Robertson County, Tennessee, is a battleground—for companies vying for talent. With approximately 14,000 students in the school district, it’s a prime target for manufacturers looking to attract more young workers by shifting perceptions among parents, educators and students themselves.
What’s happening: The Creators Wanted Tour, the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute’s effort to build the workforce of the future, kicked off its fall 2022 tour yesterday in White House, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. The stop’s premier event offered a glimpse of the advantage the tour gives manufacturers over other industries.
- “Our mission is to enable all students … to succeed … in a technologically advanced and culturally diverse society,” Dr. Chris Causey, director of schools for Robertson County, said at the kickoff event, calling Creators Wanted “a life-changing experience.”
- The stop was made possible by support from Dow and Honda, as well as more than 70 other manufacturing companies, including Tennessee stop hosts Electrolux and Schneider Electric.
The pitch and platform: Area manufacturing leaders held students’ attention as they spoke about the resilience of the industry and the reward of manufacturing careers.
- “Preliminary job numbers for August already show that Tennessee has reached its highest manufacturing employment level in over a decade—that’s over 360,000 Tennesseans,” said Bradley Jackson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Manufacturers Association, the official NAM and MI affiliate organization in Tennessee and key partner in the tour’s first-ever stop in the state.
- Tony Fraley, the Electrolux plant manager in Springfield, didn’t just trumpet the company’s new, $250 million state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. He explained to students that robots and cobots are increasing the industry’s need for technical skills, which enables workers with these skills to make “family-sustaining wages in a high-demand field.”
- “We have a lot of job openings, really good jobs,” said Ken Engel, senior vice president, global supply chain – North America at Schneider Electric. He highlighted the company’s advanced development program, where students “fresh out of college have a rotational program” to get experience in supply chain, logistics, lean manufacturing, marketing, finance and other disciplines.
The Creators Wanted experience: “The skills and technology on display here will help change Tennesseans’ understanding of what a manufacturing team does and how they do it,” said MI President Carolyn Lee.
- “So, for those of you who’ve gone through our mobile experience—did you have fun?” asked NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, causing students to nod in agreement.
- Hoping to spur more career exploration, he concluded with this: “Have you learned that you can make a lot of money in manufacturing, doing things you like to do? That’s just a taste of what our industry is about and what manufacturing teams do every day.”
Early returns: More than 200 attendees gathered for the premier event, including students from White House Heritage High School, East Robertson High School and Jo Byrns High School.
- During the two-and-a-half day stop, the NAM and MI expect more than 700 students to visit and more than 30,000 email signups by students and career mentors interested in manufacturing careers.
The last word: “To strengthen manufacturing’s competitiveness, we must shift perceptions among, and provide opportunities to, students, parents and educators,” said NAM Executive Vice President Erin Streeter. “This stop in Tennessee will provide them with an introduction to the technologies and careers that are defining the future.”
As Mona Babury tells it, Pfizer’s refugee hiring program was born out of the basic human need to connect during a time of shared anguish.
Wanting to help: Last August, Babury, the pharmaceutical company’s director of global diversity, equity and inclusion, was horrified by news coverage of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan and refugees fleeing.
- Babury’s husband had fled Afghanistan for the United States with his family at the age of 5, some 40 years before, so she had a personal connection to the events unfolding.
- She felt an urge to talk to someone who would understand, so she turned to Pfizer Executive Vice President and Chief People Experience Officer Payal Sahni, also a former Afghan refugee. In the course of their conversation, an idea popped into Babury’s head.
Lightbulb moment: “I said, ‘Why don’t we create a refugee hiring program? It will give [refugees] a glimmer of hope when they’re coming here with just the clothes on their backs,’” Babury recalled. “Within minutes, she responded, ‘Go for it.’”
Making it a reality: Pfizer, which had close to 1,000 job openings it was looking to fill, had never created a refugee hiring program before. “We didn’t have a playbook,” Babury said.
- The team decided to research similar initiatives, and in doing so contacted The Tent Partnership for Refugees, a nonprofit organization established by Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya to help businesses hire and train refugees.
- Thanks to Tent’s help, Pfizer’s Refugee Leadership Initiative was launched in mere days, with Babury named as its leader.
- Its goal? Hire a minimum of 100 refugees by the end of 2022 and provide mentorship opportunities to an additional 150—with 50 of these opportunities earmarked for LGBTQ+ refugees.
