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“The Opportunities May Surprise You”

A STEP Ahead honoree interview

As a kid, Amanda Wade Hodges designed intricate items with her dad for her school’s Machine Day and created complicated Halloween costumes. Today, she credits those early childhood experiences with setting her on the path toward a creative manufacturing career.

Hodges is a process engineer at BASF Corporation’s site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has been selected as one of The Manufacturing Institute’s 2020 STEP Ahead Emerging Leaders. Emerging Leaders represent the future of the industry and have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments at the beginning of their careers.

What she’s doing: At BASF, Hodges uses a Lean Six Sigma program to cut waste and deploy funding effectively, while also serving as a leader in the company’s environmental impact, health and safety initiatives. These skills enabled her to support the company’s COVID-19 response efforts.

  • Since March, Hodges has helped BASF make changes to its operations and facilities, which included the implementation of precautionary measures like health screenings and mandatory mask wearing. To reduce the risk of exposure, BASF employees are asked to practice the same safety precautions at home and in the community as they do at BASF facilities.
  • In early July, BASF launched its internal “Pledge to Protect” campaign to encourage employees to share why they wear face coverings, practice social distancing and clean and disinfect. “Our priority remains the health and safety of our employees, contractors and communities,” says Hodges.

A manufacturing advocate: Hodges is committed to helping kids get the same early exposure to STEM and manufacturing that she did.

  • She participates in local STEM Days in the Chattanooga community, where she encourages kids to pursue careers in industries like manufacturing.
  • She also works with BASF’s Kids’ Lab at a local elementary school during National Chemistry Week.
  • And last, she volunteers at her alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, in order to connect with young people who are interested in the field. “Every day comes with new challenges and opens doors to be innovative,” she says.

A word of advice: “My advice to young women considering manufacturing is to just give it a try,” says Hodges. “Jobs in manufacturing are very diverse in the requirements and skills needed. Manufacturing utilizes a variety of skillsets, from conceiving an idea to completing the product to shipping it to the customer. I would encourage women to investigate the different opportunities, because they may surprise you.”

The 2020 STEP Ahead Awards will be held virtually on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, 6:00–7:00 p.m. EDT. To register to watch, please click here.

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Growing Up on the Factory Floor: An Interview with a STEP Honoree

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Kayleigh Hogan remembers building piggy banks out of pump parts during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” Those visits to manufacturing facilities proved to be formative: the daughter of not one, but two STEM professionals in manufacturing, Hogan is now a mechanical asset engineer at Covestro LLC and one of the honorees of the Manufacturing Institute’s 2020 STEP Awards.

“I remember seeing pumps being machined and painted on massive assembly lines,” says Hogan. “At the time, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t quite the stereotypical workplace setting, but I liked that my parents’ work had such tangible results.”

What she does: Today, Hogan manages a $14-million maintenance budget and leads vital capital projects for Covestro’s environmental control, utilities and infrastructure unit. Covestro’s core product lines include raw materials for health-care products such as specialty films for face shields and thermoplastic polyurethane for face masks, which means the company was well placed to respond to COVID-19. Covestro also produces personal protective equipment such as “ear savers” for masks and materials used in drug delivery devices, ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

The award: Hogan is one of the 130 recipients of the 2020 STEP Ahead Awards. These awards honor women who excel in manufacturing careers and act as role models to current and future women workers in the industry. For Hogan, the STEP Ahead Award confirmed that she’s making a difference in her workplace and community. She is honored to be in the company of so many other extraordinary women leading the manufacturing industry.

“It is a truly a humbling experience to see the company I’m in as a STEP honoree,” says Hogan. “The STEP Ahead alumnae community of phenomenal women is amazing, and I’m so excited to meet them in person someday. Receiving this honor also makes me realize how many other remarkable women I know that work in manufacturing who deserve recognition for all that they do.”

Words of advice for other women: “Come join us!” says Hogan. “New ideas are always needed, and fresh new faces are some of the best catalysts for change. Without diverse people and new ideas around the table, there is little hope to meet the ever-changing demands of manufacturing. Never underestimate what your ideas can bring about; your idea may just be the one thing the conversation needed to really get off the ground.”

The 2020 STEP Ahead Awards will be held virtually on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, 6:00–7:00 p.m. EDT. To register to watch, please click here.

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How to Participate Virtually in MFG Day 2020

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Manufacturing Day, and the month-long celebration of the industry it kicks off, will be very different this year now that we can’t tour factories, technical schools and more in person. But manufacturers can still do their part to show parents, teachers and students what careers in today’s advanced manufacturing really look like—via virtual programming.

In advance of this year’s MFG Day, Oct. 2, The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—held a webinar to help manufacturers plan virtual events. Below is a quick recap.

