You might think that company stock reaching record high levels would be enough for Blake Moret to call 2017 a most memorable rookie year as CEO of the Milwaukee-based leader in industrial automation.
But in his keynote address to media gathered for the company’s Automation Perspectives event in the lead-up to this week’s 26th annual Automation Fair in Houston, stock valuations and other matters financial took a back seat to a more human side of the business.
Instead, Moret led with Hurricane Harvey, the storm that dumped 50 inches of rain on the area only 10 weeks earlier. Rockwell Automation was among the companies that joined early in the relief efforts. “We deployed our disaster recovery teams here to help get our customers up and running,” said Moret, president and CEO for the past 18 month and soon to be chairman. In nearby Beaumont, Texas, for example, the river overflowed as a result of the natural disaster—submerging the electric motor drives that pumped the community’s drinking water. Within 24 hours, the Rockwell Automation team delivered the new drives necessary to restore water service.
And in March of 2017, Rockwell Automation was one of only three companies to receive the Catalyst Award for its Culture of Inclusion journey, Moret continued. “We’re very proud of it.” The Catalyst Award honors innovative organizational approaches that address the recruitment, development and advancement of women and have led to proven, measurable results.
The company’s Culture of Inclusion journey began in 2007 with senior leaders renewing their commitment to diversity, inclusion and engagement in response to employee data that showed women and people of color at the company had lower retention rates than white men, and there were gaps in levels of representation for key demographics. A key feature of the diversification strategy put in place is an understanding that in order to effect sustainable change, the dominant group—in this case, white men—must be aware of the impact of their privilege, be engaged and partner with women and underrepresented groups in a meaningful way.
“Even though we’re an automation company, people remain our most important asset,” explained Moret. Surely an honor such as that for a benchmark program is cause to rest on your laurels. But Rockwell Automation had yet another ace up its sleeve.
An existential threat
“Workforce development is the existential threat to the future of manufacturing,” continued Moret, citing growing shortages of qualified talent in many corners of the industrial market. Rockwell Automation reached across the Milwaukee skyline to partner with ManpowerGroup, a leader in workforce solutions, to create the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing, a program designed to “upskill” U.S. military veterans.
The program builds on the experience of Rockwell Automation in automation training. “We know the curriculum and skills that are necessary,” said Moret. “Between 2003 and 2019, it’s estimated that 4.3 million veterans will leave the service, and 65% of them will need help finding employment outside the military. As we were working with the Department of Defense, we realized so many of the core work skills are already embodied in those veterans. Many of those skills could translate to the manufacturing environment.”
The program’s goal is to graduate 1,000 veterans per year by 2019. Over the past couple of decades, Rockwell Automation has graduated more than 7,000 engineers from its internal engineering-in-training program.
“We thought we could take this show on the road and offer it to returning veterans,” said Moret. “Every veteran that goes through the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing is guaranteed a job. I was at the graduation ceremony of the first class of 14 last week in Cleveland. It was one of the single most rewarding things I’ve had the opportunity to do in my career.”
Meanwhile, in the industrial automation marketplace, the Rockwell Automation vision of The Connected Enterprise continues to gain traction within the company’s customer base. “The Internet of Things is unlocking new ways of gaining value and increasing productivity, and we are just getting started,” said Moret. “The Industrial Internet of Things connects data. We take the data from those plant-floor devices and turn it into useful information and produce positive outcomes for our customers. We develop advancements to keep people safe in the workplace. People find new and better ways to make things, live and work. Good things happen when we combine the potential of automation with the imagination of people.”