Mollie Foerster wanted to become a librarian, but she faced a problem that many high school students do. The degree would be costly, and a librarian’s salary wouldn’t make up for it. Luckily, she found a great alternative: a manufacturing career, made possible by the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), a cooperative learning program founded by Toyota and overseen by The Manufacturing Institute.
Today, Foerster says proudly, “With my degree, along with my onsite experience, I will always be able to find a job.”
Finding FAME: At her parents’ encouragement, Foerster enrolled in the Southern Indiana FAME chapter after high school. The program trains students of all ages and backgrounds, from recent high school graduates to experienced manufacturing employees looking to advance their careers. FAME students earn a two-year Associate’s Degree while working in their sponsor’s manufacturing facility as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT). This was exactly what Foerster was looking for.
The benefits: Foerster’s favorite thing about the FAME AMT model was “the integration of school and work.” Working at a Toyota manufacturing plant part-time while also attending school prepared her well for the workforce, she says—much better than school alone would have. Some of the benefits included:
- Mentoring opportunities that paired her with experienced leaders who encouraged her to solve challenging problems and offered help when needed—“They allowed me to learn from my mistakes without actually making mistakes”;
- Fabrication instruction, which helped her improve her skills in a marketable area where she previously had no experience;
- Public speaking practice, which has made her “a better and more confident” presenter—something she’s sure will be helpful every day in her new career.
What’s next? Having graduated from the FAME program, Foerster plans to begin work full-time at Toyota. She also expects to start her bachelor’s degree online through Purdue’s partnership with Vincennes University.
Advice for future FAME students: “Try and absorb as much as you can in the next two years,” says Foerster. “Don’t just memorize the information you need to know for tests, do your best to actually understand everything you’re being taught. At work, take on as many projects as they will give you. Ask your mentor and other team members for help. As long as you work hard and continuously try to improve yourself, you will achieve great things.”
Dan Mitchell didn’t expect to join the Army, which means he couldn’t have expected to translate his military experience into a career in manufacturing. But thanks to The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, that’s where he is now.
The son of Fish and Wildlife Service officials, Mitchell set his heart on the Army while a Boy Scout in high school. As he describes it, he entered West Point as “a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 17-year-old”—and faced a wake-up call. It wasn’t at all like the movies!
Instead, Mitchell learned that Army life involved doing a great number of small, important things effectively. He spent time in maintenance at industrial facilities, managing safety and operations, and tracking armored units and heavy vehicles. Whether he was keeping his room clean or doing inspections or ensuring the safety of weaponry, he learned that routines were vital. It was a lesson that would serve him well in his next career.
Heroes MAKE America: After eight years in the Army, Mitchell heard about the Heroes MAKE America program from some of the 145 soldiers under his command, and he quickly signed up.
- While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented his Heroes class from touring facilities—“I was excited for the Frito-Lay tour,” he says, “and that’ll stick in my craw for my entire life”—he calls his experience in the program “phenomenal.”
- From general career support, such as help with building a LinkedIn profile and drafting a resume, to the “invaluable” Certified Production Technician course, Mitchell saw Heroes MAKE America as a vital program that offered him critical tools.
- “It was eye-opening to see the level of skilled labor and craftmanship that’s involved in modern American manufacturing,” Mitchell says. “It spoke to me. I had no idea of the width and breadth of opportunities, or how interesting and dynamic and challenging the jobs are.”
A new job: As he begins his new role as a production supervisor at Daikin Applied Americas in Minnesota, Mitchell sees manufacturing as a natural fit. “What I did in the Army doesn’t directly translate to what I’m doing now, but it’s pretty darn close,” he says. “I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’d be way behind if I hadn’t gotten the Heroes training.”
Words of advice: “For anyone who has been a leader in the Army—as long as you’re willing to learn and put in the work—manufacturing is an obvious choice.”
Manufacturers are looking to make their workplaces more diverse and inclusive—but what steps should they take? Following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, many companies have supported the NAM’s own Pledge for Action, an agenda for advancing justice, equality and opportunity for Black people and all people of color.
