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IECON 2021: Industrial engineers in the post-pandemic world

The Industrial Management Engineering Society (IMES) held their two-day webinar entitled “IECON 2021: Building the Industries of Tomorrow” last May 7 and 8 via Facebook Live. The event sought to educate future industrial engineers on how to become industry leaders as the world transitions to a post-pandemic landscape.

“Industrial” engineer, not “instant” engineer

What does it mean to be an industrial engineer? Harold Lim, team leader of Konstrukt at Boysen, explained that “[Industrial Engineering (IE)] courses make us more versatile” which means that one has to be able to “do something [they] have not been able to do.”

Furthering Lim’s sentiments, project commercialization manager of Mondelez International, Mic Gutierrez, compared industrial engineers to tardigrades due to their resilience. 

“Industrial engineers are like tardigrades in the sense that they will thrive in any industry,” he highlighted. Furthermore, he believes that one of their roles is to bridge the gap between the needs of the technical and commercial aspects of a business.

In addition, Randee Latonio, development advisor at Nature Based Solutions Business, stated that industrial engineers are individuals that can “make opportunities out of problems.” She also shares that while engineers make things industrial engineers can “make things better.” 

Versatility in action

The pandemic caused drastic changes to how the industry worked given how governments forbade and discouraged citizens to leave the confines of their homes. However, the guest speakers illustrated how they were able to make things better for their respective industries—just as Latonio said they could.

In his talk, Patrick Pesengco, the chairman and president of the Philippine Vending Group, emphasized how the pandemic allowed them to innovate the vending industry. 

Since people prefer to confine themselves within their workspaces, he viewed vending “as a tool to provide a solution to provide refreshments.” In addition, he advertised how various vending kiosks have been outfitted with devices that promote cashless and contactless transactions. 

Karen Perez, head of operations and HR center of excellence of Shopee, also shared that the pandemic has brought about various opportunities for the company—especially with the rising numbers of vendors migrating to the e-commerce landscape. 

The e-commerce giant has since provided online services such as learning resources for vendors unfamiliar with the online business platform as well as a social media initiative called “Shopee Live.” This allowed vendors to advertise products while interacting with their customers.

Additionally, Vin Perez from Ninja Van, and BPI Executive Vice President Ramon Jocson both highlighted how the pandemic has caused an increase of customers utilizing their online services—namely the Ninja Van and BPI online banking apps, respectively.

Expanding your horizon

Lim and Vin Perez highlight in their talks the need for industrial engineers to practice continuous learning. To illustrate, Perez narrated his experiences during his time working at Nestle, recounting how he was able to learn a thing or two from various specializations such as manufacturing, logistics, and sales. 

Meanwhile, the Chairman and CEO of the Procurement & Supply Institute of Asia Charlie Villasenor urged that supply chain management courses must be taught to IE students, mentioning that nations with good supply chains will be able to save lives, maintain peace and order, and promote a stable economy. 

Another lesson Lim imparted is for IEs to become adaptive. In his talk, Jocson emphasized the need for the Philippines to quickly adapt to the digital economic landscape, “to get our act together as a nation because there are certain predicates that we need to have in order to participate in a digital economy.”

Additionally, Benjie Yap, Chairman and CEO of Unilever discusses how companies need to adapt a “future-fit” work system where work hours are more flexible and a focus is placed on “getting the job done.” 

As we slowly transition to a post-pandemic landscape, various changes to already established systems will once again be tested. However, it is now the job of the future IEs to—as Latonio puts it—make things better. And while the challenge may be great for budding engineers, in the words of Gutierrez, “for industrial engineers, chaos is not a pit; it is a ladder.”

By Tommy Vasquez

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