While we are still working out what the new normal is going to look like as we come to grips with COVID-19 and coming out of lockdown, there has been some good news.
Australian Manufacturing has been growing since 2016 and 2021 has seen some of the strongest growth as we finally wake up to the importance of being to make stuff.
Whether you want to call it Sovereign Capability, Economic Defensibility, Risk Management or any other synonym term, we can now see that not having local value creation ability in manufacturing is a risk we can’t afford.
Borrowing from another source and refactoring it I ended up with this as a definition I was happy with: Sovereign manufacturing capability ‘is the ability to design, build, sustain, upgrade and export Australian made product in Australian manufacturing facilities by Australian workers’. This is adapted from the Australian Parliamentary Report on Naval Shipbuilding Sovereign Capability.
OK, I admit it. That is a big title. But also a big topic. So what do I mean?
Australia was recently named the country lagging behind every other country in the world for climate action. In a review of the 193 United Nations countries, Australia was ranked country 193. If you didn’t catch it then here are some sources:
Following on from that ‘walk of shame’ moment, this week the United Nations passed down a pivotal report indicating the following:
The planet is getting hotter
It is due to human activities
the rise in the past 50 years is bigger than any variation in the past 100,000 years
we probably have at most 5 years to address this
all fossil fuel based power generation must be terminated before 2030
So what is Australia doing?
Nothing seems to be the answer. None of it makes sense. The arguments seem to be:
We can’t afford to do anything
China and other developing nations are worse than us so we won’t do anything until they fix their issues
Renewables alone can’t be the answer so we will stick with coal
And tax or otherwise financially penalise renewable energy sources for generating useful environmentally friendly power
And can we force them to not provide any power to the grid at all? What a great idea!
We licensed power generation to the private sector so it isn’t a government problem any more
Technology will save us. Please, someone else invent it and give it to us for free, or at least very cheap.
If in doubt, see any of the points above rather than take meaningful action
The answer to clean energy
Whether they like it or not, governments are in the position of providing direction. And they need to. Other wise without leadership or a vision for the future all you have is the past and that is not good enough. And if the government isn’t in the position of picking winners, then by default they are picking losers.
Or as Einstein once said, “The solution to a problem requires better thinking than that which created the problem”.
So more of the same is a recipe for disaster.
And even the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates don’t have the revenue and resources to do it on their own. Nor should we all sit back and just watch and hope they can. Tesla is aimed at taking petrol off the road. But petrol isn’t the only polluter so we also see Tesla tackling primary renewable energy problems like storage (big batteries). So this is not business just for profit, but profitable business for the good of the planet. And intentionally so. I hope to see a lot more of this.
So I choose to be part of the solution. The alternative is to be part of the problem. So what can I do?
run an ethical business that contributes to the greater good
reduce, reuse and recycle in my business and at home as much as I can
reduce power consumption, petrol consumption, pollution as much as I can
speak up about the need for positive and responsible action
The down side
The United Nations report shows that not taking action might already be a disaster. And for one I don’t mind the news outlets pushing a story because it makes a good headline. As raising attention is part of the process of moving toward a position of deciding to act. Here are a few examples:
So that is just the Australia centric version and from a wide range of media outlets.
We design electronics products and ambient temperature is a factor in things like battery life. So we are aware that Australia is a hotter than average environment and take that into account when predicting things like battery life. It also affected incandescent bulb life when those were still the main source for lighting. So Australia is already very close to the 1.5°C tipping point for disaster being at 1.4°C already. Least action on the Climate Crisis and closest to disaster. Maybe some correlation there?
The United Nations report shows that the warming is definitely our doing and not an extreme but natural aberration. The graph below shows the gap between the observed and the margin for errors now makes it clear we are doing this to ourselves.
Human Influence is causing Climate Crisis
The up side
However we also have options and could act if we had the will to do so. Things in our favour are:
large land mass that is not densely populated
so lots of areas available for solar farms, wind farms, hydrogen generation plants etc.
lots or natural raw materials for making batteries, renewable power generators, semiconductors
and as a geologically stable continent we would be an excellent place to make semiconductors which would also fit the sovereign capability argument
surrounded by sea so tidal and wave power are also options
modern cities with good sanitation and other amenities
we are rich by world standards so we also have financial resources ie. we can afford to. In fact, we can’t afford not to!
We don’t have a lot of water so hydroelectricity is not going to be the major contributor to the solution but can still be in the mix. And overseas we have seen gravity used as a source of potential energy storage by lifting weights up mountains or using old mine shafts. As the flattest continent on earth this is also limited but we should be using every good idea available.
From my perspective we should be considering:
making batteries here rather than shipping materials to China
making semiconductors and other critical items needed to do electronic controls for power generation and power management
researching new energy generation and storage technologies
taking the lead in solutions
And that is just in the energy side of the equation. There is also food production, packaging, transport and materials in general to consider so lots of room for invention, innovation, solutions and contribution across the board.
So while this is a big problem, we Aussies are adventurous and have shown we will take on challenges others might shrink back from. I for one, hope we take on the climate emergency and show the world we really are prepared to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
The capacitive presence sensing was particularly challenging as a custom sensor design challenge because unlike capacitive touch sensing on mobile phones, this is not looking for a sudden change but a continuous presence over time.
Infalurt car child safety
And all of this with a target of 12 months battery life from standard AA cells.
Infalurt car unit
We are hoping for a win of course, but this is already a great outcome with this product as a finalise for this award category. Our thanks to Ideation Design for including us in the Design By credit.
This post was written by Juliana Queiroz, engineer and founder of What Engineers Want, a consulting company that helps manufacturers and engineering firms to unlock their engineers’ full potential towards excellence and innovation.