As part of its Diversity and Inclusion pillar, The Manufacturing Institute has begun hosting roundtables, drawing on the expertise of D&I chiefs from across a wide range of companies. Below is a brief recap of a recent event.
The panel: Speakers included AAON Community Relations Director Stephanie Cameron, Dow Senior HR Director of Talent Acquisition/Pipelines and Corporate Director of Inclusion Alveda Williams and Trane Technologies Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Talent Management Michelle Murphy. Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee moderated the conversation.
The panelists focused on helping those who are just beginning this conversation as well as those who are working to accelerate their current efforts. A few of the suggestions included the following:
- Don’t rely on programs. Williams noted that programs can be cancelled when budgets are cut or an unforeseen situation arises. Instead, manufacturers should find ways to make D&I a part of their identity, ensuring that their work in the area won’t be scaled back or discarded.
- Emphasize inclusion. Inclusion drives innovation, productivity and team engagement, Cameron pointed out. While diversity can be considered a collection of unique differences, Williams added, you can’t capitalize on those differences unless you value inclusion. Achieving diversity is about the workforce, but inclusion is about the workplace, and creating a culture and environment that emphasizes a sense of belonging.
- Embrace change. Murphy emphasized that companies must be agile and adaptable not only to keep up with workplace changes, but also to promote positivity and lead with their values.
The conversation also included some concrete practices and initiatives, including:
- Companywide virtual conversations about issues like race, gender and LGBT inclusion to encourage learning and discussion;
- Internal leadership development programs to ensure that diverse leaders have opportunities to move up within the company, which might include English and Spanish courses on-site; and
- Employee resource groups and inclusion resource groups that bring forward ideas from diverse employees and allies to move the company forward.
The business case: Strengthening D&I isn’t just the right thing to do, participants said; it’s also the smart thing to do. Inclusion drives engagement, and engaged employees are more productive—making inclusive workplaces better for a business’s bottom line.
You can access a recording of the full conversation here.
Brittanee Sayer is the sixth of seven siblings who have served in branches of the military. Given her family’s example, she always knew she would serve her country. But what would come after that? The answer: manufacturing, thanks to training at The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program.
Her military experience proved useful to the career change. Sayer spent most of her seven years in the service working as a generator mechanic at Fort Hood. She was in charge of maintaining tactical, utility and precise power generation sets, internal combustion engines and associated equipment—a job that included running power for Fort Hood’s hospital. When she decided to leave the military, she wanted to keep employing these skills.
Heroes MAKE America: Prior to her Army service, Sayer had worked at Wolverine, which manufactures military boots—“I went from making the boots, to wearing the boots,” she says. Given her experience in the Army, she thought a return to the industry made sense, and that the training offered by the Heroes MAKE America program would help her advance further.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March required a few changes to ensure safety, but Sayer says the program adapted effectively. Adjustments included:
- Online learning, with Skype meetings once per week to ensure students could still engage with the material together;
- Smaller classroom meetings, with in-person tests offered to five people at a time; and
- Digital networking opportunities to help students and graduates connect with companies seeking employees and learn from manufacturing leaders.
The new career: Recently, Sayer accepted an offer of employment at a large U.S.-based food company, and expects to start by the end of the month. She says the Heroes program helped get her resume in front of every possible employer. Since she graduated from the program in May, she’s received a range of job offers from across the United States.
The last word: “I tell all my friends still in the Army: if you can do the Heroes MAKE America program, do it,” says Sayer. “It’s a great opportunity, and it really does help.”
Who says longer lines for the women’s restroom are a good thing? Manufacturing CEO Gina Radke does. And here’s why—longer lines for the bathroom at manufacturing conferences would mean that more women worked in the industry, where they now only make up a third of the labor force.
Radke used to take photos of the bathroom doors at these conferences and post them to social media, highlighting the absence of other women in line. And if she has anything to say about it, those lines will be growing a lot longer.
The CEO of Galley Support Innovations, Radke likes to say that she got into manufacturing by mistake, and then learned it from the ground up.
