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Obama’s New Manufacturing Hub and What Future Manufacturing Actually Needs To Be Successful

ObamaManufacturingHub-ImagePresident Obama announced this week the creation of a manufacturing and innovation institute in Raleigh, North Carolina that will be led by North Carolina State University. The new innovation hub is part of a larger effort to create a national network of manufacturing innovation sites. “For decades we’ve been losing manufacturing jobs. But now our manufacturers have added over the last four years more than 550,000 new jobs, including almost 80,000 manufacturing jobs in the last five months alone,” President Obama said.

Backed by $70 million in federal funding, the hub will connect manufacturers with emerging research on energy-efficient chips that will help make electronic devices smaller and faster. The government will spend a total of $200 million on the three centers, which will be matched by money from private companies, universities, and state governments.

In New Directions’ experience it isn’t only about tackling the macro problem of a generation of declining manufacturing in the US, but also about gearing up our workforce with certain competencies.

Much has been written about the skills gap that is emerging between the American manufacturing worker and the highly technical skills needed in this new innovative manufacturing space. Less has been written about the lack of fundamental project management skills, critical thinking and problem solving protocols, and the people skills required to move innovation to plausible action.

From our work with manufacturing organizations like Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Alcoa, here’s what we’re seeing some of the most innovative companies do to embrace a task, process and relationship “hat trick” in their organizations in order to revolutionize the industry and its people:


  • Time-Tested, Decision Making Protocols – Workers in the manufacturing space lack sufficient skills and competencies around making well-vetted decisions and creating a consensus decision when appropriate.  We suggest creating a company-wide, decision-making protocol that expedites the process and is universally known by the organization. Email me for a sample to get you started.


  • Effective Meeting Skills and Facilitation – Executives and managers spend about 40-50% of their time in meetings in any given week.  Take a poll and you will find most people say their meetings are a waste of time and highly inefficient: lacking useful scribe notes, poor facilitation, often running late and/or overtime, and not producing results. We suggest utilizing the methods we’ve created over the past 30 years and investing in our Meeting Tool Kit and our Meeting Fixer manual as a way to move to convergent-thinking meetings.


  • Critical Problem Solving Skills – Whether you’re using PDCA, DMAIC, 8D or any other problem solving methodology, managers and engineers should have a well-practiced problem solving philosophy and approach including many different project management tools that guide them to analyze and define a problem before identifying remedies to the problem.  A good resource to get started is our Quality Problem Solving Tool Kit (email me for a free download)


  • Conflict Resolution and Ongoing BUZZ Communication: One thing most of us have never studied in school is how to resolve conflicts and yet, the experts suggest there’s a conflict in the workplace every twenty minutes.  Instead we triangle with others and collect “stamps” or resentments that build over the years and dramatically affect our ability to work with people.  We have found that people need agreed-upon protocols for resolving their conflicts, communicating effectively and making group decisions.  When these protocols are implemented and followed there is a certain BUZZ that occurs in the organization (much like in a beehive).  Great innovative settings need synergistic communication among all levels of employees if they expect to generate breakthrough thinking.  We created the RISC/PAUSE model of conflict resolution to help people know the first four things to say in a conflict situation and the first three things the listener needs to do to be receptive to hearing feedback. Be sure to check out our RISC/PAUSE Poster. We also talk about our BUZZ communication model in our new book Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive.


  • Self-Directed, Team-Based:  High-performance, self-directed work teams generate a 30% higher rate of productivity and are a long-term, cost-effective model for organizations. High performance teams save organizations money in the long haul by stripping the multiple levels of management and creating an accountability-by-all organization. New millennial manufacturing employees will gravitate towards a team-structured organization because they are believers in collaboration and skill-based authority. Be sure to pick up our cornerstone book, The Team-Building Tool Kit, which lays out a step-by-step process for creating a high-performance teaming culture in organizations.


  • Partnerships and Collaborations: Innovative organizations understand that they can’t be the masters of everything and that the world is too big to ignore creating key partnerships and relationships.  The ability to “move the thinking forward” through new vendors, collaborators, consultants, subject matter experts and portfolio expanders will be the differentiating factor among good and great manufacturers.  However, we often don’t know how to bring in outsiders and work collaboratively, using the talents on many to drive innovation forward.


  • A Culture of Level-5 Leaders:  Jim Collins wrote that leadership within an organization makes a difference and what’s more, the level of leadership matters.  Level-5 Leaders demonstrate a polarity of great humility, as well as the professional will and fierce resolve to do what is best for the organization, not for themselves.  Level-5 Leaders build enduring greatness in their organizations by setting up successors and champions for success, and talk about the companies and others in a positive light.  In a manufacturing setting leadership doesn’t reside at the top but is systematically built and practiced from executive-level to the shop floor. We encourage reading our Innovative Leadership Guide (email me if you’d like a free downloadable copy).

Manufacturing is entering a new era of high tech capability and growth. “This can be a breakthrough year for America…the pieces are all there to start bringing back more of the jobs that we’ve lost over the past decade.” President Obama said in regards to the new hub.  With this optimism comes a realization that US manufacturing requires a new type of worker, not only skilled in higher technical competencies, but also in project management, people skills and strategic accountability.  We have a lot of work to do in our organizations to build the type of workers we are going to need in the next decade.

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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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