If it hadn’t been for his cousin, Tagba Djato-Bougonou might never have found Tyson Foods.
In 2017, the engineer was working at a bank in Iowa, where he’d ultimately relocated after emigrating from Togo in West Africa. He was living with his cousin, who was working at Tyson Foods, when the cousin told him about Tyson’s 1+2 Maintenance Program.
“He told me about the good stuff that Tyson has and the 1+2 Maintenance Program and what I could achieve with it,” Djato-Bougonou recalls. “And I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to take a shot with that program.’”
- Djato-Bougonou, who has an engineering background and a graduate degree from a U.S. university, was quickly hired on as part of the initiative.
- 1+2 allows new hires to “earn while you learn” by splitting their workdays between a classroom and hands-on work in a Tyson facility. It gets its name from the one year of education and training participants do, followed by the two years they commit to working for the company.
The results speak for themselves: now a full-time project engineer in Tyson’s Fresh Meats department, Djato-Bougonou is also pursuing a Ph.D. in innovation and project management.
Tyson’s workforce initiatives are increasingly designed to find and reward employees like Djato-Bougonou, who come to Tyson with impressive professional backgrounds earned in other countries.
- “We try to find candidates that, like Tagba, have a deep portfolio outside the U.S. and [whom] we can upskill, with some English and some recertification in the U.S.,” said Tyson Foods Workforce Development Trailblazer Anson Green, who leads economic opportunity efforts, including the in-plant career-development program Upward Pathways.
- In many of the more rural communities that are home to Tyson plants, “there is no large labor pool to draw from,” Green said. Creating unique paths for non-native-born employees to fill skilled-worker roles is a strategy that has helped fill this void.
The success stories are numerous, including many team members who came to the company to apply for one job but, owing to education or work experience garnered internationally, were able to continue on a professional path they thought they’d had to give up.
- One team member, formerly a nurse in her home country, is now developing her English skills and preparing for recertification in the U.S. to work at one of Tyson’s onsite health clinics, according to Green.
- Another team member who now works at a Tyson Foods’ Arkansas plant was previously a legal aide in the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic. With Tyson’s support, she is also developing her English skills and will be applying to work as a paralegal in the company’s corporate office in Northwest Arkansas.
The last word: For Djato-Bougonou and other Tyson team members who have benefited from an encouraging corporate leadership, the sky’s now the professional limit.
- “I wanted to be part of things which can make a big difference in people’s lives,” Djato-Bougonou said, adding that with the 1+2 Program under his belt, he now feels empowered to do just that. “This program … gave me quite a lot of new skills. It changed a lot of things in my own life.”
How are manufacturers developing a workforce for a fast-changing industry in a fast-changing decade? Recently, Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee sat down with leaders at Union Pacific Railroad and the Caterpillar Foundation to find out.
Union Pacific Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Moore discussed his company’s efforts to recruit more women and young people to the manufacturing industry. Caterpillar Foundation President Asha Varghese weighed in on Caterpillar Foundation’s efforts to support training opportunities for the military community and introduce high school students to innovative manufacturing careers.
What Union Pacific is up to: The Union Pacific and MI partnership is centered around a program called Careers on Track. This three-year, $3 million initiative is aimed at changing perceptions of the rail industry and encouraging women and youth to pursue careers in the field.
- As part of Careers on Track, Union Pacific and the MI developed Future Creators, a digital STEM curriculum focused on transportation, distribution and logistics.
- Future Creators has been used in more than 24,000 middle schools across the country with 80% of students increasing their knowledge of STEM careers.
How they’re doing it: The MI and Union Pacific created a 3D digital experience of a Union Pacific yard and locomotive that is designed to help women and young people explore technical fields interactively.
- Their other outreach efforts include 30-second PSA-style videos that showcase female employees and their stories to highlight career paths at Union Pacific and events hosted through the MI’s STEP Women’s Initiative.
- Union Pacific has reached more than 250,000 women through this content, demonstrating what women just like them can achieve in the manufacturing industry.
