David Chuter

Manufacturing leadership in the face of uncertainty

David Chuter

David Chuter

Manufacturers, like most, fear the uncertainty of 2020 and beyond. When it comes to manufacturing leadership, resilience is now more important than ever.

Just as Australia was recovering from the shock of this summer’s devastating bushfire season, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s lives and every aspect of the Australian economy. Even before then, COVID-19 was destabilising our workforce and supply chains. Due to our over-reliance on China and others for imports, manufacturers have simply not been shielded from significant negative impact and disruption.

I want to be clear that while it might seem counterintuitive, there has never been a more important time for manufacturing in Australia, and it strikes me that there are three areas that stand out.

First, we continue to see an unprecedented interest from manufacturing businesses putting up their hands to help with design, manufacture and supply of critical healthcare items, which is to be applauded as long as it is well coordinated and able to provide good growth prospects for those businesses. This is the short game.

Second, now is the time (and many for once may be ‘time rich’) to closely examine and rethink business models and adopt new approaches to manufacturing, technology, collaboration and innovation. Advances in digital technologies and new, collaborative business models enable manufacturers to navigate these challenging times and consider the actions needed to ensure their companies will not only survive but find ways to innovate and become more resilient in the new world of disruption and uncertainty.

And third – the longer game – now is the time to consider what our sector must look like (in the not too distant future) if we are to have the national capability and capacity to withstand disruptive times. We have clearly been found out – perhaps we did not realise what we could no longer manufacture (although I would argue those in the automotive industry knew what we were losing when we stopped making cars, particularly the deep capability within the supply chains) – and we cannot afford to be found out again.

So, how can manufacturing leaders address these three key areas and build resilience and position their companies in this new world? Here are five suggestions to consider, several of which I learned in the automotive industry during the Global Financial Crisis, and which enabled us to successfully accelerate out of that crisis and take an Australian business to the world.