IFAI webinar

Speaker: Pandemic creating long-term, seismic shifts

Posted December 17, 2020

By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)

 

Karl Sherrill, vice president at Marsh & McLennan Agency, imparted a number of profundities and food for thought to attendees of Thursday’s webinar, Seismic Shifts in Manufacturing – Pandemic Impact, hosted by the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI).

 

Sherrill, who serves as the agency’s leader of the National Manufacturing Industry Practice, covered megatrends impacting the business world after COVID-19, cyber and digitization of manufacturing and the future of work after the pandemic.

 

“What are the opportunities and the challenges and how do we make a business outcome of them when this is over?” he asked, showing a list of 100+ strategic opportunities for the post-crisis era. “We have to ask ourselves how do we lead in reinventing the industry? Do we want to go back to the way it was? Or do we want to be a leader in reinventing it to match what it's going to be in this ‘next normal?’ And to do, that we have to be thinking about how we are preparing to handle those challenges. What's our growth platform, and what is going to enable us to get there?”

 

Sherrill posed a number of questions worth pondering, including 1) Will the crisis accelerate the ecological transition; 2) Will we move from multilateralism to regionalism?; 3) Are we moving toward a deglobalization of trade? 4) Which technologies will see their deployment accelerated by the crisis? 5) Will consumer behaviors be lastingly impacted by the crisis; and 6) Should we expect a change in the balance of power between nations?

 

Associated questions related to business around those queries are what are new growth opportunities? And what are the new ways of working, i.e. remote working, employment and upskilling, reshuffled ecosystems, etc.? Business leaders should be not only asking those questions, but exploring possible answers as they move their companies forward post-coronavirus, Sherrill said.

 

He also dove into megatrends and COVID-19’s impact on them. All are worth at least considering because megatrends – or, as he defined them, global and sustained forces that will very certainly impact the economy and society – offer real business opportunities, especially to those “pure players” who seize them early, he said.

 

Among those megatrends are demographic asymmetries, economic globalization, resource constraints, innovation acceleration, new governance models and evolving consumption. He offered an executive summary of key impacts of each, all of which are tracking to be accurate as we emerge from the pandemic. For instance, a deployment of protectionist measures to balance China’s power and support local economies seems certain to occur, but at what levels is yet to be determined.

 

Sherrill also listed several potential consequences of disruptive megatrends. Among them: selective deindustrialization (i.e. becoming more depending and collaborative regionally while unhitching from China and other regions); a scarcity of natural resources; a war of talents (short-term increased unemployment and competitiveness in the job market; and unlocking digital disruption potentials in many sectors).

 

Of the 100+ strategic opportunities for the post-crisis era he listed, he pointed out several that should be considered, including increased digital adoption and new uses, a proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the shortening of supply chains, public health provider partnerships and more.

 

“Look at these trends and ask what are the potential business opportunities that are out there?” Sherrill asked. “Are there partners out there that we have never worked with? I’ve heard some great stories of companies being able to pivot into face masks and other PPE and finding new partners. Before, there would’ve have even been a reason for me to contact a healthcare system. But the opportunities to find more partners who we haven’t even considered exists.”

 

“You can take each of these opportunities and add your own to the list, then ask, what is the challenge and how are we going to rise to the occasion to be a part of reinventing our industry?” he asked. “Are we going to make sure that our firm will be successful in the next five, 10, 25 years by being a leader and embracing the new opportunities and challenges?”

 

Later, related to the future of work, Sherrill showed a picture of his home office space in North Carolina, where he has been working most of this year. He then asked rhetorically what the trend of working remotely portends, post-COVID.

 

“This is really going to change the dynamics of teams and the dynamics of organizations,” said Sherrill, who holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from N.C. State’s (now) Wilson College of Textiles. “Ultimately, we can put all the strategy in place that we want, but if our teams are not high functioning, engaged and in a great culture, we're going to really hurt the opportunity for us to be successful. So we need to consider what to expect when we think about the future of work. Work will relocate people instead of people relocating for work.”

 

He added that certain jobs are required in a manufacturing environment to run machinery and equipment – but not ALL jobs. And that is something to also consider, he said.

 

“It gets me to thinking that my pool of talent has just expanded to anywhere there is an internet connection,” Sherrill said. “I no longer have to just look around the communities surrounding my plant. Maybe there is an opportunity for me to go find talent all over the world.”

 

When “normalcy” does resume, he said that 9 to 5 workdays will continue to evaporate.

 

“There is going to continue to be pressure to rethink and reimagine what a normal day looks like,” he said.

 

Also expect to see that: physical offices will not disappear but their purpose will change; transparency and democracy in talent management will continue to increase; “gig work’” and internal talent marketplaces will become commonplace; and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will impact jobs and Machine Learning (ML) will transform how they are conceived, paid for and evolved.

 

And, just as importantly, taking care of employees is and will continue to be vital to success, Sherrill added.

 

“To get the talent we need, we really need to be focused on welfare and sustainability,” he said. “Companies coming out of COVID who took extra special care of the welfare of their employees are going to be well positioned to tell a great story after this over. And that great story, I'm convinced, will attract talent. It will be a driver for attracting talent. So it's not too late to start that story if you feel like there are things you can do differently around the welfare of your employees throughout this pandemic.

 

“And we have to have mental health strategies, we have to take good care of our people,” he added. “There may have been people struggling with mental health issues even before this pandemic, and we have to be prepared to help them.”

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