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China's manufacturing to take a leap
When we think about manufacturing in China, what immediately comes to mind are household names like Flextronics, Philips, Honeywell, Foxconn and Shanghai Volkswagen.
Newspaper headlines and reports by economists and consultants all point to the populous nation’s redeeming qualities. These qualities lend to China’s strong platform for manufacturing exports including a robust supply base and well honed engineering and technical skills.
However, we observe a mini revolution underway in Chinese manufacturing with typically smaller manufacturers dealing with hi-tech products or specialised chemicals leading the way with fast-moving innovation. It’s exactly this kind of innovation that is needed to keep China’s manufacturing competitive and it’s this similar kind of ‘corporate spirit’ that is attracting increasingly more people into smaller firms.
More room for opportunities
There will also be wider pathways for new entrants into the manufacturing industry. In some instances, workers with niche bespoke skills will desire joining companies with specific R&D programmes so this is a challenge to the traditional route. However, mostly, workers will be considering suitability of job scope, company prospects, world-class performance and investment plans, salaries and career progression, all of which make the bigger companies a more viable and attractive destination.
Mostly, workers will be considering suitability of job scope, company prospects, world-class performance and investment plans, salaries and career progression, all of which make the bigger companies a more viable and attractive destination.
The perception of stability has become speculative and highly subjective. Some high-profile, renowned MNCs have closed their operations and have chosen to exit China as they seek a lower cost base. This movement has alienated potential workers who see these companies as purely cost-driven and not focused on quality research. Smaller Chinese manufacturing firms with core competitiveness tend to attract top talents and they can provide more resources to these individuals as there is greater freedom to set the agenda in a less structured, smaller organisation.
China remains a manufacturing hub
Attracting talent is not thought to be a major problem as China still appeals to many as a major manufacturing hub. There are however Chinese citizens enthusiastic about opportunities to work and travel abroad, but at this stage of the industry, this group will not be in such volumes as to cause issues with finding talent to fill mainstream manufacturing roles.
Culturally, contract roles in manufacturing are not commonplace but if positioned as a ‘project role’ and marketed appropriately, these positions may become more sought after.
Compare this with Western economies, such as that of the UK, where the issue of attraction and retention of talent needs addressing. In the past, many manufacturing professionals in the UK became concerned after a number of years in their roles with the apparent lack of direction and momentum forward in their positions.
This perceived loss of opportunity has resulted in many professionals leaving bigger firms to either take on contract or project roles or to take up job opportunities overseas.
Why is it that they haven’t considered smaller firms within the UK? It’s fair to say that many SMEs in the UK haven’t been great at self-promotion in the past but they do actually hold the key to both incubating new talent and maximising existing talent.
The next spurt of growth
In China, numerous skilled candidates look forward to having opportunities to join an international firm and are attitudinally and physically mobile. However, that may change as what is considered ‘new and exciting’ may gradually become ‘normal’, which is likely to spark interest in the growing force of more R&D focused SMEs locally. Considering China’s massive population, the labour-intensive manufacturing sector will continue to be a critical industry pillar for a number of years and will form the majority of the business for unskilled manufacturing.
China’s manufacturing will see a boost that will push it into the next era of growth. It will see wider global recognition of its home-grown talent through more visible brand-name exports, a more discerning urban population and the continued development of the country’s high-speed infrastructure and industrial capacity. These areas will help China to be an admired and competitive location for manufacturers across the globe.
Top skills to succeed
Strong technical, commercial and interpersonal skills are essential. It is no longer about being good at working with the machinery. It is about being able to connect with all the touchpoints of the manufacturing processes: looking at the ‘big 3’. These include human capital as well as production lines and how that drives the commercial results. If you understand the intertwined relationship of the manufacturing trinity you can drive quality and productivity improvements which will lead to a successful manufacturing career.
If you can harness the passion of your teams and motivate them to adopt a fresher, collaborative approach to the working day you will achieve more. With this, both output and quality increase, fail rates decline, productivity is boosted, innovation thrives and profits increase. Manage this against the political climate for the environmental climate as well as the emergence of cutting edge technologies (e.g. 3D printing) and you have yourself a track record of success to launch your manufacturing career.