Union Pacific says: “We’ve always known diversity is key at Union Pacific, and to achieve that, there are deliberate things we need to do,” said Moore. “We’re going to have to reach people. Around 90% of our workforce is union, primarily in the field, across 23 states and 7,000 communities. We have to get in those communities—and The Manufacturing Institute gave us the tools to do that well.”
What Caterpillar is doing: The Caterpillar Foundation’s partnership with the MI is investing in workforce readiness and building an empowered and skilled manufacturing workforce.
- This partnership is expanding the MI’s Heroes MAKE America program, which provides certification and career-readiness training to transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses and others who work in or with the armed services.
- One of the partnership’s first efforts was to create a fully virtual program to further Heroes’ reach regardless of physical location.
- The first 100% virtual Certified Production Technician training program was launched in late 2021, in partnership with Texas State Technical College and TRANSFRVR.
In addition, the Caterpillar Foundation is also working with the MI’s FAME program—a 21-month apprenticeship program founded by Toyota that grants certifications and prepares young people for high-skilled jobs in the manufacturing workforce.
- Most recently, the MI and the Caterpillar Foundation created a new FAME chapter in Seguin, Texas.
Caterpillar says: “Caterpillar Foundation focuses on resilient communities, and we understand the importance of investing in local communities in order to ensure that we’re providing them with the right resources, with the right services and with the right skills for employability,” said Varghese. “What really attracted us to the MI is first and foremost that strategic alignment…focusing on that untapped talent.”
The last word: “As a nonprofit, the MI depends on the investments of corporate and philanthropic leaders to tackle the workforce crisis in manufacturing with innovative, exciting workforce solutions,” said Lee. “The MI’s work has expanded to include a full collection of initiatives that not only train individuals for rewarding careers but also provide the thought leadership, best practices and learning networks that manufacturers need to address their workforce issues.”
Manufacturing companies are increasing wages to stay competitive in attracting and retaining workers, according to a new study conducted by The Manufacturing Institute and Colonial Life.
Tight labor market: Of the survey respondents, 93% had unfilled positions in their companies that they were struggling to find qualified applicants for.
- Nearly 90% said they have increased compensation and incentives to pursue and retain employees.
- Seventy-three percent of respondents felt that increasing compensation helped their company stay competitive.
The big picture: Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing climbed to $24.78 in March, up 5.5% from one year ago.
- Despite significant wage increases, the labor force participation rate was below pre-pandemic levels at just 62.2% in April.
Other benefits: Hourly wages and salaries were most important for attracting and retaining workers, but other benefits were also effective.
- Manufacturing companies have also attracted employees with health, dental and vision insurance, bonuses and/or additional income opportunities, paid vacation and sick time, contributions to a 401(k) or retirement plan and flexible work hours.
What the MI is saying: “We continue to see record growth in wages, and many of the companies we spoke with are offering even more generous benefits packages to try and differentiate themselves from other sectors struggling to find talent in a tight labor market,” said MI President Carolyn Lee.
- “We’re averaging more than 800,000 open jobs in manufacturing a month, and the MI is focused on equipping manufacturers with tools and strategies to overcome this challenge so we can reach our full potential.”
Learn more: Looking for retention strategies you can use right away? The MI will be hosting a retention workshop on June 7–8. Find out more and register here.
Few C-suite job descriptions include being smeared with baked goods, but for Pella’s Joher Akolawala, getting a pie in the face last November was just another day in the life—and another step toward broadening the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation among employees.
Dessert for diversity: “The main event at our Day of Giving was a livestream of executives doing a pie-baking competition,” explained Pella Senior Digital Talent Brand Strategist Kolbie Creger, who leads a DE&I-related employee committee at the Iowa-based window and door manufacturer. Pella’s Go Beyond for a Cause committee focuses on rallying team members around DE&I efforts within their walls and communities through education and engagement opportunities.
- “Team members donated [money] into each executive’s pie tin, and the one with the most money in their bucket got a pie in the face. It ended up being our CFO [Akolawala], who was a great sport about it.”