Following through: In less than a year, the initiative is well on its way to reaching its goal—having hired 68 refugees so far. The enthusiasm from Pfizer’s workforce has been immediate and widespread.
- After sending an email announcing the program globally, “we had 300 colleagues email back [within a few hours] saying they wanted to volunteer, to support us in any way they could,” said Babury.
- At Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan, facility, where the initiative has been most successful, “one [team] leader took this very personally,” hiring 18 Afghan refugees since the beginning of 2022, said Babury. In partnership with a local refugee agency, he has also made “a commitment to continue to further ramp up hiring efforts.” (Learn more here.)
Going above and beyond: Pfizer, which now works directly with the not-for-profit humanitarian organizations Tent for Refugees, Welcome.US, the International Rescue Committee and eight other resettlement agencies to source and hire refugees, does more than extend job offers.
- Though the new employees do not require sponsorship to work in the United States, owing to their refugee status, they do need help restarting their lives. Pfizer provides up-front bonuses to help cover the costs of transportation to and from work and to help them obtain driver’s licenses.
A winning formula: Seeking out refugees as employees can be an enormously rewarding sourcing strategy for a manufacturing company, Babury said.
- “The knowledge curve might be a little [steeper], but in the end, there’s so much data that shows refugee hiring pays off immensely,” she said. “They’re very hardworking, loyal and thankful for the opportunity to enter a new workforce.”
A proud moment: “I am so proud of the incredible progress we have made in support of this important and impactful initiative,” said Pfizer Chief Global Supply Officer Mike McDermott. Pfizer Global Supply, Pfizer’s manufacturing and supply organization, has hired the most refugees at Pfizer to date.
- “Our smart, talented and dedicated new colleagues are already making a difference. We welcome their fresh perspectives and have been motivated by their pride and passion,” he continued.
- “I’d also like to recognize our PGS colleagues for welcoming these new teammates with open arms, supporting them both professionally and personally,” he added. “Everyone deserves a fresh start, and we consider it an honor and a privilege to play a role in the new chapters for these refugees and their families.”
Success stories: The backgrounds of many of the recent hires are as impressive as they are diverse.
- The very first refugee hire, a man named Afzal Afzali, had been working for the U.S. embassy and the American University of Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control last summer. “He had to make a decision to escape within a few hours of the invasion,” according to Babury. “On his way out, he rescued four unaccompanied children protected by the U.S. government and reunited them with their mother in the United States.”
- Afzali, who now lives with his family in Texas and works at Pfizer in procurement, told the company the new job has led him to finding his “life’s purpose in serving others … likewise, Pfizer is all about breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.”
- Another new employee had previously worked with the Afghan president. She is now a senior associate on Babury’s team. She was recruited through the Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative Mentorship program.
The last word: Seeing the success of these new employees energizes those around them, said Babury.
- “The leader at our Kalamazoo site will speak to you with such a light in his eyes about how … once these hires have a job, they don’t consider themselves refugees anymore. They’re people with jobs. They have a way to take care of their families. There is a sense of pride among all our colleagues because of this program.”
Creators Wanted is gearing up for another season of bolstering positive perceptions of manufacturing careers and inspiring new manufacturers. Its schedule for this fall is now set—and we’re sharing it with you.
The nationwide tour, a joint project of the NAM and its workforce development and education partner The Manufacturing Institute, with significant legacy funding from Dow, Honda and Trane Technologies as well as contributions from more than 70 manufacturing companies, will stop in Nashville, Tennessee, on Sept. 27–29.
- The tour features an award-winning mobile immersive experience, to help students, emerging workers, parents and other career mentors learn and get excited about opportunities in modern manufacturing.
- Tour stop attendees will also meet local manufacturers, interact with hands-on technology, attend presentations by stars in the industry and access resources for training and job opportunities.
Building on big impact: The MI and Deloitte have already reported that positive perception of manufacturing careers has soared from 27% when the tour started to 40% today, just shy of the goal of 50% by 2025.
- The campaign has amassed—and maintained—an email network of more than 320,000 highly engaged students and career mentors.
Destination Tennessee: The Nashville stop will be the 10th since the tour began last year.
- Hosted by Electrolux and Schneider Electric and co-presented by Robertson County Economic Development, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Manufacturers Association and FactoryFix, the stop will take place at White House Heritage High School in the Nashville-adjacent town of White House, Tennessee.
