Digitization, Sustainability, and Workforce Stability Are Top Concerns

An Autodesk report identifies the difficulties for design and manufacturing companies. Results show digital maturity helps with these challenges.

Rob Spiegel

May 17, 2023

4 Min Read
sustainability workforce digital
Gorodenkoff / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

The top three challenges facing companies involved in design and manufacturing are attracting and retaining talent, managing costs, and responding to the volatile global economy. In Autodesk’s 2023 State of Design & Make report, researchers observed that digitally mature companies were better at meeting these difficulties.

To produce the report, Autodesk conducted interviews with more than 2,500 business leaders in industries involved in design and production, including architecture, engineering, product design, and manufacturing.

  • More than half of respondents said their companies have hired employees who lack key skills and plan to train them

  • Digitally mature companies are outperforming less digitally mature companies, and the performance gap is getting wider

  • Nearly 95% of respondents said they expect their industry or organization to make sustainability-focused changes in the coming years.

The report emphasized an increased commitment to sustainability among respondents. “Sustainability is top of mind. This is certainly because of government regulation, but it's also just good business. Our employees expect us to be more sustainable,” Jeff Kinder, Autodesk’s EVP of product development and manufacturing solutions, told Design News. “Things we all talk about include carbon calculators, and what's going into a product. Also, the trend of reshoring and nearshoring is bringing the carbon impact of logistics down. More simulation before making improves sustainability.”

Living in an Uncertain World

The pandemic left leaders with an overhang of the impending unexpected. Overall, 79% of respondents said the world feels more uncertain than it did three years ago. An even greater share of European respondents (86%) felt this way. Factors contributing to the overall sense of unease included war, inflation, Europe’s energy woes, the pandemic, and ongoing refugee crises.

Nearly 6 in 10 considered their company well-prepared to handle unforeseen future crises. And the leaders of digitally mature companies were 20% more likely to say they were prepared for future challenges than less digitally mature companies.

Workforce Issues Persist

Nearly 3 in 4 respondents noted that the workforce has evolved more in the past three years than in the previous 25. This is a startling assertion given that the previous quarter century included the rise of the internet, email, smartphones, mobile apps, and mobile computing. This reveals that workforce challenges have become daunting for employers.

During the pandemic, many of the most knowledgeable workers retired, leaving an experience gap “There's a skills shortage and it’s a pure people numbers problem. We’re losing skilled workers faster than companies can replace them,” said Kinder. “Data coming together in the cloud requires new skills in the workforce. We're entering a renaissance in manufacturing. Technology is just moving so fast. New skills are needed to be successful. Ultimately, it's going to be great for manufacturing because it's going to increase productivity.”

The report shows workforce concerns are widespread. Attracting and retaining talent is the top challenge for 48% of respondents. Access to skilled employees has become a barrier to business growth for 64% of respondents. Those from digitally mature organizations are taking active steps to address the problem. A hearty 93% of respondents reported that upskilling was important to their companies. Upskilling includes employees becoming proficient in technology, collaboration, and regulatory knowledge.

Sustainability Grows in Importance

The report showed a consensus emerging on the importance of sustainability. Some respondents said taking sustainability measures will eventually account for a substantial part of their revenue.

The report finds:

  • 80% of respondents said improving sustainability practices is a good long-term business decision

  • 82% said customers are influencing their sustainability activities

  • Nearly 90% said their industry or organization has made changes to improve sustainability.

Decreasing waste, using more recycled materials, and designing with sustainability in mind are among the top challenges respondents are taking to meet sustainability challenges.

Digitally Mature Companies Are Primed for Growth

Digital transformation efforts are helping companies by reducing costs, increasing innovation, improving performance, and moving faster to market. A hearty 79% of respondents said that the future growth of their company will depend on digital tools.

When Autodesk looked at business metrics including customer satisfaction, profit margin, and revenue from 2019-2021:

  • More digitally mature companies outperformed less digitally mature companies

  • The performance gap between more and less digitally mature companies appeared to grow.

More digitally mature companies planned to increase investments over the next three years in:

  • Technology to improve project outcomes

  • Product or service innovation

  • New product or service development.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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