- When she and her husband bought the company—which specializes in interior hardware for aircraft—she thought she’d focus on the marketing side. But as she puts it, she fell in love with the process of turning raw materials into a finished product.
- They moved the company from California to Arkansas, and soon, she had learned to run all the machines on the floor and immersed herself in every aspect of the business.
Along the way, she couldn’t help but notice that few other women had the same trajectory. Radke was often mistaken for an assistant and rarely encountered other women in leadership positions. She was determined to change that.
- “If you can see it, you can be it”: Radke has worked to make herself more visible in the manufacturing world, as a role model for other women. The company even designed a calendar in which their female machinists posed as Rosie the Riveter.
- STEP honoree: In 2019, she was a recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Awards—a national honor for accomplished women in the industry. Radke says the conference for honorees was the first time she had been around other women leaders in the industry. It made her feel a sense of relief and encouragement, and she resolved to step up her mentorship so more women would feel the same.
- “I could write a book”: Inspired by her experience at the STEP conference, Radke wrote a book called “More Than.” In it, she offers guidance to both women and men, so they can achieve a more equitable workforce together.
And there’s more: Under Radke’s leadership, the company has been a pioneer in hiring formerly incarcerated individuals and people who have been involved in the criminal justice system. It also created programs to train kids who age out of foster care, helping them transition into well-paying jobs.
The last word: “To women who haven’t considered manufacturing: consider it,” says Radke. “It’s a great field to be in. We need everything, so you get to be creative and process driven. And you have an opportunity to break stereotypes and shatter the status quo.”
For most people, foam does not sound like a crucial part of the COVID-19 pandemic response effort—but it is. Adhesive-backed foam is used in making face shields and other personal protective gear for health care responders, and LAMATEK, Inc., a New Jersey-based manufacturer of flexible foam tapes, gaskets and custom parts, has stepped up to support frontline workers.
When the pandemic hit the region, the company initially intended to use its equipment and workforce to manufacture face shields for the local community, but it soon discovered it had a larger role to play. After listening to customers and other community organizations, LAMATEK’s leaders realized they could provide more value by supporting personal protective needs nationwide. Today, company leaders estimate that they have already supplied between four and five million pieces of foam for face shields.
“We thought we’d make face shields for our community—but then we found out that people were having issues finding components, and the main thing they needed was foam for face shields,” said LAMATEK Vice President Laura Basara. “So we ended up sticking to what we know and producing as much foam as we could for people in need across the country.”
Basara is also a 2017 STEP Ahead Honoree—a distinction conferred by The Manufacturing Institute to recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies.
The need for foam has been widespread, and other manufacturers have reconfigured their production lines to make protective gear as well. Basara said that LAMATEK has received inquiries from manufacturers who traditionally make everything from tractor parts to bicycles to leather bags.
“The whole community has come together to make this massive effort happen,” said Basara. “It’s heartwarming to see everyone doing everything they can.”
Basara credits health care providers with leading the fight against COVID-19, but she is also grateful for the men and women in America’s manufacturing workforce who are creating protective equipment, medical products and daily essentials.
“Critical is not even the word—they’re irreplaceable,” said Basara. “Without manufacturing, this country doesn’t run. Without our team on the line, we can’t solve this. They are our key players, and we are so grateful to them.”
“Manufacturers provide critical services, vital products and essential infrastructure across the country,” said President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons. “Especially at this time of serious challenge, the work they do could not be more important.”
Every year, shop floors across the country open their doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders to showcase modern manufacturing careers through MFG Day. Carolyn Lee is the Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers. Here she shares what MFG Day is, why it is so important to the future of the industry and how manufacturers can drive attendance to their MFG events.
What is MFG Day?
MFG Day is an initiative to raise awareness for the many opportunities in modern manufacturing. On MFG Day, manufacturers open their doors to open minds about well-paying, rewarding and productive careers that give the next generation the chance to create the future using tomorrow’s technologies today.
When does it take place?
