Industry never sleeps, even during the most severe economic crises. March 12, 2020, the day of the biggest stock market crash in history, is living proof of this. As the CAC 40 recorded its biggest ever fall, plunged into the dread of the coronavirus health crisis, stock markets around the world followed a free-fall trajectory. Despite this turbulent context, a bold decision was taken at the same time: to launch Mercateam, an ambitious start-up in the industrial sector.
On the phone with my partners that day, our voices betrayed both excitement and uncertainty. But it was with unparalleled eagerness that we approved the transfer of funds to bring this project to fruition, opening a new chapter for our industrial vision.
Taking our first steps in the industry in the midst of a financial storm may seem like madness to some, but for us it was the perfect time to demonstrate the resilience and value of our idea. The story of Mercateam, its launch and rise, despite the obstacles of this unprecedented period, proves that the world of industry is capable of bouncing back, even in the face of the toughest challenges.
Our story begins in November 2019 with the ambition to understand one of the least fashionable sectors of the moment: industry. With the brightest people I've ever met, we spent 6 months in the field visiting French factories and discovering day after day the difficulties of the sector but also its strengths.
Despite the fear of launching a company in such conditions, we were convinced that our tool would never have as much impact on French society as it does today.
The origin of the project comes from a simple objective: "Tounderstand why French industry is doing badly, and how to wake up the sleeping beauty?
Against the backdrop of the economic crisis, the industry has become the focus of debate overnight. The COVID-19 epidemic has raised many criticisms of the industrial choices made over the last 30 years. One of the most recurrent is the feeling of having impoverished our industrial basin by relocating its production abroad.
Just turn on the radio or watch any news channel to see the helplessness of our health care workers who do not have the material means (FFP2 masks that arrive in dribs and drabs, defective gowns, etc.) to fight against this epidemic. Hospitals are afraid that they will run out of drugs after only 4 weeks of confinement, while 80% of our active ingredients (drugs) are manufactured in India or China.
The irony of the situation is such that we are now compelled to fight on an airport tarmac to send masks to France that are manufactured in China and sold at exorbitant prices.
These strategic choices of relocation are difficult to criticize because it is we, the final consumers, who have exerted an ever more demanding demand on the producers, leading to a "price war".
We then witnessed a neglect of the production operator in France year after year. Seeking to be as competitive as possible, factories were chasing the latest machine, moving their production site and minimising all employee-related costs. The performance of the employees on the ground was not important, as they were not relied upon.
This is reflected today in significant figures: a very high average absenteeism rate (>8%) and a catastrophic social climate, as evidenced by the Yellow Vest crisis. 60% of factories were unable to operate normally during the coronavirus pandemic due to a lack of skills, and 72% of plant managers are concerned about the growing gap between the needs of the future industry and the actual skills of their operators. Not to mention the waves of retirement among employees who leave with valuable resources and knowledge that will not be replaced.
I was the first to think that French industry had already lost out to the labour costs of developing countries. This is not true. France can rely on internationally recognised know-how in all sectors: luxury goods, aeronautics, nuclear power, food processing, pharmaceuticals and many others.
After this realization, the billion-dollar question we asked ourselves was how to use this strength to become competitive again. We quickly understood that the answer did not lie in a catalog of 4.0 machines (robots) or in the automation of production lines, but rather with the blue-collar workers. According to us, the key is to leverage the digital revolution to work more efficiently and prepare our operators for the challenges of tomorrow.
To summarize: the renaissance of the French industry will have to rely on the skills and know-how of its employees. The race has already begun.
After several months of fieldwork, more than 100 people interviewed in 6 different sectors, here are what we believe are the challenges of tomorrow:
In 2020, the rate of retirements in the automotive industry is estimated at 35%, and it is even higher in other sectors. French factories are juggling with temporary workers and work-study students and are unable to effectively renew these departures. However, the knowledge of certain people is the added value of certain industries. The people who know which tips and tricks to apply on a daily basis are the ones who practice them: not HR or managers who are too far from the field.
Do you still imagine a production operator doing the same manual task all day? The truth is quite different, machines have never been so technical. Operators are often behind several screens and running several productions at the same time. Their daily life is more like solving problems like coders, than banging a hammer. So it is by helping them to improve that we can respond to the skills explosion that awaits us.
Operational jobs are becoming more and more technical, audits are becoming stricter and productivity targets are becoming more and more stringent: the right person has to be put in the right place quickly. At this very moment, dozens of factories cannot reopen their doors because they have not developed the versatility of their operators. They are therefore left with crucial tasks and assignments to carry out in order to continue production, but without qualified employees to carry them out.
Despite this obvious fact, there are not many solutions to these three challenges. The problem is that the factories have moved out of the cities (until 1975, the Citroën factory occupied 22 hectares of the 15th arrondissement of Paris!)
They are neglected by entrepreneurs because they are too often inaccessible. The result is simple: there is no tool to manage operational teams that can offer a user experience worthy of Facebook or Twitter. On the ground it's a hell of a thing to organise, and the only tools available are Excel and Word. We have seen dozens of examples in the field, but the most telling one concerns my partner, who, after two years of applying for electrical certification in a large CAC40 group, finally obtained a date to take the training after leaving that company to launch Mercateam. He therefore worked on 230V without training during this time.
In response to this problem, we began to dream of the first digital and collaborative tool that would enable us to better manage people in the field. We were accompanied by the best team imaginable: OSS Venture Builder. After three months spent on design and code, we developed the Mercateam platform for :
We dreamed about it and we did it: after weeks of intense work, a few sleepless nights and thanks to 5 companies, we were able to test the product.... The conclusion is simple and clear: it works! We deleted dozens of Excel and Word documents that were never updated. The direct effect: the exchange of information between operations and support functions is improved by more than 50% . The tool saves our clients up to 7 hours a week on their planning and 52 drops of sweat.
The coronavirus crisis has made us aware of the importance of people in managing our teams and we are fortunate to work with world-renowned industrial groups, whom we thank.