Brookings’ Panel Keeps Focus on Manufacturing Innovation

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter Drucker.

Common sense, really, but it’s surprising how many people find this a foreign and fearful concept. Washington, D.C. today had the good fortune to hear from two manufacturers who clearly embrace that principle.

An interesting thing happened at this morning’s panel at the Brookings Institute. In a discussion intended to focus on innovation and advanced manufacturing, the subject kept coming back to people. Two of the largest manufacturers in the U.S., Pfizer and Alcoa, both emphasized that their workers are critical to their success. Innovation begins with a spark, an idea, a necessity – and Pfizer and Alcoa are prime examples of companies that have invested heavily in the men and women behind those ideas. But both made it clear that in order to breathe life into the next great advancement, manufacturers need access to the skilled workers who will provide that spark.

“Innovation is the driver for advancement,” Pfizer’s President of Global Supply, Tony Maddaluna, noted (quite correctly). With billions invested in developing the next generation of life-saving and life-improving drugs, Pfizer knows exactly how important a skilled workforce is to that advancement. With 32 research centers around the world, Pfizer is consistently looking to find the best and brightest to take the next step forward. Mr. Maddaluna cited STEM education as a key component to increasing the pipeline of skilled workers. So is immigration reform, which he said will keep brain power in the United States.

Eric Roegner, Alcoa’s head of Investment Castings, Forgings, Extrusions, Oil & Gas and Defense businesses (a title that, as the moderator noted, seems to span the work of five people), described the workforce issues facing manufacturers in an articulate, kitchen-table fashion. Mr. Roegner commented that manufacturers are anchors of our communities. They invest in education, jobs, research and development. They’re just as committed to building their communities as they are to their products. A skilled workforce helps manufacturers do just that – and they take an idea from a simple thought all the way to the marketplace.

It’s nice to spend a morning listening to industry leaders who truly “get it.” They have the fundamental understanding that manufacturing will advance as far as their employees will take it. More STEM education is a major part of that answer. Comprehensive immigration reform will also be critical to ensuring that the next great developments happen in the U.S.

Leave a Reply