- More than 500 students, parents, teachers and community leaders are slated to attend.
It’s good to be back! From Oct. 4 to 7, as manufacturers nationwide celebrate MFG Day 2022, Nephron Pharmaceuticals will host the second Creators Wanted tour stop this fall, in West Columbia, South Carolina. FactoryFix and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce will also participate.
- The tour visited West Columbia and Nephron last October. This year’s encore visit to the city will take place at the Nephron Nitrile Factory.
- More than 20,000 students and career mentors are expected to sign up online to learn more about modern manufacturing careers.
College visit: Next, the tour will visit Decatur, Illinois, on Oct. 24–26, for a stop that will be hosted by Caterpillar and ADM and co-presented by Illinois Manufacturing and FactoryFix.
- The events will be held at Shilling Center at Richland Community College. This third fall tour stop is expected to draw many visitors from the local community and add more than 20,000 students and career mentors to our network in Illinois.
Windy City premiere: The last stop on the Creators Wanted fall tour will be at the Rockwell Automation Fair in Chicago, on Nov. 16-17. The Creators Wanted immersive experience will be a main feature on the showroom floor at this gathering of thousands of industrial automation leaders and experts.
Learn more: Tour organizers say that there is still time to join the fall tour stop events. Interested in supporting the cause and the MI’s sustained workforce solutions? Contact Barret Kedzior at [email protected].
Finding and keeping a job can be challenging for people with criminal records. These jobseekers face exclusionary business practices and logistical obstacles, which result in an unemployment rate for this population that is five times higher than the general US public. To minimize this inequality, The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—has joined with Union Pacific to expand candidate pools and bring more outstanding individuals into the manufacturing industry.
A second chance: Union Pacific began working on the second chance initiative last year, and the results have already proven fruitful.
- In 2022, the company launched a pilot program with local community organizations in Houston to eliminate barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated and helped ensure the long-term success of these second chance candidates.
- In its first three months, the program brought in nearly 100 new applications and created positive relationships and support systems.
The steps to success: The Union Pacific team discovered that three components were critical to helping candidates find jobs and succeed:
- First, companies interested in hiring such candidates must update their own hiring practices and rethink potential barriers for otherwise qualified candidates—whether that means adjusting onerous required credentials or background checks.
- Second, partnerships and strong relationships with local community partners can help ensure that these candidates have the support they need to be successful. Tools like the MI’s Community Partnership Scorecard helped Union Pacific find partners that fit well with their goals.
- Third, establishing pilot initiatives in high-demand markets can help a company learn about best practices that can be replicated elsewhere. Plus, sharing experiences with other employers can help additional companies find success.
Expanding the program: Union Pacific’s current focus involves bringing the Second Chance initiative to new markets across the country to replicate the pilot program results.
- “Everyone I speak with about our success in Houston wants to know how we can take this model and multiply,” said Union Pacific Talent Acquisition Manager Ken Kawamura.
Leaders in the field: With the success of this initiative, Union Pacific has become an industry leader in establishing inclusionary hiring practices and building community partnerships. The company hopes to help establish second chance programs throughout the country.
- The Manufacturing Institute has been a critical partner in this work, providing information and resources necessary to its success.
- “The MI is committed to supporting members in the pursuit of effective Second Chance initiatives,” said MI Vice President of Workforce Solutions Gardner Carrick. “Our goal is to leverage those learnings and strategies across the manufacturing industry to expand talent and opportunity in the sector.”
The last word: Union Pacific’s primary goal in pioneering this initiative is to build a more equitable workforce for all employees.
- “In our eyes, once you are a part of Union Pacific, you are no different than any other employee, regardless of your background,” said Senior Director of Talent Acquisition Dan Culbertson.
The manufacturing industry has had more than 2.6 million job openings nationally in 2022 already—a workforce shortage that shows little signs of slowing. Meanwhile, half of all those available jobs don’t require a four-year college degree or the debt that goes with it.
This week, President Biden announced new measures providing student debt relief to many eligible Americans. Yet the manufacturing industry helps young people avoid this problem in the first place, while also offering them salaries far above the national average.
Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee weighed in on the advantages available to young people looking to make a strong entry into the workforce, instead of suffering under debt that makes it more difficult to start a family, purchase a first home and achieve other major life milestones. Here’s what she had to say.
How it works: Manufacturers often offer short-term certifications or other training programs that allow people to jump into high-paying careers quickly and without debt, Lee explains.
