In this business, there truly is a beverage for every taste and occasion. Low, no or mid-calorie? Yes. Caffeine or not? Both. Does that come in a different size or a different packaging? Yes and yes. All of these choices and more fill consumer demand for great taste, functional benefits and portability.
So what does this mean for Ohio’s nonalcoholic beverage industry? For our sales force, it means learning and selling hundreds of products to retail customers. Homework completed, associates hit the trade and write up orders. Or more likely, they use smart devices like tablets and phones to place orders, communicating back to sales center leadership who access sophisticated networks of warehouses and manufacturing centers.
What is their collective goal? To get the right product, in the right package, to the right place, at the right time for the right price. Innovation and technology make the sales job more efficient. That is pretty intuitive.
But do these same elements make the manufacturing process easier? The challenges around innovation (hundreds of products for sale) and technology (order forecasting, just in time inventory approaches, dynamic routing) are complex. Machines and operators grapple with both.
NOT SO EASY.
The customer demands fall on core manufacturing technology that, in some cases, is 50+ years old in design. If you have ever toured a beverage plant, you will find some variation on a rotary filling machine. This technology was not designed to be “one size fits all” without significant modification—either by computer or physical adjustment.
So, we have a skilled workforce that has become very adept at both technological and physical adjustments to machinery. This is great news. What is not so great is that many of our valued production workers have 25, 30 or even 44 years on the job. Where are the next gen workers who can conceptualize change, working with plant managers to maximize flexibility of production lines? Can these same big picture thinkers also figure out system failures, lift up the hood and fix them?
GROW OUR OWN?
How we recruit, train and retain talent keeps our leadership up at night. One of our plant directors rightly suggested we start before the recruitment phase. Bring career tech educators into our facilities. Shape the next gen while they are watching friends pursue educational pathways that don’t quite resonate with them. Or before they believe their only opportunities are service jobs. Let’s find young adults who are comfortable with technology, willing to learn and have a mechanical aptitude.