“Fun raising”: So, what do pies have to do with diversity? Pella’s 2021 “Pie in the Face” and other activities during the company’s first annual Day of Giving raised $17,000 in 24 hours for diversity-focused education efforts for partner philanthropies, including the nonprofit organization Facing History and Ourselves, Creger said.
- Team members on Pella factory floors nationwide got in on the fun, with each manufacturing site getting to “pie” department managers, bid on auction items and compete to raise money for DE&I efforts.
- In total, across myriad fundraising efforts, Pella donated more than $90,000 to DE&I initiatives in 2021.
“GIVE IT UP”: Last year, Creger’s team, the Go Beyond Committee, which is currently at work organizing 2022’s dedicated, daylong DE&I effort, asked Pella employees to each give up a small daily “guilty pleasure” purchase of their choice.
- “It could be a coffee, a fast-food meal or an [overpriced] Diet Coke,” Creger said. “We asked them to take that money and instead donate it” to one of Pella’s DE&I partner philanthropies.
- “It’s just about continuing to layer in the larger ‘Why?’ in all of our communication,” Creger continued. “We are the boots on the ground trying to create engagement. Our main focus is just meeting people where they are in their DE&I journey, creating spaces where we can have conversations.”
This year: In 2022, Pella’s DE&I-focused events will be fewer but hopefully even more effective.
- Among the planned activities are lunch-and-learn sessions and a months-long bingo-like challenge that lets employees track everyday positive behaviors, such as thanking a coworker or donating the amount of a “give-up” item.
- At the end of the challenge, Pella will match employee donations.
The last word: “We’ve learned some people like to track their progress, those day-to-day achievements, whereas some people would rather absorb content in a lunch-and-learn or partake in an activity,” Creger said.
“We know our people are unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so we do our best to create diversity in our outreach. Inclusion to Pella means our people feel comfortable showing up to work as their authentic self and belong as a valued team member. That intent holds true no matter our approach. We aim to get that message right each time, and let the rest vary.”
The Manufacturing Institute’s 10th annual STEP Ahead Awards took place in Washington, D.C., last week, honoring some of the most impressive and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry today. The Awards are part of the STEP Ahead program, which is designed to help advance women’s achievements in the fields of science, technology, engineering and production.
- The event highlighted the 2022 STEP Ahead Honorees (100 women who are leaders in manufacturing) and the 2022 STEP Ahead Emerging Leaders (30 women under 30 years old who have already had a significant impact on the industry).
The awards ceremony took place on Thursday night, with hundreds of guests in attendance at the National Building Museum and hundreds more viewing the ceremony online. The program featured:
- 2022 STEP Chair and former 3M Senior Vice President Denise Rutherford;
- 2022 STEP Vice Chair and Cornerstone Building Brands President and CEO Rose Lee;
- MI President Carolyn Lee;
- MI Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion AJ Jorgenson; and
- NAM President and CEO and MI Board Chair Jay Timmons.
Sponsors included an all-star roster of manufacturers, including Arconic Foundation, BASF Corporation, Cornerstone Building Brands, PTC, Trane Technologies, ABB, Molson Coors, Novelis, Rockwell Automation, SABIC, Sherwin-Williams and Toyota.
What they said: Carolyn Lee lauded the Honorees and spoke about the importance of closing the skills gap by bringing more women into the manufacturing industry.
- “My hope is that 10 years down the line, when we meet here for the 20th anniversary of these awards, the young women we will honor won’t have even heard of the glass ceiling, because it’ll be ancient history,” said Lee.
- “And that will be thanks to the support system, the mentorship and the sterling examples set by the women in this room and the support from our allies.”
Rutherford spoke about leaders’ opportunities to work together to make important progress.
- “Throughout my career, I’ve learned that being a great leader, as an individual or as a company, means that we don’t go it alone,” said Rutherford. “True change only happens when we work together as trusted allies, advocates and sponsors.”
Rose Lee laid out the qualities that all the Honorees showed and highlighted their shared successes.
