Rockwell Automation CEO Equips Workers For ‘Advanced Digital Manufacturing’ Era

Rockwell Automation just reported impressive quarterly and fiscal-year financial results. But CEO Blake Moret’s eyes are on the future and on the skilled workers Rockwell will need to keep this momentum going.

So Moret continues to promote the importance of three workforce-development strategies for the Milwaukee-based company that, as the labor squeeze tightens, he also believes would help many other manufacturing companies and the entire country: a commitment to lifelong learning, outcome-based instruction, and partnerships between manufacturers and learning centers.

Moret has been championing this strategy in every available forum, ranging from a new relationship between Rockwell and another major Milwaukee-based employer, ManpowerGroup, to counseling the White House.

“More than 300,000 jobs are open in manufacturing but can’t be filled for lack of appropriate skills,” Moret told Chief Executive last spring. “Every time I get together with leaders of manufacturing companies, they talk about this as being the problem that is at the top of their lists.”

“If the Trump administration’s support for increasing U.S. manufacturing continues to get traction, then this need is going to be even more acute. We have to step up our game.”

Currently, Rockwell is doing very well. The $6.3-billion maker of machines and software for automotive, electronics and food-processing markets reported that organic sales were up by 6 percent for fiscal 2017 and that adjusted earnings per share rose by 15 percent.

Another indicator of its strength was that Rockwell just rejected an unsolicited $27.5-billion takeover bid from St. Louis-based Emerson Electric, as not in the best interest of Rockwell shareholders.

Moret knows that a robust Rockwell, however, depends on honing advanced-manufacturing techniques that take advantage of new technologies and data analytics – and on hiring and training enough people to harness the products and services that result.

Earlier in the year, Moret stressed this need for Rockwell and the rest of the advanced-manufacturing sector in the White House with the likes of Ivanka Trump and others as well as in discussions with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“If the Trump administration’s support for increasing U.S. manufacturing continues to get traction, then this need is going to be even more acute,” he said. “We have to step up our game.”

Blake Moret, CEO, Rockwell Automation

At Rockwell, that means emphasizing what Moret called “three broad buckets that ring true again and again.”

First, his emphasis on lifelong learning means that “we make a commitment as a manufacturer to provide learning opportunities throughout the career” of a Rockwell employee. This begins with hiring employees with a foundation in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) disciplines, “but once they start working, we have a commitment to help them make education a competitive advantage for us versus a necessary cost.”

Second, Moret said, “When we do training and instruction, it’s got to produce tangible outcomes. Someone going through training needs to be confident they’re going to be better equipped to handle the demands of the job once they’re finished.” This thrust includes emphasizing “credential-based education, so that if you learn about welding in Georgia, it’ll be recognized and valuable somewhere else.”

“And its not just about sitting in a classroom, but about infusing classroom instruction with lab work and computer-based training.”

And third, Moret said, manufacturers and “learning centers” such as technical schools need to forge more partnerships.” Schools “must recognize what the job is that they’re training students to do and who their customer is, and that requires constant interaction so they can stay grounded in the reality of what’s happening on the manufacturing floor today.”’

As an illustration of its stress on collaboration, Rockwell earlier this year joined forces with ManpowerGroup, a global staffing firm, to train what they call a new breed of “advanced digital manufacturing” workers. They’re ramping up a joint training program and aim to “upskill” 1,000 workers a year indefinitely, beginning with a focus on U.S. military veterans who are re-entering the civilian workforce.

Rockwell also is relying more on technologies such as augmented reality and wearables for remote monitoring of processes, to compensate for a lack of onsite expertise. It’s also employing more software tools “that sit on top of basic production processes to help workers make better decisions.”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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