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Discovering the Future of Manufacturing: An Exclusive Q&A with Paul Baldassari, President of Manufacturing and Services at Flex

Hillary Cargo
By Hillary Cargo Senior Editor, SME Media

With over 25 years of experience in the field, president of manufacturing and services at Flex Paul Baldassari unveils the latest trends in the manufacturing industry, emphasizing the role of automation, augmented reality and simulation in the modern factory. He highlights the growing importance of regionalization, circular economy and sustainability, as manufacturers seek resilience and greater proximity to their markets. Moreover, Baldassari discusses the challenges and misconceptions faced by the industry, along with the wealth of opportunities it presents for recent graduates and those seeking a rewarding career path.

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Paul Baldassari, President of Manufacturing and Services at Flex

SME: Can you tell us a little more about trends you’re seeing in the manufacturing industry?

Baldassari: On the shop floor, the fourth industrial revolution is really coming to life. What do I mean by that? It's the digitalization of the factory and deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies like automation, augmented reality, simulation and more.

When you zoom out, we’re also seeing trends like regionalization. Manufacturers are trying to boost resiliency, speed time-to-market and obtain other benefits of being closer to the markets and customers they serve. We’re also seeing a greater focus on circular economy and sustainability, both in how products are produced and the materials used to make them.

It's a great time to join the manufacturing industry.

SME: Why do you believe manufacturing is a fruitful career for recent grads and those looking for work?

Baldassari: I’ve been in manufacturing for more than 25 years, and I’m learning something new nearly every day. From electric vehicles and cell phones to smart appliances and wearables, it's also an industry creating the next big thing every day.

For recent grads and others looking for work, manufacturing offers a career with incredible opportunities, high growth potential, and the chance to work with cutting-edge technologies. The hands-on training is also unmatched when you compare it to other careers.

U.S. manufacturing employment hit record levels this year, which shows us that it's an in-demand industry that has been growing amidst a drastic need for workers.

SME: What are the key obstacles (social stigmas, lack of knowledge of the industry, ideas around college culture, generational differences) the manufacturing industry faces when it comes to being seen as a lucrative career with job stability?

Baldassari: Speaking from my own experience as someone who started their career on the factory floor, there are huge opportunities across the industry to have a lucrative career full of growth opportunities. The pace of change in technology and manufacturing, as seen with Industry 4.0, has made it important for manufacturers to prepare their workforce for the future, so many manufacturers, including Flex, offer upskilling programs and have partnerships with technical colleges to enable professional development, offering development paths and career opportunities for employees.

SME: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, job and machine shops were seen as “dirty” places, which might be a social stigma deterring some people from pursuing manufacturing as a career. Can you talk a little bit about the physical environment of the modern shops today?

Baldassari: Factories of the past likely draw images of employees performing dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks. But that couldn't be farther from the truth in many factories today. The requirements for running high tech manufacturing lines demand a more rigorous focus on cleanliness than many office jobs.

There is also an incredible amount of upskilling in the industry ushered in by the wave of Industry 4.0. Today, employees are much more likely to be managing a fleet of robots, training AI models to inspect products or even simulating line ramps to optimize output. And while some fear that these technologies will replace jobs, they primarily do the opposite - creating new roles and more enjoyable working environments. The factory of today and the future prioritizes health and safety in a much more digitized, automated and advanced environment.

SME: Can you share about mistakes you made earlier in your career and how younger people getting into this field can refrain from making those same mistakes?

Baldassari: Early in my career at Flex, I was working in IT. I always tried to offer the best advice, service and guidance. However, after bringing up a series of hurdles on a project, my boss told me that he felt I was too focused on problems and not focused enough on finding solutions.

It was a significant perception shift for me. It made me realize that if I have a problem, it's better to come to the table with solutions and a view of the bigger picture. That way, I can add value by moving the project forward rather than holding up progress. It's a valuable lesson to employees at any level of their career in any industry. But it's especially true in manufacturing when you need to regularly problem solve against the latest component shortage, supply chain constraint or customer demand.

SME: Can you talk a little bit about teamwork on the shop floor and beyond?

Baldassari: I'm a big believer in teamwork and system thinking. On the shop floor, the factory is almost like a living organism. The slightest change on line “A” can impact production on line “B” and so on. So, teams must work together and take a system approach to ramps and other projects.

And I always like to say, advanced manufacturing technology is great. But it's the humans that get the work done. So, it's essential we work together, share ideas and optimize processes to get the best possible outcomes.

At Flex, we have over 100 sites in 30 countries, more than 170,000 employees and service many diverse segments, so teamwork is critical across the company. A specific lesson learned in our factory in Mexico might be shared with our team in Austria via digital twin. Or a challenge our healthcare team is facing could be something our automotive team just recently solved. We are able to make great products only through teamwork, so collaboration and partnership is at the heart of everything we do.

SME: Can you give some advice to those who might read this article and be interested in taking the next steps toward pursuing a career in manufacturing?

Baldassari: Of course. I would do my homework first. Connect with organizations like SME, other nonprofits in the space and manufacturing-specific news outlets to better understand the ecosystem. From there, I'd recommend searching for networking, hiring or other industry events in your area. You'll be able to connect with individuals who have been in the industry for years, get questions answered and even potentially network for your next job!

More about Baldassari: As the president of manufacturing and services at Flex, Paul Baldassari holds a significant role in driving the global operational strategy and execution for this leading manufacturing partner. Managing a diverse workforce spanning 30 countries, he spearheads responsible and sustainable manufacturing and logistics services across various industries. With a background in IT, operations and lean initiatives, Baldassari’s insights shed light on the boundless potential that lies ahead in the world of manufacturing.

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