I wanted to share my thoughts in regards to the technical status of the wire and cable industry. As you might have guessed, I’m concerned, although the picture is not bleak. I was pleased to read about global R&D activity by the industry in the November 2022 issue of Wire Journal. Yet as an active consultant since 2005, I look at the overall industry and I see problems.
It’s not surprising that my activity has almost shut down completely since the onset of the Covid pandemic. I haven’t lost my desire or ability to travel, but overall, personnel are traveling to and from plants less. I may not be physically at plants, but I keep in touch with people, and I hear that many of these plants have the same processing and quality issues that occurred just a few years ago. It’s easy to cite Covid, but I believe what is going on predates that: many companies just do not have personnel with sufficient tenure or knowledge to solve these issues.
It appears that, outside of companies like Southwire and Prysmian, relatively few people with a STEM background are now employed in the wire and cable industry. I’m convinced that the percentage of employees at most wire and cable companies with a solid knowledge base has continued to decrease, and it only gets worse as more veteran employees retire. At the same time, more technical or R&D corporate facilities have either been reduced in size or even eliminated to cut overall costs. You don’t have to have a PhD to know that that is a bad combination. The result is that there are far more common production problems, such as wire breaks, excessive amounts of wire drawing fines, poor surface finish, and internal defects within castings and wires. The origin for those are well understood. They shouldn’t be happening, but they do.
There’s another contributing factor, and it’s related to hiring. Companies may be able to hire young people to fill key positions, such as engineers, but often they leave after just a few years of service because they can get higher salaries in other fields. It makes it hard to groom someone to get beyond the early stages where they are learning to be the ones who can be depended on.
Consequently, many plants in our industry do not have employees with a strong enough background to help solve the aforementioned quality issues. Although global in nature, this problem seems to be worse in North America. And I’m sorry to add to my list of perceived woes, but I think another trend that overall has made things worse is that many face-to-face conferences and meetings for technological societies have been replaced with virtual activities. There is less interaction, and while the virtual sessions may be easier to attend, the learning experience just does not have the same sense of depth. Finally, I see fewer technical articles being prepared and presented because many companies see little benefit.
So what does all of this mean? My above comments could be seen as what today is called a “soft quit” or “quit quitting.” Per Google, “Employee disengagement occurs when an employee backs off from their typical or expected levels of productivity. They quit going above and beyond in their role. Instead, many employees are prioritizing a better work-life balance by refusing to do extra work beyond their defined job descriptions.”
Albert Einstein once said, “The source of knowledge is experience.” When young employees are already more inclined to not stay in the same job—any job—for a long time, the industry needs to find a way of making the field a place where it can foster growth to that level.