Friday, March 30, 2018

Technolink Spring 2018 Recap

Thank you to all of you who attended the Technolink Spring 2018 Presidents' Club Forum!
Our panelists were invited to ponder this year’s theme, “The Transformational Shift in Business and the Workplace.” Our visionary panelists were Steven Peterson of P2S Inc., Kevin McDonald of Alvaka Networks, Carrie Spiker of The Boeing Company, David Gallagher of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Heather Lord of Northrop Grumman Corporation and Gregg Profozich of CMTC.

We asked our visionary panelists to consider and reflect upon the major shifts they are experiencing, the challenges they present, and their thoughts and advice for the future.

And the future is bright
 In the words of Gregg Profozich of CMTC, “Technological innovation hasn’t stopped. What’s coming out of Silicon Valley, what’s coming out of here, what’s coming out of San Diego, in terms of new technologies and medical devices, software and IT, is amazing.”

Our panelists -- representative of diverse industries -- shared similar challenges. While placing value in human capital is vital, there was a realization that, now more than ever, companies –- whether they be big or small –- are connected and rely on each other to truly thrive.


No matter the industry, the largest challenge is how to retain one’s hires and how to bridge the generational gap. How to attract and retain the easily distracted millennial, in particular, who is prone to “lily-padding,” or leaving a company to gain experience elsewhere in a short amount of time?   “In Boeing,” says Carrie Spiker, “we have very different organizations and it keeps me engaged and excited about our projects –-  and excited about the innovation we are doing because it’s always different every couple of years or so.” However, Kevin McDonald of Alvaka Networks points out that small companies are having a hard time retaining employees without the same resources as big companies. “Millennials are like frogs, they jump and…won’t stay very long. Part of the challenge for small business is that, if you don’t have as broad a footprint as a bigger company to allow them to move internally, you train them in something, they post their new certification on Linkedin and in 48 hours they're poached.”

Steven Peterson offered that P2S Inc., although a smaller company, is adapting to the different patterns of learning of the younger generation. “We tell our interns and our new hires from the first month they are with the company that there are a lot of teams here that you can get involved with besides engineering. We encourage them to reach out to those individuals because we want to see them get involved in as many places as they can. I think a lot of the younger interns and new hires don’t want to have one task they can do for eight hours. They want to be involved in as many things as possible.” Peterson reports success in hiring interns at the end of the summer with this approach. David Gallagher of JPL also shared that some very innovative ideas come from their interns because, “some of them aren’t yet smart enough to know they can’t do something, so they push out in an area and it may not end up exactly where she started or he started, but it winds up being a brilliant idea.”

We learned from Heather Lord that Northrop Grumman has a unique approach to keeping their middle workers engaged and passionate. “One of the things that Northrop has that I think is really critical to maintaining the middle work force is a fabrication laboratory. People can go during their breaks, after hours, on the weekends, and create. They can 3-D print something they are working on either at work or at home. They have paint canvases and sewing machines, so it’s essentially an area where people can go and create. I think that is critical to maintaining the culture at Northrop because there are a lot of programs to maintain and motivate them.” Clearly, Northrop Grumman creates a culture and environment where people want to stay. 

Another transformational shift that presents complexities and challenges across the board is that of cyber security in the workplace.  A big challenge is communicating the importance of protecting intellectual property internally and externally through training and awareness. Big companies rely on small companies in their supply chain and demand that they comply with more and more costly security demands in order to deliver projects and products safely. Some of the smaller companies are struggling to keep up. Explains Gregg Profozich, “A small manufacturer is good at making the thing he makes. That IT stuff came along after he started making what he makes. So, that mindset, that transformation, hasn’t necessarily happened yet.  ‘I just got a 3-D data package from Boeing that I have to make this project on and it needs to be secure because they keep spending millions to keep it secure, but I’m the weak link and what does that mean?’”

Carrie Spiker of the Boeing Company replied, “It doesn’t matter how small you are. These security requirements are going to get flowed all the way down to the smallest company and I know it’s harder to implement these types of things when you don’t have the resources, but that’s the only way we can secure our data. I mean if other countries and whatnot are going to hack into these networks to steal our designs, we have to make sure it’s protected from all areas.”

Finally, the panelists shared that a key success of navigating these times is to continuously urge employees to look for and consider new revenue streams beyond the norm, beyond what one would have considered before. Innovation also means a willingness to try new approaches, and often times, it’s the younger generations arriving in the workforce who are infusing it with new ideas. “We learn a lot from the students coming out of college,” says Heather Lord. “They are the ones doing their college projects using AI and VR and we should be open to their view and ideas because they can teach us a lot.” Although the concern was raised that AI and VR might replace jobs, the panel expressed that there is still a great deal of discomfort with that from an ethical point of view.  Gregg Profozich of CMTC offered the following:  “Technology creates new jobs that we can’t envision right now. So we are sitting here and we can see what is going to be replaced, but we can’t see what’s going to be necessary because of what is going to be replaced.” STEM, for example, continues to be an important funnel in education for the future. 

Ultimately, innovation and technology is successful due to the integrity of your hires. Our human connection is what keeps us happy and creative in the workplace and a step ahead of security breaches. And, while no one is able to forsee the future, we have proven throughout history our ability as a population to adapt with each evolution. In the words of Carrie Spiker of The Boeing Company (a company that has weathered many a shift in its 100+ years), “We’ve got the crystal ball. We have 12 of them. We don’t know which one is right. Is it one of them? Is it a bunch of them? We’ve got them all going in parallel. And we are going to keep that flexibility up.”

We are pleased to share Kevin Smith's spotlight on our event in the Pasadena Star News:  "Spacecraft buses? Monetized payloads? Experts speak to seismic shifts in business and the workplace."