MFG Day begins on the first Friday of October but events extend throughout the month. Last year there were more than 3,000 MFG Day events hosted in 49 states as well as in Canada and Mexico. More than 325,000 students participated in MFG Day events.
What happens at MFG Day events?
Participants get a chance to see what is really taking place on many shop floors. This isn’t your grandparents’ manufacturing industry. Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and co-bots—robots that work alongside humans—are commonplace on shop floors. And augmented reality and virtual reality are now just reality for many modern manufacturers. All of this and more is available to those who attend an on-site or virtual MFG Day event.
Why is MFG Day especially important this year?
This is a critical moment for the manufacturing industry. The U.S. economy as a whole is facing an unprecedented challenge in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturing is no exception, but the industry’s leadership in our nation’s response is showing the public how critical manufacturing is to our country. Manufacturers, the men and women who make things in America, are the ones making the test kits, personal protective equipment and daily items Americans need right now during this crisis. They are developing medicines and vaccines and the equipment needed to test and study treatments. Throughout our nation’s response effort—and during MFG Day in particular—we hope that more young people will see how creators respond when our country needs them most and choose to join in this effort by pursuing a career in modern manufacturing.
Do you have any advice for manufacturers who want to inspire more people to join the workforce?
Host a MFG Day event, and register it on CreatorsWanted.org, the new digital home for MFG Day, so people in your area can find it and attend! MFG Day is your opportunity to stand up and be counted, showcasing the reality of careers in our industry. Our country’s future is tied to the continued success of the manufacturing industry, and manufacturing’s success will be determined, as it always has, by its next generation of leaders. Join us in this critical effort to strengthen our industry into the future.
As a large manufacturer with employees spread across the United States, Samsung Electronics North America is leveraging its extensive network to help local communities strengthen their responses to COVID-19. The company has already donated $4.3 million in COVID-19 relief to partners in neighborhoods where a majority of Samsung’s U.S. employees live and work. David Steel, executive vice president and head of corporate affairs for Samsung Electronics America, says that the company’s strong relationships with local communities have helped them to distribute that funding effectively—from providing technology to aid frontline workers to assisting school systems with their transition to remote learning.
“We chose to support local needs in the states with our largest workforce—we partnered with organizations that are really on the front lines in those communities, whether they’re food banks or educational organizations,” said Steel. “Our local communities are so important to us, and we wanted to help them through this time of need.”
Samsung has also expedited some of its planned contributions to support teachers and students. Solve for Tomorrow is Samsung’s annual nationwide contest designed to boost interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math among public school students in grades 6-12. Samsung cancelled the final events scheduled for this spring due to COVID-19, but instead of holding the contest, the company was still able to expedite much of the $3 million in technology to the schools involved in order to help them transition to distributed learning programs.
“After 10 years of the Solve for Tomorrow contest, we’ve built close ties with a whole network of STEM education teachers in schools around the country,” said Steel. “We were able to reach out to many of them and understand their needs as they were transitioning to this new way of teaching and learning, and we were able to help with the technology and supplies that would help underserved schools make this transition.”
Samsung has also long been involved in efforts to support manufacturers and STEM education nationwide. The company was a founding sponsor of Heroes MAKE America, a Manufacturing Institute initiative that equips transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses with the skills and certifications they will need for rewarding careers in manufacturing. Samsung’s grant to the program included financial resources as well as laptops and other key technology for its training locations.
“Our philosophy is that a company thrives with its community,” said Steel. “So for us to be successful, we need our local community to be successful.”
“Manufacturers are dedicated to the health and safety of the people who work in our facilities, live in our neighborhoods and rely on us for the necessities they use every day,” said Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute Carolyn Lee. “We are committed to supporting our employees and our communities—both now and always. Samsung’s local support is a great example of how manufacturers are rising to respond to this crisis.”
Manufacturers nationwide are answering our nation’s call and finding creative ways to support of the COVID-19 response effort—including at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
Adafruit Industries, an open-source electronics hardware company based in New York City, has retooled their facilities to make two in-demand products: personal protective equipment for health care professionals and electronics for critical medical devices. Currently, the company is working with the New York City government as well as care centers like The Mount Sinai Hospital to deliver face shields, but they have also received requests for electronic components of essential medical machines, including motor controls and pressure sensors for ventilators.