- “The STEP Ahead Awards recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production who exemplify leadership within their companies and within their communities,” said Lee. “Tonight is their night to celebrate their accomplishments.”
Timmons praised the STEP Honorees and called on allies to continue supporting women in the manufacturing industry.
- “Your achievements, your success and your dedication are showing women what’s possible in manufacturing,” he said. “If you can see it, you know you can be it.”
35×30: Carolyn Lee and Jorgenson spoke about the 35×30 initiative—a program designed to close the skills and talent gap in manufacturing by adding half a million women workers to the industry, increasing women’s representation in manufacturing from 29% today to 35% by 2030.
- The campaign will train more than 1,000 women mentors, build new tools and resources and work with manufacturing leaders to deploy proven strategies to attract and retain female talent.
- It will also support young women throughout their education by offering best-in-class leadership development programming and creating a STEP alumnae-funded scholarship.
- “Tonight, we are done with waiting for other leaders to ‘change things,’ to make society better, more equitable,” said Jorgenson. “We are the leaders. So, tonight, we ask you to join us, to lead.”
New commitments: To help this new initiative along its way, Arconic Foundation President Ryan Kish and Ketchie CEO Courtney Silver stood up during the ceremony to pledge new financial commitments to the program.
The last word: The gala featured a stellar musical performance by award-winning singer–songwriter Rachel Platten, which left not a dry eye in the house. Inspired by the women of STEP, she surprised the audience by singing a new song she’d written for her daughters. It captures what the women leaders of today want to tell the girls who will someday be their heirs:
Girls, you were born to run. To reach the stars and chase the sun.
Girls, you’re wild and free. The wind is at your back, the world is at your feet.
As job recruiters rush back to campuses and career fairs nationwide, the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute’s Creators Wanted Tour Live continued to help manufacturers stand out in the competitive labor market this week in Freeport, Texas.
The reach: The three-day tour stop, presented by Creators Wanted Legacy Sponsor Dow, drew more than 800 students to Brazosport ISD’s new Career and Technical Education Center.
- More than 25,000 students and career mentors signed up online to learn more about modern manufacturing careers.
- Students came from all over the area, including from Brazoswood, Angleton, Brazosport, Columbia and Sweeny High Schools.
Who’s who: Students and teachers got access to top industry leaders, including:
- Dow Senior Vice President of Operations, Manufacturing and Engineering John Sampson;
- Dow Vice President of Operations for the Gulf Coast Fernando Signorini;
- Cornerstone Building Brands Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Katy Theroux;
- Dow Plants A&B Manufacturing Director for Texas Operations Sharon Hulgan; and
- BASF Corporation Vice President of Operations, Polyamide & Precursors Deborah McKitten.
These leaders joined creators at their companies, as well as team members at Fluor Corporation, on livestreamed panels throughout the stop to discuss their career journeys and offer advice to students. Here are some of the themes of the event.
Inclusion and diversity: Manufacturing is “for all,” said Dow Associate Research & Development Director Kalyani Martinelango during a Creators Panel on inclusion, diversity and equity.
- She continued: “For Dow to be competitive, we need to be inclusive. And it’s not just about diversity of gender or race … but thought, too. We have to be passionate about inclusion because it’s the right thing to do.”
Change the world, live a good life: Panelists uniformly agreed that manufacturing careers offer significant benefits.
- From making sustainable products to driving innovations to advancing decarbonization to earning great pay, industry careers offer a lot.
- “Manufacturing is an awesome [career] option,” said Hulgan, who oversees two plants in the company’s Texas operations. “They’re in the top 10% of income earners. … This is the place to be if you like to have a nice lifestyle.”
Calling all women: Women shouldn’t hesitate to jump into manufacturing, the panelists advised.
- Manufacturing “is a male-dominated industry, yes,” said Dow Texas Operations Apprentice Leader for the United States Natalia Muniz Rivera. “However, we’re changing that. … Don’t be shy. Get yourself up. This diversity is what makes the future better.”
