Catalyst Connection is a private, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We provide consulting and training services to small- and medium-sized manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania, helping them grow their revenue and improve their productivity. By collaborating with our clients and the manufacturing community, we contribute to the growth, vibrancy, and ongoing robustness of manufacturing in our region.
My family emigrated from Slovenia. My father saw an opportunity working in manufacturing. As an immigrant with literally nothing when he came here, he saw that he could earn a family-sustaining wage and give our family a middle-class life. I am personally grateful for that. I have been able to do things my parents would never have dreamed of. I graduated college with an engineering degree and went on to work in a role where I was interacting with suppliers in manufacturing companies. When I moved back to Pittsburgh to be closer to my parents, I networked with a board member at Catalyst Connection and was able to join the organization. That was 27 years ago. Our objective today is the same: to help manufacturers create and sustain jobs for their employees who can then create opportunities for their children just like my parents did for me.
What have been the biggest pandemic-related challenges faced by manufacturing companies and how have you and your colleagues helped them overcome these challenges?
By far, the biggest challenges for manufacturing companies have been to maintain production and keeping up with customer demands while keeping workers safe. I am proud of the fact that there have not been any significant COVID-19 outbreaks associated with manufacturing in our region and for the most part across the country. Manufacturers have kept their workers safe by adjusting, staggering shifts, adding cleaning protocols, putting up barriers between workers, allowing some people to work from home, and putting all the needed technology in place very quickly, but keeping up with production needs at the same time.
This pandemic is not over, especially for manufacturers. It will be an ongoing challenge dealing with the pandemic effectively, deliberately, and intentionally, especially as we have seen outbreaks of other coronavirus variants. This is why we have provided comprehensive resources
as well as online and remote consultations when we could not meet in person or hold in-person trainings. We plan to continue this. While we are gradually bringing back face-to-face events, we are looking forward to being able to resume one-on-one consulting and training as restrictions are further relaxed.
Could you describe Catalyst Connection’s relationship with C4CS and its importance?
We have established a partnership where C4CS is providing consulting, training and executive coaching to our members in the areas of strategic communication and crisis management. We have met with C4CS leaders a number of times over the years. Factors such as the pandemic and the significant increase in cyberattacks have opened our eyes to the reality that these and other potential crises also hit our manufacturers. Everyone needs to be prepared. Small- and mid-sized companies typically do not have the expertise and manpower to successfully plan for and respond to crises, and that is exactly why this partnership is critical. It is also the reason why our first joint eBook lays out the keys to effective crisis management
We also realize that strategic communication and individual communication skills are becoming more and more important for manufacturing companies of all sizes. C4CS Vice President Anne Linaberger recently trained, in person, the women in our Lead2Succeed Women in Manufacturing
cohort on effective presentation skills that they can use to make their companies more successful and further their own careers. C4CS is now working on a second eBook on crisis communication. The timing is good, and we look forward to offering more valuable information, including in the form of eBooks, articles and presentations, to our members with the help of C4CS.
You highlighted cybersecurity and also mentioned other potential crises that manufacturing companies must prepare for. Should IT security and cybersecurity be important topics for every management team in manufacturing and other industries?
Absolutely. We believe that addressing and mitigating this and other mission critical risks are key to long-term business success. No management team should think that their company is immune to cyberattacks and other IT security issues, as well as industrial accidents, natural disasters, product issues, and a host of other potential crises. That is the reason why my colleagues and I appreciate the article series C4CS Vice President Cynthia Cavendish-Carey is contributing to our blog,
explaining how companies can prevent crises, how they should prepare during the pre-crisis phase, and how they should respond in the event of a cyberattack and other IT security threats.
Then there is the strategic communication side. Managers at smaller and mid-sized companies may think that they do not have to invest in improving communication with internal and external stakeholders. But we know that manufacturers can gain important competitive advantages as a result of improving corporate communication by seeking outside consulting and training assistance.
What are your thoughts about the future of small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in the region and how is Catalyst Connection supporting them?
Embracing best practices, improving productivity, and strengthening employee recruiting and retention are three top issues that we will continue to work on with our members.
We have come a long way. In the 1990’s, Catalyst Connection was just introducing what we call lean manufacturing practices
, a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement, focusing on quality, reducing operating costs, and allowing manufacturers to get their products into the hands of customers more quickly. During that time, manufacturers in our community were already achieving productivity gains using new technology, including automation. Now counseling “lean” and other best practices in technology and beyond is a big part of what we do for our members.
Some have viewed productivity gains through technology, especially automation, as a job-killer. We have educated our members to see it as an enabler: simply doing more and better with the same-size staff. This can only benefit their organizations and employees. Even many of our member companies’ unions and union members now see that investment in technology, better productivity, and increased efficiency are critical to their and their company’s futures. Success begets success. That is how you create jobs.
The next big thing for our manufacturers is figuring out how to best retain and recruit qualified employees. Our manufacturers are in a tight race for well-trained personnel, not only with each other, but also with other industries. The ones that can successfully engage their employees and attract new talent will have people who want to work for them. Again, effective internal and external communication will make the difference. We look forward to seeing C4CS guide the manufacturing companies we work with in both strategic communication and crisis management.