In addition to the new products rolling off the assembly line, some of the items Adafruit was already developing are now being repurposed for medical needs. For example, the company produces thermal cameras and imagers the size of a finger that can determine the temperature of what they are seeing with no contact. Traditionally, these cameras are used for controls in heating, ventilation and air conditioning—but today, those sensors are being used in medical devices for contactless fever screening as part of the coronavirus defense.
Adafruit’s founder and owner Limor Fried highlighted the importance of clear communication with employees and staff—and credited Adafruit’s workers with pulling together in the face of ongoing challenges.
“I think that day-to-day consistency and clear messaging and the tools we have—masks, temperature checks, sanitation protocols—it’s just part of the job,” said Fried. “If you have really good people and trust and transparency, you can get the job done.”
Fried is also a 2019 STEP Ahead Honoree, a distinction conferred by The Manufacturing Institute—the National Association of Manufacturers’ workforce and education partner—to recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies. As the head of a 100 percent woman-owned business, she hopes that Adafruit’s role can help inspire young women around the country.
“There are little girls that are scared about what this pandemic is,” said Fried. “But they should know that there’s a woman-owned manufacturer working to combat this virus right in New York City.”
As manufacturers nationwide pull together to create medical equipment and deliver essential products, Fried is confident that the industry will be able to help the country overcome the pandemic.
“This is the epicenter,” said Fried. “But it’s also the epicenter of really tenacious, smart people who are going to see this through.”
“Across the country, the men and women who make things in America are delivering for their communities and their country,” said President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons. “I could not be more proud of their incredible work or more grateful for their commitment to the cause.”
As manufacturers address COVID-19, they’re not only producing critical equipment and everyday necessities. They’re also helping their communities lend a hand. Behlen Mfg. Co., a global leader in steel fabrication based in Columbus, Nebraska, organized local labs with 3D printers to develop printable protective gear for health care workers.
Working alongside the labs at the local middle schools, high schools and college, Behlen is producing protective National Institutes of Health–approved face shields developed by Design That Matters around the clock. With schools closed, principals and staff are coming in during the day and on the weekends to gather completed equipment and reload the machines. Two weeks after they first began discussing the program, the company had already helped to provide 255 shields to local hospitals, another 25 to local dentists and 15 to a local nursing home—with many more on the way.
Behlen also expects to ramp up production. A former employee who is now the director of the plastic injection molding lab at a local college has been working on a more sophisticated mold for the mask’s framework. Once that work is complete, they believe they could cut production time from 2.5 hours per mask to just 20 seconds.
“We need to be leaders out there and think outside the box,” said Behlen Mfg. Co. General Manager for Customer Fabrication Heather Macholan. “All of us in manufacturing have untapped skills—and right now, we need to be innovators even more so than we already are.”
Macholan also spoke from a personal perspective about the work Behlen is doing. As a 2013 honoree of The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Awards, which celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies, Macholan is proud to help her company serve as a model for young people who might be interested in working in the manufacturing industry one day.
“It’s a way for me to close the loop,” said Macholan. “Kids who are involved in science, technology, engineering and math programs are seeing from our work that manufacturing can make a difference—even in a pandemic. Maybe it’ll spark some innovation, and maybe it’ll encourage somebody who hadn’t thought about it before to go into those types of fields. To me, that’s what’s most gratifying.”
Macholan encouraged other businesses to use untapped skills and resources to support the effort, whether by rethinking existing processes or coming up with new projects to deliver essential needs.
“Manufacturers are masters of dealing with chaos,” said Macholan. “We know how to think on our feet. We know how to change things to meet the needs of the customers. That’s what we provide—and that’s how we will weather this storm.”
“Innovation is at the heart of what manufacturers do every day,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “As we confront this serious challenge, the dedicated efforts of manufacturers across the country are making progress possible.”