Meanwhile, the teacher- and student-endorsed immersive experience continued to win accolades.
- One student said, “They made this [in] an actual fun and interactive way so that people can get interested and into manufacturing.”
- Students repeatedly confirmed that the experience changed their perceptions and increased their interest in manufacturing careers.
Activities galore: It wasn’t just Dow that brought the A-team and A-game, complete with a robotic dog and lizard, to excite students.
- Chart Industries and Turner Industries brought team members to answer student questions and help them explore manufacturing in their own backyards.
- Brazosport College helped students chart the next steps in their career processes.
- And FactoryFix was on hand to provide pathways to career coaching and job opportunities.
What young people are saying: In surveys and testimonials, one point came across clearly to prospective manufacturers.
- “It’s definitely a lucrative field to be a part of,” said Dow apprentice Chris Thurman.
- Dow apprentice Anna Green reinforced the point, pointing out that she worked with a good many people who received two-year degrees at Brazosport College and “are making six figures a year.”
The last word: “Creators Wanted shows the variety of opportunities available,” Brazosport ISD Superintendent Dan Massey told The Facts Newspaper (subscription). “There is something to meet the needs of every single student. That’s what’s amazing about this event.”
What’s next? Creators Wanted is working on securing additional financial commitments to finalize a fall tour schedule and reach more students and communities. Email [email protected] if you are interested in supporting the campaign.
If you want to make a good living, help change the world for the better and have a good time doing it, modern manufacturing has a job for you. That was the message relayed to local high school students this Tuesday at the premier event of the Creators Wanted Tour Live’s seventh stop, in the Freeport, Texas, area.
Inspiring students: The CW tour, a joint project of the NAM and its workforce development and education partner, The Manufacturing Institute, aims to inspire, educate and empower tomorrow’s workforce.
- For this week’s tour stop, presented by Dow, the immersive mobile experience came to Brazosport Independent School District’s Career and Technical Education Center in Clute, Texas.
- The CTE Center, which is located near Dow’s largest manufacturing facility in the world, strives to prepare students for careers in a global economy by emphasizing career and technical education.
- “We believe that the future of our workforce is highly dependent on the quality of public education,” said Brazosport Independent School District Superintendent Danny Massey.
Seeking difference makers: Dow Senior Vice President of Operations, Manufacturing and Engineering John Sampson highlighted the numerous opportunities available in modern manufacturing to do interesting, well-paid, life-changing work.
- “I hope some of you—all of you—will be creators,” Sampson told students at the kickoff event. “At this point in your lives, you’re probably thinking about what you might want to major in. … I’m sure some of you might be interested in making some money, [too,] but you probably want to do more than that.”
- “You probably want to make the world a better place, create something people want [and] have some fun. … I promise you this: We’ll always have a place for you on our team.”
Filling a void: Before the students rushed off to complete their “race to the future” in the mobile experience, MI President Carolyn Lee laid it out for them: Creators aren’t just wanted—they’re sorely needed to keep the world running and advancing.
- “Without a steady stream of talented, bright young people … we can’t keep up the good work of continuously making our products,” Lee said. “[But] this is not a get-one-job-and-stay-there-for-40-years [situation]. This is a choose-your-own-adventure [career path] with continuing skills and challenges and opportunities and learning along the way.”
- There are currently more than 850,000 open manufacturing jobs, Lee said, and by the end of this decade, modern manufacturing will require an additional 4 million workers.
Find your future: “We’re here because we know there’s something for everybody in manufacturing,” Sampson told event attendees in his closing remarks. “We hope you will find your future in modern manufacturing.”
- Dow Vice President of Operations for the Gulf Coast Fernando Signorini echoed his colleague’s sentiment at a Creators Spotlight panel later on Tuesday. “If your desire is to go and get an education in engineering, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities,” he said.
- “If your desire is to have a technical degree, [you’re] going to have a lot of opportunities. For a company like Dow to work, we need all the different … diversities in education and degrees. You see everything in there.”
