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Peter Bigelow

If ever employees deserved a big “Thank You,” now is it.

The world has been through the ringer over the past 18 months. Pandemics have a way of shaking things up in ways no one could possibly imagine. It’s sort of like being tossed into the wash cycle of a washing machine, being soaked from every possible direction, only to be rewarded by needing to survive the spin cycle! Covid-19 has brought nothing less. Regrettably, as summer turns to autumn, thanks to the Delta variant the end of this pandemic looks nowhere near.

For too many the disease itself has been devastating, from loss of life to the scores of friends, family and colleagues who fell seriously ill. No words can be said to ease the pain for those who have lost loved ones. For many others, the disease has cost them employment and caused dramatic changes in day-to-day lifestyles. For some, total despair. Indeed, the impact of Covid still can be seen and felt across the globe.

In some industries the impact of Covid has brought a complete change in the cadence of daily life. Rather than adults heading out the door each morning to go to an office to work, the work has moved into their home much like a loved (but unliked) distant relative. Ditto children: Rather than heading to school each day to learn in a classroom and play with friends, they have been confined to home. Parents, children, coworkers and teachers all inhabit limited space and fight for enough bandwidth to handle the seemingly never-ending virtual meetings and lessons. This new Covid paradigm, while enabling people to remain in a safe environment, has still caused displacement, inconvenience, and for many levied an emotional toll.

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Peter Bigelow

The trend toward keeping ideas under wraps may slow adoption.

Early in my career cutting-edge technology was personified in hardware, such as a wire EDM machine for cutting metal used in dies for wire-to-wire terminals: for instance, forks, rings and spades. No one in those days associated software with technology. It was simply some magic the IT department created to generate reports.

Decades later, most people immediately think of software, firmware and apps as technology, while the devices themselves, regardless of how advanced, are more or less just hosts for the apps. In our industry, there is far more recognition of the technology that goes into hardware and an appreciation that the two are codependent to provide the desired end-application. In fact, many in our industry may well believe the real magic is in hardware that can withstand a variety of operating environments, while providing a stable and robust platform for software to operate.

Today, in some ways, technology is wearing two faces: one that enables and one that confounds!

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Peter Bigelow

The cycle of higher unemployment and prices must be broken.

I am not an economist, but having been around the block more than a few times over the past decades, it sure looks like financial déja vu!

My career started in the mid-1970s. At that time, the economic arena was swirling from extraordinary events that, together, created the perfect storm for hyperinflation. The aftermath of the US political crisis Watergate, staggering gas lines and shortages caused by the rolling Middle East oil embargos, and questionable Federal Reserve tactics led us to double-digit inflation. At that time, I was pricing administrator for a division of a global electronic connector manufacturer. Among my responsibilities was keeping the multi-thousand-part price book up to date. This task historically was done once every one or two years. In the environment we were in, however, I was updating prices two to three times each year!

It’s with this perspective I find myself trying to read the proverbial economic tea leaves of where we are headed in 2021 and beyond.

The past couple years, like in the mid-70s, have been filled with extraordinary events. Washington has been in gridlock; tariffs are finally resulting in shifts in where product is produced and shipped; a pandemic has displaced millions of workers and sent more home to work. Manufacturing facilities are reducing onsite staff, resulting in lower output and product shortages. Governments are responding with economic stimuli in the form of direct cash to citizens, enhanced unemployment benefits for those out of work, and low-cost loans to business and industry.  

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Peter Bigelow

Five ideas for being a better worker.

“People who need people, they’re the luckiest people in the world,” or so the song goes. If that’s true, though, why do I feel so unlucky?

For many years, colleagues from virtually every industry imaginable have agreed their Number One need, desire, concern and frustration is finding good people to hire. Regardless of job level or education experience, hiring qualified people is possibly the biggest challenge industry faces globally.

In my little corner of the world, which happens to be close to some of the most prestigious universities and colleges in the world, executives in companies of all sizes tell me the mantra is, “Where are the good people?” (Note: No one asks, “Where are the people?” The operative word here is “good.”)
To be sure, colleagues share remarkably similar stories about people who have been hired only to be fired in short order. Such occurrences were once rare, but today are too often the rule. Based on personal experience and countless shared stories, I have identified five issues that individually or collectively are common in today’s job applicants:

1. Everyone likes manufactured things but no one wants to be a manufacturer. The image of manufacturing is that of a dirty sweatshop. Yet enter any plant, be it semiconductors or steel or automobiles or circuit boards, and the reality is companies are modern, computerized and clean, and require smart, engaged team players. When recruiting and interviewing, refute the negative image and highlight the opportunities. For job seekers who believe manufacturing is a dead-end job, consider the latest gadget you use – the phone or tablet or even the car – and what it takes to make it. Spoiler alert: There’s real career opportunity in manufacturing!

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Peter Bigelow

How much of your budget goes to protect you from the companies that are supposed to be protecting you?

Over the past several years I have heard, learned, discussed and agonized over cybersecurity more than I would have ever imagined in my wildest dreams a decade ago. And I have invested a massive amount of money in cyber and all other types of security during this time to be safe (hopefully). When I moan and groan about the staggering cost, cultural change to our operating environment, and considerable training all employees must undergo to relearn basic computer tasks, the response I hear – usually from vendors or some other third-party – is “that’s the cost of being in business these days.”

Yes, being in business has underlying fixed costs that may change but never decline. These days some of those costs are to harden IT infrastructure and put in place systems, equipment and procedures to primarily safeguard data, and sometimes maybe even employees. Several years ago, attempting to explain as simply as possible to employees the need to prepare for cyber attacks, I drew a comparison to the pirate attacks of lore. At the time, piracy was commonplace on the coast of Somalia. Some hacker, I suggested, from a nation/state was ready to kidnap a Captain Phillips, take his ship and plunder its cargo. Indeed, I know of companies held ransom for Bitcoin losing control and access to all their IT infrastructure and basically being unable to operate systems or even shopfloor equipment.

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Peter Bigelow

Communications interfaces rely on handshakes, but software and simplicity no longer go hand-in-hand.

“Plug-and-play” seems a simple, efficient concept, a beautiful merger of elegant design and high technology. What happened to it?

I forget exactly when I first heard the term plug-and-play, but it was sometime back in the late 1980s. As I recall, consumer electronics had something to do with it – perhaps a VCR player that connected to a TV. Or possibly it was tied to early personal computers, where the various accessories could be mixed and matched, so any brand of monitor, printer or keyboard could be added interchangeably to the system. Wherever the phrase came from, the meaning was universal: You could replace one part of a system with a new or different component, and the system would operate without a hitch.

In business the term seemed to morph in two directions. In administrative office environments, the term was associated with updates or upgrades to software. Transitioning spreadsheet software such as Lotus 1-2-3 to, say, Quattro Pro was seamless, thanks to the elegant design of similar operating commands. Just upload the new software onto your computer and begin using it. Meanwhile, on the manufacturing floor, a new piece of capital equipment could be dropped into the process flow and hooked up, and it fit seamlessly with the existing machines. Voila! New replaced old. Simple, easy, painless.

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