Overcoming labour and skill shortages
Businesses stand or fall on the quality of their people – don’t you agree? If we cannot have enough staff with the right level of skills and experience, that’s potentially a serious problem. Even though Australia is facing one of the highest rates of skills shortages in the labour market, our challenges are not new: – it is hard to recruit, – hard to retain and – hard to keep our people motivated and engaged.
Effective outcomes within a business today requires a high level of staff productivity and performance whilst collaborating and innovating.
Today I propose 3 steps to overcome this skills shortage we are facing in our industry to finally have the dream team that will make the success of our businesses.
Attracting the right skills
It is important to understand that people have different expectations and we need to think about what will attract them to our company. Saying that, we need to be smart and creative in presenting job opportunities.
For example, we can make our business stand out by offering: – attractive conditions – competitive pay – training and career development plans – making new employees feel welcome – being inclusive – etc etc
Defining this competitive advantage is like working in our business. We need to think about what our competitors are offering and work on our unique value to stand out from the mass. Our business is more likely to attract the best and brightest if we can offer something better compared to our competitors. In order to do this we need to identify our uniqueness.
Uniqueness is what we stand for, what we value and how we intend to impact people around us. To identify our uniqueness, we need to work out our culture.
When we work out our culture, we work out our reputation and the image of our business. This is a key factor in attracting people. Because it is our people who can promote our business the best, helping us to recruit without even know about it. To have that reputation, and be the place to work, we need to create a workplace where people want to work, stay and progress. Where they feel safe and comfortable. Where they understand their value and contribute to creating impact.
So, think about that. What can you do right now to improve your workplace to be more attractive?
Wait a minute! We don’t want to attract just anybody; we want to attract the right ones!
The key to finding the right person, the person we really need, is to focus on skills that we cannot do without. What we call “soft skills” might be much more important than we think. Let’s face it, training a person in trust, empathy, resilience is much harder than training them on a new technology.
So, what are the human skills you are looking for? Try to focus on that next time you are in a recruitment process.
Retaining the good ones
If we only work on the paycheck and the tangible benefits, we are competing with a lot of other businesses out there! And it won’t help us to retain anybody. So, we need to understand what our employees really want, what they are looking for? And one size doesn’t fit all. We have in the workforce nowadays at least 3 different generations, and each generation has different aspirations. To touch each one of them we need to adapt our speech and offer. Millennials are the biggest workforce in the market now. This generation is looking for a purpose, to make a difference, to experience moments more than having comfort and money. They are looking for a reason. We need to answer to that, we need to identify how to respond to their needs and propose the right level of challenge.
Working out our uniqueness will help to define the purpose of our business and how to communicate that in a way that touches our employees so they can assimilate it as theirs also. A purpose speaks for a reason for existing.
Why your business was created for humankind? It sounds a bit lofty but highlighting your business’s benefits helps most employees to feel more engaged and productive. When we provide people with a reason to come to work that they care about, they will give us the maximum effort and passion; not because they have to, but because they want to. According to Gallup, “You can increase employee engagement from 14% to 67% by simply focusing on purpose”!
So why you do what you do?
Increasing employee engagement
Employee engagement is about how we create the right conditions in which employees can offer more of their capability and potential. It is based on trust and integrity. It is a two-way commitment between the organisation and its members.
When it works, employee engagement increases the individual performance, productivity and well-being and consequently increases the organisation collaboration, innovation and competitiveness.
Are you ready to create those conditions to unlock your people’s full potential?
First, we need a safe environment. For sure, we need to provide everybody a workplace with all the measures to keep them physically well. But having a safe environment is also working within their psychological safety … and what is that?
Psychological safety, at its most basic level, is the belief that nobody will be punished just because they made a mistake. The main idea here is to put in place a forgiveness culture. In the case of failure, we need to embrace ‘having a go’ instead of punishing.
Let’s clarify it with a bit of neuroscience: When we are in a conflict, provocative, or competitive situation, is like being in a life-or-death situation for our brain. The amygdala, known as the alarm bell in our brain, ignites the fight-or-flight response. This alarm hijacks the other parts of our brain, shutting down our capacity for reasoning. In other words, we lose our minds and our capacity to interact and collaborate, just when we need it the most.
We don’t want our job or any job to be a life-or-death situation. We want to contribute in an environment that respects us, an environment where we trust each other and where we feel we belong and can give our best.
So, to keep your people motivated and engaged to go the extra mile it is essential to give them the right conditions to do so in a psychologically safe environment. Give it a try!
Implementing these 3 steps – attract the right skills, retain the good ones and increase employee engagement – is not easy and requires us to see things from a different perspective. Our world is changing and to stay both relevant and competitive in the new landscape we need to be resilient. Change is needed to face the labour and skills shortage we are facing.
I hope this article inspired you to give the first step to embrace a new mindset and transform positively your workplace towards a better place.
Thanks Juliana, and a little bit from me. Engineering has the task of building the future by creating the infrastructure and tools needed for tomorrow to be better than today. This is not easy and there is often no single right answer. We trade off cost, time and performance every day to try and arrive at a workable and affordable compromise that meets that goal of making tomorrow better than today.
I’m glad I chose engineering as a career and have had the chance to contribute to some amazing projects. I look forward to continuing to do so and helping others have the same opportunity.
The IoT Alliance Australia, IoTAA for short, is working to bring standards and performance to IoT in Australia. We contribute to the Manufacturing Working Group and industry events they run.
The Internet of Things Security Awareness Guide is one of the most significant steps forward for IoT in Australia. Sorting out standards and testing processes for IoT devices will put some implementation confidence into authentication, security, data integrity and privacy in IoT devices being deployed to the field and the web services that support them.