Paul Ebnet, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Straub Design, has more than 30 years of leadership experience in private and publicly-held organizations with operations in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Straub is a manufacturer of adhesive tape application systems, web handling, and industrial automation solutions.
I heard somebody say a couple days ago that the skills gap, or actually it’s more a worker shortage now, is probably going to have an effect on manufacturers similar to the 2009 recession. How do you react to that?
Paul: We are already experiencing that situation. I’ve had experience both in Greater Minnesota and in the metro, and I think the shortage of people with appropriate skills is more acute in Greater Minnesota, where the concentration of population is lower. The findings of the State of Manufacturing® survey show us every year this is on many people’s minds.
With executive-level experience in Greater Minnesota and in the Twin Cities, can you prescribe a solution or a remedy to manufacturers’ workforce issues?
Paul: There is no one magic solution. As W. Edwards Deming used to say about quality, it’s about constancy of purpose. Certainly, one of the strategies is to connect with places where people are being trained: community colleges, technical institutes, universities, and high schools. Anything that can raise the profile of manufacturing and manufacturing careers can be helpful. But it’s a long process.
One solution might be for manufacturers to identify ways they can build more efficiencies into their operations. What’s your take on that?
Paul: Our experience as a machine builder is exactly that. Companies can find cost savings from automating their processes, and they can find ways to redeploy their people assets. They are automating the lower-skilled, repetitive-type activities so they can redeploy their people to the higher-value activities. We’ve seen that trend in the U.S., and we’re starting to see it in international environments, as well. When you’re a manufacturing system in the United States shipping to China, you know something is going on.
Does it feel like organizations that offer consulting services about lean and personnel management, like Enterprise Minnesota, fit more essentially into that environment?
Paul: Enterprise Minnesota is in a unique position to help manufacturers. My experience with the organization goes back over 10 years and two different companies. I first got to know them through an ISO certification project, and now we are currently going through a lean manufacturing review. They provide focus and a sounding-board for manufacturing activities on a statewide level. Based on all their touches throughout the state, I think they do an excellent job of disseminating best practices. They provide great work in collecting and circulating information through services like the State of Manufacturing® survey. And they also offer good connections to policymakers and media. They provide a real focal point for Minnesota manufacturers in a variety of ways.
Featured story in the Winter 2018 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.