The impact: More than 750 students are expected to tour the mobile experience this week at the CTE Center, and more than 25,000 students and career mentors in the Houston-metro area have already signed up online to learn more about modern manufacturing careers as a result of this latest tour stop.
Take a look: Check out this highlight reel from the second day of the tour stop.
The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s nonprofit workforce development and education partner, has been named an inaugural recipient of Stanley Black & Decker grant funding for its “leadership and expansion” of the Toyota-founded Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program.
The details: The MI, which currently operates FAME, a workforce development and training program, is one of 86 organizations chosen to receive funds from Stanley Black & Decker’s first-ever Empower Makers Global Impact Challenge grant.
- This year’s grants will help skill and reskill approximately 180,000 people in manufacturing through 2022.
- The program will give up to $25 million over the next five years to nonprofits “supporting trade workforce development initiatives in the construction and manufacturing sectors,” according to the MI.
Empowering makers: “Stanley Black & Decker is immensely proud to support the MI through their FAME programming as they work to skill and reskill the next generation of trade professionals,” said Stanley Black & Decker Vice President of Social Impact Diane Cantello.
- “Currently in the U.S., there are an estimated 650,000 open construction jobs and 10 million unfilled manufacturing jobs globally. Our purpose is to support ‘Those Who Make the World,’ and being able to fund educational programs and nonprofits that are revitalizing trade careers directly connects to our core mission. Thanks to this year’s Makers Grant Recipients, together we will be one step closer to closing the trade skills gap.”
The MI says: “Stanley Black & Decker’s commitment to FAME demonstrates how business can lead as they answer the call to grow the workforce of today and tomorrow,” said MI President Carolyn Lee.
- “We are grateful for their partnership in this effort to empower students with pathways to exciting, rewarding careers in modern manufacturing.”
About FAME: Founded in 2010 by Toyota, FAME aims to help students become highly skilled, sought-after makers capable of meeting the unique needs and challenges of the modern manufacturing sector.
Learn more about Stanley Black & Decker’s Empower Makers Global Impact Challenge at EmpowerMakers.com.
Erika Anderson didn’t always know she wanted to be an engineer. In fact, for most of her childhood, it wasn’t a career path she had even heard about.
- “I didn’t know what engineering was until my senior year in high school,” said Anderson. “I thought an engineer was a train driver, and nobody told me differently.”
A moment of truth: During her senior year, Anderson was told to research the major she wanted to explore after high school. She searched online, looking for careers for people who liked math and science—and the first thing that came up was engineering.
- “It was all about people who like a challenge; people who are lifelong learners,” said Anderson. “And as I kept reading, I kept hearing myself in this description. People had always said, you’re smart, you should be a doctor or a lawyer. But nobody ever said engineer.”
Her journey: At Spelman College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, Anderson studied mathematics and mechanical engineering, respectively, while working for GE Aviation and NASA. But it was during a semester spent working at ExxonMobil that she found her passion.
- “ExxonMobil was challenging, and I absolutely loved it,” said Anderson. “I loved the boots, the hard hats, getting my hands dirty. I was able to go out into the field, see all the equipment. I was in awe. I fell in love with it.”
Her job: On her last day in the office during her program at ExxonMobil, the company offered Anderson a full-time job. Today, she’s in her eighth year, working as both the reliability engineer and the reliability coordinator in Baytown, Texas. For ExxonMobil, those are critical roles, tasked with ensuring that the company’s equipment keeps functioning as designed. The way Anderson explains it:
- “Your car comes with a manual and it tells you when you’re supposed to change your oil or rotate your tires. And someone has to figure out how long that oil or those tires can run. I’m not dealing with cars, but I’m dealing with heat exchangers, compressors and pumps. I ensure that this equipment works, that it works reliably, and that we’re making repairs at an interval that keeps your equipment working as it should.”
Making a difference: As a Black woman in manufacturing, Anderson is used to being different from the people around her. She has found herself confronting stereotypes and preconceived notions about who she is. It hasn’t always been easy, but she’s doing vital work—and ensuring that other young women have the opportunity to follow their passions.
