Taiwan’s small and medium manufacturing industry is in crisis. Due to an ageing workforce and a lack of succession planning, the industry is facing a severe skills shortage. The problem is made worse by a significant decline in sales. More than 35,000 SME manufacturers in Taiwan are projected to survive for only the next 5 to 10 years.
Factory NextGen aims to help struggling SME manufacturers innovate by providing the digital solutions and connecting them with the younger generation. This project provides an online and offline platform for the old and young to exchange skills and ideas, and develop solutions to restore the SME manufacturing industry to its former glory.
The project’s strategy is threefold, targeting three main stakeholders:
pooling resources within and outside factories to help SME manufacturers identify new market opportunities and innovate
empowering millennial professionals to engage with SME manufacturing and become key agents of positive change in the industry
opening factory doors to provide hands-on experience and job opportunities for teenagers
Research & Design Process
Desk research is conducted to gain a comprehensive understanding of the past and future of SME manufacturing in Taiwan. This includes reviewing the history of the Taiwanese manufacturing industry and reports of the Taiwanese economy, and identifying contemporary trends in SME manufacturing from news articles. In addition, in-depth interviews are conducted with more than 40 stakeholders, including factory technicians, students, teachers, and industry specialists in government. The interviews serve to provide first-hand understanding of the current manufacturing ecosystem and identify gaps in communication between stakeholders.
After reviewing and refining the challenges and opportunities identified during the Discover stage, the lack of young talent is identified as the key challenge facing manufacturing SMEs. With this challenge in mind, the project arrives at the following service proposition:
“ How might we connect struggling manufacturing SMEs with stakeholders outside the business, to exchange the skills and resources that they need in order to innovate, transform and grow their business in a sustainable manner? ”
During this stage, solutions are developed and tested with key stakeholders. Key activities include running workshops at the factories with factory technicians, teenagers and millennial professionals, and setting up a project blog to generate interest, ideas and feedback. At the same time, key concepts and prototype solutions are tested with stakeholders.
After refining and testing potential solutions, a pilot version of Factory NextGen is launched in New Taipei City with 6 factories. Most of the materials required are contributed by participants.
The three project strategies are implemented via the following touchpoint :
Raising Awareness: (A) Providing insight into the day-today realities of SME manufacturing
(B) Empowering factory owners to appreciate the value of their business
Building Trust: Empowering factory owners to appreciate the value of their business
Innovating Together: Creating productive partnerships for innovation and funding
Digital platforms: A project website, blog and social media page have been set up to facilitate timely and transparent communication among stakeholders
Education and outreach events: Meet-ups, factory tours and summer camps aim to provide young people the opportunity to experience working life in SME manufacturing and inspire them to pursue a career in this sector
Knowledge sharing toolkit: A comprehensive framework and toolkit promotes effective knowledge sharing and dissemination between SME manufacturers and young working professionals
“ Through the conversations with the young people, I felt that my skills and experiences are valued. These old machines can do much more than making clothes! “ - Liang-Chuan Chen, the owner of Chia-Shin Knit Wear Ltd.
Factory NextGen helps the small factories to explore opportunities for business transformation and turns dying factories into powerhouses that allow hard-working younger generations to demonstrate their capacities and implement their ideas. Currently, this project is being implementing with 6 small textile factories in New Taipei City, Taiwan.
One of the manufacturers, Chiao-Shing Knit Wear Ltd., launched a series of weaving classes to share their knowledge and also a summer camp clothing fair to showcase the manufacturing process. Liang-Chuan Chen, the owner of Chia-Shin Knit Wear Ltd. mentioned “ Through the conversations with the young people, I felt that my skills and experiences are valued. These old machines can do much more than making clothes! “.
Through offering transparency of the realities of small manufacturers, the general public can take the conscious actions based on the understanding of the manufacturing process.
In the past one year, more than 100 teenagers and young professional has joined the workshops in factories and also provide the innovative ideas for business transform and positive feedback. Yu-Chen Chen, the secondary school student excited about experiences inside factories. “ The programme gives us an opportunity to experiences the world outside the classroom and it was fun! We learnt more in the factory than sitting inside the classroom. ” .
Last but not least, this service re-build the relationship between the factories and the communities. We also empower the local small factories to secure the local supply chain for sustainable manufacturing and provide job opportunities to contribute in local economy.
Factory NextGen Official website: https://factorynextgen.com/