learn more about the products they make, and the tools they need to make them. Workshops, seminars and trade shows are not a way for people to get out of work; they’re a learning experience. When employees have a good understanding of manufacturing processes, they’re more engaged in their work and more likely to generate ideas to improve on products and processes.

Building relationships between management and employees. Managers who engage their employees on the shop floor build stronger relationships with them and instill a sense of belonging in the company. Simple things such as knowing a person’s name will make someone feel that they matter. More important still, managers who understand the work people do on the shop floor garner respect. When there is a healthy relationship between managers and workers, there is also dialogue about ideas that can help to improve a process.

These elements are not always present among manufacturers in North America. The manufacturers I have seen in other parts of the world operate in what are considered expensive economies and yet these companies have managed to succeed for decades in countries where the cost of business is comparable, if not higher, than it is here in Canada. If they have managed to find a formula to compete successfully against low-cost labour countries,why can’t we? SMT

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