An example to others: Anderson was recently recognized by The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the NAM, as a 2021 STEP Award Emerging Leader. The award is presented to women leaders in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies and in manufacturing in general.
- She’s also been featured in a book called Everyday Superheroes: Women in Energy about women in different fields in the energy industry; a TV show on CBS highlighting women in STEM; and a project by The Smithsonian and IF/THEN to put up 120 3D-printed statues of women trailblazers in Washington, D.C.
Advice for others: Anderson is an advocate for other women who are considering a career in manufacturing. She encourages women to find mentors, build a network and, above all, be confident.
- “Self-doubt is real, and sometimes, we can be our own biggest critics,” said Anderson. “We have to understand that we are excellent. We are great. And at the end of the day, for any woman coming to this industry—if you’re even thinking about it—there’s something in you. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
The last word: “My grandmother always told me: you’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The only way things will change is by having more people like me in the room. We are just as capable as anyone else, and whatever preconceived notions that may exist, I am here to kick those doors down.”
Not many manufacturers can say COVID-19 heralded the start of something great for their businesses, but Alex Grover may be the exception.
At Grover’s company, the Mountain Top, Pennsylvania–based plastics film manufacturer i2M, the pandemic gave rise to two important new employee offerings: Innovation 2 Education (i2E) and Innovation 2 Transportation (i2T).
A pandemic “pod”: To enable employees to keep coming to work when schools closed in early 2020, Grover, who is president of i2M, hired a local school teacher and offered an onsite learning pod for employees’ children.
- The pod endured for several months during the height of the virus’ first wave, enabling i2M team members who were also parents to work and earn money—without having to worry about child care or education.
A larger offering: Yet, as schools began to reopen in 2021, Grover and her team realized the need for child care was not subsiding. In fact, for parents of younger, non-school-age children, it had become even more pronounced than before.
- “People weren’t able to rejoin the workforce—not because they didn’t want to, but because there were new barriers,” Grover said. In families “with two working parents, a lack of accessible child care made it difficult for one parent to work in manufacturing. In single-parent households, it was essentially impossible.”
- Compounding the problem for manufacturing workers is the fact that good care offerings are often only available during the day. “Child care today is typically designed for 9-to-5 office jobs,” Grover said. “In smaller communities like Mountain Top, it is not usually aligned with work that involves 12-hour shifts.”
Changing the face of care: Grover and her team set out to change that. Working with local child care services provider Building Blocks, another woman-owned business in the area, i2M began offering subsidized, extended-hours child care for employees’ kids in January of this year.
- “The goal of developing this program with Building Blocks was, ‘How do we better align the hours to fit with a manufacturing schedule?’” Grover said. “It’s up to businesses to support their team with child care solutions that are a win for all.”
What’s more, Building Blocks is currently considering offering overnight care for the children of third-shift workers.
Gunning for success: Another challenge i2M has set out to solve is an often cited one among i2M employees: transportation. In late 2021, the company rolled out its i2T plan, a partnership with the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, to give interest-free loans to i2M team members for car repair or replacement.
- “It’s super disruptive for both the team member and plant operations when a machine operator can’t come in because their car breaks down or they need emergency repairs,” Grover said. “So, we developed the program to provide fast solutions when that happens.”
Thus far, the program has paid out more than $23,000 in 0% interest loans to its team members, who have the principal automatically deducted from their paychecks each pay period.
- Since starting the program, “there have been zero call-offs due to transportation issues,” Grover said.
Next steps: There are plans to expand both i2E and i2T.
- i2M owns a 12,000-square-foot space just up the street from its manufacturing facility and is currently determining how to turn it into a full-time child care center, both for employees of i2M and for other local companies.
- Grover is also working on developing a car-loan program framework that i2M can “roll out to other manufacturers,” she said.
The last word: As Grover put it, “There’s so much opportunity to remove barriers to manufacturing employment. The more people we can bring into the workforce, the greater our ability to deliver results for our customers, our community and the manufacturing industry.”