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Sunday, 06 December 2015 22:47

AUTO FOCUS: Manufacturers plan ahead for good works

Written by  Melissa Anderson
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Many companies engage in their annual strategic planning around this time of year. They are forecasting sales for the next year, figuring out what capital expenditures will be needed, and identifying initiatives to better position themselves in the market.

If they broadened their scope and time horizon, they might also take note of some information coming out of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation about demographic changes and the workforce of the future.

By 2040, Michigan’s working-age population will be smaller by nearly half a million people and its composition will shift from about one-quarter to one-third being residents of color, according to a report prepared by Altarum Institute with funding from the Kellogg Foundation.

The ability of Michigan’s automotive companies to compete in the global market means filling an increasing number of jobs that require a higher level of skills and education. These demographic projections have implications for the industry because the data also show that children of color in Michigan are more likely to experience disparities in educational attainment and employment opportunities.

In other words, we are depending more on communities of color for population growth, but are not serving them well in preparation for the role they need to play in the state’s economy.

There is an interconnected web of reasons for the widespread racial and ethnic disparities that can be seen in poverty levels, health, proficiency scores, graduation rates, incarceration rates, home ownership, and other measures.

It is beyond the power of any one automotive supplier to make the institutional and structural changes needed to eliminate the effects of decades of legal discrimination.

On the other hand, any supplier can identify action steps that add its influence to the growing number of companies recognizing what the Altarum Institute/Kellogg Foundation report calls in its title, “The Business Case for Racial Equity in Michigan.”

Few companies are likely to be as systematic on the subject as Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering, a supplier of engineered plastic components. Its commitment to a “triple bottom line” philosophy that advocates for the positive impact businesses can make economically, socially and environmentally is unique, particularly among manufacturers.

This philosophy has led Cascade to a number of practices that exert a positive influence on improving preparedness for, and access to, employment opportunities for people of color. The “About” section of its website includes standard topics like company history and locations, but also the company’s Anti-Racism Statement, and “Our Policy on Hiring Candidates with Felonies,” which explains that a criminal record is not an absolute or automatic bar to employment.

Under the leadership of company founder and chair Fred P. Keller, the company has been involved in creating welfare-to-career pathways for more than two decades.

In West Michigan, many companies participate in charitable activities and community service. Nearly 1,500 people from 25 local companies participated in United Way’s Day of Caring in early September, doing one-day projects requested by local agencies.

More than 450 companies held workplace fundraising campaigns last year for United Way, which invests in basic needs, education, income and health programs in Kent County.

Browsing the social media pages of suppliers such as GHSP in Grand Haven illustrates the good works these companies participate in through adopt-a-beach programs, Habitat for Humanity, Feeding America and more.

In its May 2015 report, Altarum Institute states that it is important to focus strategies on racial equity and not simply poverty or socioeconomic status. This is because we need to address the distinct circumstances of the hole that structural racism and implicit biases continue to dig for non-white people.

Automotive suppliers would relate to this as an example of root-cause analysis, asking the Five Whys to be sure to address the underlying cause of a problem and not just a symptom.

Suppliers taking the long view should consider giving the corporate social responsibility (CSR) element of their strategic plans a narrower focus on programs and policies that improve racial equity. They do not need to look too far for an example, since in essence that is what the U.S. automakers have been doing for years by setting expected levels of sourcing from minority-owned businesses.

The OEMs’ rationale is to have a supply base that reflects their customers, and because buying from minority-owned businesses creates car customers by increasing minority purchasing power.

All this makes good business sense, and as the adage goes, “That which gets measured, gets done.”

Read 2088 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 00:05

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