The Best Industrial Control is one that Governs its Own Fate

March 17, 2013
Conveyor manufacturers discuss ways to channel government power and to invest in their own.

Fred Thimmel believes people with industry skills are certifiable.  In fact he’d love to see the day when the Federal Government collaborates with industries to help workers develop, then clearly label and package those skills so their practitioners can easily transport them from job to job. Job training is industry’s new mandate and lack of it is one of the U.S.’s biggest competitive threats.

That was one of the agenda items Thimmel threw out to attendees of his government affairs discussion group during the 80th annual meeting of the Conveyor Equipment  Manufacturers Association (CEMA), held this past weekend at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Thimmel, chair of CEMA's government affairs committee and president of Bryant Products, pointed out that there are 600,000 skilled positions that need to be filled, and that in the next 20 years 77 million people will be leaving skilled management positions. That’s half the workforce.  Since there doesn’t seem to be a steady stream of candidates pouring out of our universities and trade schools to fill the continuing void, Thimmel says it’s up to industry.

He envisions a scenario where people could be trained through industry programs and certified in skill sets, much as stone masons of old could travel from job to job once they achieved the necessary skills.

This would address the skills deficit, but the discussion didn’t stop there. Next on the agenda was the U.S. budget deficit. Thimmel asked attendees to help him make a list of priorities this industry could send to Washington—more as a re-statement of key priorities than a manifesto of new action items. One thing many in the group agreed on was the need for shared sacrifice.  The problem is, whenever a program is proposed for significant cuts, there are always beneficiaries who will fight against those cuts.

  • What if all government programs were cut 3% across the board?
  • What if Social Security were privatized?
  • What if the Social Security tax cap were set at $250,000?
  • What if business taxes were lowered to incent companies to keep operations in the U.S.?
  • What if welfare and unemployment programs were reformed?
  • What if Federal Government employment levels and benefits were cut?

Thimmel wants government to know industry is serious about cutting the U.S. deficit. After all, industries came back from the recession with up to 40% fewer employees. Companies learned that by raising efficiencies and applying the right technologies, they could do more with less. In fact, could it be that the economic crisis was good for industrial productivity?

Maybe, but the time for managing in crisis mode is over. It’s time to build on industry’s renewed strengths. That’s not only a power source government should be tapping into for guidance, but one that industry must continue to maintain.

After CEMA’s government affairs session concluded, Alan Beaulieu used his keynote address to introduce industry opportunities. He’s principal of the Institute for Trend Research, and he told the CEMA membership that although a mild consumer-led recession is likely in 2014, followed by a stronger recession in 2019, the time to invest in their businesses is now.  The Fed will be flooding the banks with capital. In fact banks are holding $1.7 trillion in excess reserves, he said.

Unemployment shouldn’t be considered our economy’s key issue, productivity should, he said. “Invest in efficiencies so you don’t need to hire,” he said. While you’re at it, sell into new markets and establish new partnerships too.  He identified the medical instrumentation market as ripe for suppliers to serve. Manufacturers in this field are being pressured to operate more efficiently, and Beaulieu encouraged his audience of conveyor industry leaders to meet that need. 

If conveyor equipment manufacturers come away from their annual meeting with the feeling that they could actually have some say in their futures, I’d say their registration fee was returned with interest.