What should manufacturers do? Don’t worry, many MFG Day hosts are still figuring this out. First, you can reach out to local associations and regional groups to see if there is an existing event that you can co-host or participate in. Second, you can consider partnering with other manufacturers in your area or industry to produce a virtual event.

If you choose to host your own virtual MFG Day event, here are a few suggestions that will make it a hit, courtesy of Manufacturing Institute Senior Director of Youth Engagement Julia Asoni and NAM Assistant Vice President of Advocacy Michael O’Brien:

  • Provide a welcome message from senior leadership.
  • Offer an overview of the importance of manufacturing to the economy in your community.
  • Lay out what your company does and give participants a sense of its career offerings.
  • Film a video tour of your facility to show viewers the technology and tools you use every day.
  • Record interviews with employees or a conversation with a panel to allow young people to hear directly from the people who work at your business.
  • Create a survey to track how the event changes your audience’s perceptions of manufacturing—for example, asking participants about their interest in a manufacturing career both before and after your presentation.

Examples from the field: During the webinar, a range of manufacturers and partners presented their plans for MFG Day:

  • Allegion will feature a full virtual experience planned through Microsoft Teams. It will provide a mixture of live and pre-recorded content, and will localize every event to ensure it’s most relevant to local students, said Allegion Reputation Management Leader Whitney Moorman.
  • Boeing collaborated with external partners like high schools, colleges and community organizations to create an effective virtual program, said Boeing Senior Workforce Specialist Justin McCaffree. Its event will include videos of employees explaining their jobs and performing specific tasks, virtual tours of the company’s facilities, and videos from manufacturing interns and students. It will also offer students the opportunity to do virtual informational interviews with Boeing employees.
  • Graco is postponing its regular MFG Day programming to spring 2021 in hopes of providing an in-person experience that will involve hands-on learning—including stations that allow participants to control robots, build keychains with lasers and learn about quality control, said Graco Corporate Communications Team Leader Charlotte Boyd. It may also attempt to do virtual events this year that could include sending kits to students and information to parents.
  • ABB is working with Edge Factor, which develops content for educators, to create a five-day virtual program that showcases science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, according to ABB Vice President for Marketing Communications Tracy Long. This will include on-demand content about each of those five disciplines as well as about “soft skills” like teamwork.
  • NWIRC developed a monthlong program geared toward 6th–12th grade students in northwest Pennsylvania. It includes a digital activity packet and the opportunity to win prizes from NWIRC for worksheets and articles, said NWIRC Marketing Communications Specialist Laurie Knoll.
  • Click Bond is in the early stages of developing content for a virtual experience. It is planning an interactive website that includes career testimonials, virtual maps and how-to videos about machines and technology, according to Click Bond Corporate Communications Manager Danielle Costella.

You can see a recording of the webinar here.

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FAME Gets Some Fame

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Fittingly, The Manufacturing Institute’s FAME program has its name in the papers. This week, The Washington Monthly highlights this career-focused initiative that gives people the tools they need to succeed in the manufacturing sector.

How it works: The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education—founded by Toyota and now overseen by The Manufacturing Institute—is the nation’s premier manufacturing education program for training students seeking careers in manufacturing and upskilling incumbents and veterans.

FAME students earn a two-year associate’s degree while working in their sponsor’s manufacturing facility as advanced manufacturing technicians.

Core concepts: The program doesn’t just teach manufacturing-specific skills, it also helps students learn and apply behaviors that will help them make progress in any industry, including:

  • Safety culture
  • Professional behaviors
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • Visual workplace organization

The results: “First launched at a single Toyota factory in 2010, it has already grown to involve more than 350 manufacturers in 13 states, from large refrigerator makers to smaller plastics plants. Of the roughly 850 students who have graduated so far, 85 percent have been hired by their sponsoring employers with starting salaries at $50,000 or more.”

The grads: FAME’s graduates have nothing but praise for the program, crediting it with starting them on an excellent career path. Check out our recent profiles of graduates Brittanee Sayer and Chaise Blissett.

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A “Once in a Lifetime” Opportunity: A Conversation with a FAME Grad

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As an engineering student at the University of Louisville, Chaise Blissett didn’t like the idea of a career where he would be sitting at a desk all day. He’s always been a hands-on learner and grew up working on trucks and tinkering with small engines. When a friend told him about his experience in the Federation for Advance Manufacturing Education (FAME) AMT program, Blissett knew it was the right program for him.

What is AMT? The Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) training program was developed by Toyota and is now overseen nationally by The Manufacturing Institute. It is a FAME maintenance training program and trains students of all ages and backgrounds, from recent high school graduates to experienced manufacturing employees looking to advance their careers. Students earn a two-year associate degree while working in their sponsor’s manufacturing facility as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT).

