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Why demographics will drive your packaging automation

Don't wait for a workforce crisis to develop before you consider the effect of automation on your employees.

Capital spending for packaging automation is on the rise. The Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute reports increased sales among their members; automation companies are reporting a brisk business environment; and machine suppliers that I have talked to report both increasing backlogs and forecasts. One reason often cited for this is workforce demographics.

The baby boomers are retiring, generation Y's are not swarming into manufacturing, and in parts of the country, unemployment rates are under 4%; the rate is only 4.5% nationally. With packagers having difficulty filling job openings, many turn to automation. While solving one problem, this may create a secondary workforce issue; but this one is solvable. Automation creates the need for skilled employees, employees that are even harder to find. Although we cannot create a 26-year old, we can convert a 26-year old from an unskilled employee to a skilled one through a commitment to education.

Some packagers may wait for a workforce crisis to develop before they consider automation.
Don't wait for the crisis to develop in your operations. Acting under crisis increases risk, cost and delivery schedule. It eliminates the possibility for proper planning and results in a secondary challenge if skilled and experienced maintenance staffers aren't already on the payroll.

Do act on a well-thought-out Technology Plan, one that links to the overall business plan, guides packaging automation, and assures adequate employee technical training and development.

Do you have such a plan? The demographics are there. Automation is a valid and likely response. Plan for it.

Excerpts from two select responses:

I believe that you are missing other demographics which will fill the demand. We graduate a high proportion of Lawyers-to-Engineers in the U.S. I, too, would want to be a lawyer instead of an engineer if I knew that my salary prospects were 3 times as great. Eventually engineers will be rewarded for their expertise, the market will grant us higher salaries, and at that time more people will want to create as engineers do rather than defending something already created as lawyers do.

I agree, but a technology plan has to happen in parallel with the HR staffing, training and development and succession plan. The hard part about a technology plan is that the half-life of technology is 2 years. Many times what a company may plan to do [with technology] doesn't even exist anymore. 

This article was adapted from On-The-Edge, the blog site of Keith Campbell, a 30-year manufacturing veteran who worked for Hershey Foods.

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