Overcoming Pain Points and Adapting to a Changing Market

Bob Chalker, CEO of the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP), shared his observations after speaking to industry guests at Coatings+.

One of the pain points we’re all dealing with is this ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the impact that it’s having on our workforce and on our companies, businesses, and customers.

It’s the uncertainty of not knowing, frankly, ‘Am I going to be able to work on the project that day? Am I going to have enough workers? Is the facility that I’m working at going to be open, or will it be shut down because of COVID?’

Supply Chain Constraints

The other big thing, today, is the supply chain issue. One of the things I heard over and over at Coatings+ [conference and trade show] was that as challenging as COVID-19 has been, most people can see ways to address that it was somewhat within their control. ‘If I need more employees, or I need to change a pattern of work, or I’ve got to reassign because a jobsite isn’t open, I can control that,’ they say.

But the supply chain issue is something else. They’re not able to get the materials they need to do their work, and they’re not able to do anything about it. That seemed to have a higher level of frustration.

Both are equally impacting us negatively. But the frustration level [at Coatings+] seemed to be with the supply chain issue, and it was throughout. It didn’t matter if you were talking to a contractor, a paint manufacturer, or an asset owner. That issue ran throughout the industry.

U.S. Infrastructure Investment

Those are immediate things that are facing us today. But there are some changes that are longer term. Some are positive, and some are going to change the way we work. Here in the United States, our country is going to be making a major investment in infrastructure over the next several years. That should have a very positive impact on our industry.

I think that’s where some of the optimism is coming from—that we are going to see money being spent on maintenance and new assets, and on taking care of and updating those that we already have. The big infrastructure investment is going to be a positive for us.

Impact of New Technologies

I think the other impact is going to be changes in technology, and that’s one thing I’ve seen challenging people who I know, personally, in our industry. You really need to be looking at the work you’re doing and understanding how technology is going to affect you – and then making adjustments, getting training, or staying up to date with your skill sets so that your work and what you do will be relevant in the future.

Technologies like drones, artificial intelligence, robots, and all of these things that are coming at us are going to significantly change the work that’s done in our industry and how it’s done. There are some real positives to that. Safety is going to become better, and we’ll be more effective and more efficient.

But it’s also a threat to our members if they’re not staying up to date with their skill sets. Jobs are going to change with every industrial revolution, and they are considering what’s happening here an industrial revolution. With each of those changes, there is a major change in the work. New jobs are created, and older jobs go away. The proverbial buggy whip manufacturer — if you’re a buggy whip manufacturer, you’re not going to have much work in the future. So I think one of the things that all of our members need to be paying really close attention to is how technology is going to change how they work and what skill sets they need to have to move forward.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is The World Is Flat. It’s dated, and now it’s 15 years old or so. But the message is still, in fact, more timely today than it was even at that point. The book has real examples of how technology is changing our economy and how we work — and the role that each of us has or the responsibility that we each have — to stay current and to stay, frankly, employed and meaningful.

What we do is not exempt from that. Our members are going to have to deal with it. So we’ve got these short-term, immediate crisis activities that are impacting us, but we can’t let that take our eyes off of the longer-term positives and changes that are coming to the industry.

This article comes from a recent podcast on the CoatingsPro Interview Series. The full interview is available online at www.coatingspromag.com/podcasts.

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