What FAME AMT offers: Blissett showed up “eager and ready to learn,” and he’s thankful for all the support he received in the program—from his employer, from his teammates and from his mentors. Beyond the network he built, program highlights included:

  • On-the-job training: FAME AMT blends classroom studies with work experience. For a hands-on learner like Blissett, the FAME AMT program was a more effective learning environment than school alone would have been.
  • A technical degree: The associate degree and FAME certificate that Blisset earned set him apart from other job applicants and accelerated his career path.
  • Professional competencies: Beyond the technical skills, FAME AMT also teaches students the soft skills they need for working in a professional environment — the kinds of things “you don’t learn in college,” Blissett said. Students dress professionally for class and give regular presentations at both work and school. They also get regular practice working in teams, learning how to “work with all kinds of people in all kinds of different circumstances.”

What now: Blissett accepted a full-time technician role at Nucor Tubular Products, a manufacturer of carbon steel piping and tubing in Louisville, Kentucky. As he says, his journey has just begun—and he’s excited to see where the knowledge and skills he has acquired will take him.

Advice for FAME students: “The FAME program is what you make of it,” Blissett says.

  • “Be driven, show eagerness to learn, and do your work to the best of your abilities. If you do these three things you will receive endless support in your goals.”
  • “Be appreciative and show that you are hungry. Your mentors and professors are investing their time to mold you into the best possible student they can.”

The last word: “The opportunities presented to me during this program were once in a lifetime,” said Blissett. “I do not think I could have found a better fit for me.”

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Upskilling and Recruiting Veterans for Manufacturing Careers

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What can manufacturers do to attract and retain talented veterans? Samsung, the founding sponsor of The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America initiative, hosted a webinar to answer that questionwith industry leaders, government officials and veterans themselves all weighing in.  

The background: More than 200,000 men and women transition out of the military each year, and The Manufacturing Institute has estimated that manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs by 2028. With their technical skillsability to lead and follow under pressure and experience working in teamsveterans bring exceptional value to the manufacturing industryeven more so during these challenging times. 

The lineup: Titled “Veteran Reskilling in Today’s Economy,” the virtual event featured the following speakers 

  • Samsung Vice President of Strategic Communications Megan Pollock 
  • Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee 
  • Assistant Secretary John Lowry, Colonel, USMC (Ret.), Department of Labor, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service   
  • Manufacturing Institute Vice President of Military and Veterans Programs Babs Chase 
  • Koch Industries Outreach Strategies Manager John Buckley 
  • SherwinWilliams Production Supervisor George Clay 
  • SHRM Director of Veterans and Certifications Affairs Andrew Morton

Industry: Pollock and Lee discussed the work that Samsung and the Institute have done to connect veterans with new careers through Heroes MAKE Americawhich offers training programs at several U.S. military basesHere are some key quotes:   

  • Pollock: “Service men and women have an incredible skill set that’s really specifically designed for the advanced manufacturing field. Hiring managers don’t always understand that, and oftentimes, veterans are not set up for success as they move into the manufacturing field, even though they’ve got all the skills they need. So…it’s not about reskilling; it’s about an understanding of the great skill set veterans have and how we can utilize them.”  
  • Lee: “We are training people in multiple branches, in multiple locations, with multiple skill sets, and helping the broader military community transition into the sector.” 

Government: Secretary Lowry, whose office helps support job counseling, placement and training services for eligible veterans, spoke about the value of the Heroes program, saying: 

  • “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the outcomes of the program—95% graduation rate, 8590% placement rate, and 25% placed in supervisory roles, which I think suggests some of the leadership traits people pick up in the military can be applied well in a manufacturing setting.”

Veterans: Chase moderated a panel of veterans—Buckley, Clay and Morton—who spoke about the Heroes program, the advantages of veterans in the workforce and the importance of engagement efforts. Here is some of what they had to say:  

  • Buckley: “The Heroes MAKE America program is very comprehensive, and it really does a great job of preparing our veterans.”  
  • Clay: When we start looking at what veterans are bringing to organizations, it’s a lot more than the common soft skills that you look at.” 
  • Morton: “Talent mobility is probably more important than acquisition and probably more important than workforce development, because that truly allows the employee to grow and to stay with the organization.” 

 Check out a recording of the event here 

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“I Will Always Be Able to Find a Job”: An Interview with a FAME Grad

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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.”

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“Manufacturing Is an Obvious Choice” for a Veteran

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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.”

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Three Diversity Chiefs Share Insights

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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.

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From Army Mechanic to Food Manufacturer

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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 Riley. 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 Riley’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 General Mills, 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.”

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