Social Entrepreneurs Aim to Transform the Future of Manufacturing
by Don Meier and Kristen Johnson, both 2Y 2019
AI and automation are changing every aspect of our lives, from the way we shop for groceries to how we connect with one another. But, for the 12.75 million people working in U.S. manufacturing, technology adoption has and can mean job loss, shuttered plants, and crippled communities.
But, early in our first year at Kellogg, we asked: What if it didn’t have to?
U.S. manufacturing is the 8th largest economy in the world — yes, you read that right — so the opportunity for disruption and social entrepreneurship intervention is huge. When heavy industry shutters or moves plants overseas, it’s often the small- and medium-sized businesses and their employees that are impacted most. And because these businesses often lag behind industry leaders in adoption of technology, the employees don’t have the skills they need to get and keep a new job. But, what if we could keep the doors open using a social entrepreneurship model that strengthens the business for the long-term and measures success by the number of people trained?
This is the kind of big problem that Kellogg and its community encourage you to tackle, and it’s why we launched LineShift with a simple goal: help manufacturers build their business and train their workforce for the future.
Because, what we know is that people will always be involved in manufacturing. But, the jobs they do have will continue to change dramatically. We know because manufacturing is literally close to home for our founding team. Don and Bill are from small town industrial Pennsylvania, and our resident Hoosier, Kristen, is from the number-one state for manufacturing. This business has always been about way more than making sure people had jobs. LineShift is about creating bright futures for families like ours, the ones that surrounded us in our hometowns, and for the 400+ million that are likely to experience job augmentation due to AI and Automation by 2030.
Our founding story
At first, we tackled this problem by developing a people analytics solution that trained workers whose jobs are most at risk for augmentation in the future of work. We enlisted top minds, including Google people analytics engineers, industrial psychologists, and more than 75 executive interviews, to craft a state of the art solution. After nine months of sales conversations and prototyping, the market told us it was time for a change. The manufacturing executives we were selling to didn’t have any need for a people analytics solution – they needed someone to help them figure out how technology will make their facility more competitive and productive.
As a social impact business, we were challenged to decide what we truly stood for. The clear need from our clients was helping get the right technology into their facilities to increase productivity and beat international competitors. This, of course, meant risking displacement of the very workers that we set out to help.
With the amazing guidance we received from Kellogg, The Garage at Northwestern, the Zell Fellows Program, and our countless mentors, we were able to carve out a niche that allowed us to live out our mission and solve our manufacturing customers’ big problem. We set out to close the gap between the technology and productivity gains available to manufacturers and the skills and experience of the workforce, especially at small and medium sized manufacturers. We use a proprietary process and tools to help manufacturers identify where to bring technology into their facilities, with a workforce first approach. This means the facilities can compete internationally and employee training is at the forefront of the strategy. When LineShift leaves a facility, the hardware and software do the dirty, dangerous, and repetitive work, and the talented front-line workforce is bringing their creativity and training to solve highly cognitive and complex problems to grow the business.
More info about LineShift ® can be found at https://lineshift.io.