- “There are multiple pathways to career opportunities in manufacturing through skills training, ranging from short-term programs to more involved skills development and apprenticeship programs,” says Lee.
- For example, the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program (founded by Toyota and operated by the MI) offers current and aspiring manufacturing workers both on-the-job training and classroom education. The program leads to an associate degree and an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) certificate.
- Manufacturers work with FAME’s local chapters in part because they allow companies to use a global best system to train the skilled workforce they need to compete.
The numbers: The data show that manufacturing is a good choice for those inclined to avoid debt, Lee points out.
- As noted above, there have been more than 2.6 million manufacturing job openings so far in 2022, but just 47% of those job openings (about 1.2 million) require a bachelor’s degree or greater.
- Meanwhile, manufacturing workers in 2020 earned $92,832 on average (compared to an average of $77,181 for workers in all private nonfarm industries).
What can policymakers do? To ensure that manufacturing training programs continue to expand and succeed, policymakers should make certain changes, says Lee.
- For example, Pell Grants should be usable for high-quality training programs as short as eight weeks—often all that is needed to train a technician.
- Policymakers should also ensure that our education system focuses on skills attainment for career success, and that teachers and other influencers are aware of opportunities offered by pathways other than four-year degree programs.
#CreatorsWanted: The NAM and the MI have taken this message to communities across the country through the Creators Wanted campaign’s tour and mobile experience. Tens of thousands of students, parents, educators and local leaders have attended the tour stops, where they learned about the promise of manufacturing careers and were challenged to think like manufacturers in the interactive mobile experience.
- As Lee told students at the Creators Wanted stop in Freeport, Texas, “Without a steady stream of talented, bright young people … we can’t keep up the good work of continuously making our products. 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.”
The last word: “We understand how oppressive student debt can be, especially when starting out in life,” said Lee. “More people should be able to get a rewarding and well-paying job that doesn’t require massive debt that takes a lifetime to pay off. This is one of the reasons we work so hard to make sure young people know about the variety of options available to them in manufacturing careers; it’s not just for the industry’s benefit, but for theirs as well.”
If you’d like to hear more about careers in manufacturing, come to one of the many MFG Day events happening this October.
Aidan Bleser took to manufacturing early on.
“The concepts of manufacturing were part of my childhood,” says Bleser. “There was a lot of Lego-building, and stuff like that.”
Still, Bleser didn’t get a chance to hone his skills until high school, when he was accepted into a program that offered courses on manufacturing at a local college, St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas. Near the end of his program, his professors at St. Philip’s encouraged him to take the next step by signing up for the FAME program’s local chapter in Alamo.
The program: The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), which was created by Toyota and is now overseen by The Manufacturing Institute, is a career pathway program for current and aspiring manufacturing workers. It provides them with on-the-job training and classroom education, leading to an associate degree and the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) certificate.
The experience: Through the program, Bleser was offered a role at Toyota, where he spent two years doing hands-on work while also accruing college credit.
- “FAME was great,” said Bleser. “The two years went by fast, and I enjoyed getting the college credit while still working part time. It helped the learning experience, being able to work while going to school.”
The people: Bleser also enjoyed working with other program participants as part of a group, getting to know individuals who were interested in manufacturing and even advising and mentoring younger students after his time in the program was up.
- “I’ve stayed in touch with people in my cohort, and I have mentored people in the younger cohort,” said Bleser. “That group dynamic is a great opportunity, because you can learn skills yourself and then teach them to other people.”
The job: Bleser graduated in May and was offered a full-time position at Toyota in August. He is now employed as a maintenance officer at Adient, one of Toyota’s on-site suppliers—and credits the FAME program with giving him the tools he needed to be successful.
- “I would recommend FAME to anyone,” said Bleser. “It prepares you really well. By the time you’re hired, you’re not a new face, and you’re used to the culture.”
The road ahead: Bleser’s experiences in the FAME program and at Toyota have shown him that there are opportunities available in manufacturing for people with all sorts of different talents and interests. He has big plans for the future:
- “I’d like to look into system integration, maybe opening some sort of company myself one day,” said Bleser. “I’ve also gotten more into application development on the software side, so I’d like to continue doing that, and hopefully develop some software that can be used throughout manufacturing.”
The last word: “There are so many ways to work in manufacturing,” said Bleser. “From maintenance, to quality, to logistics, to management, there are a lot of different places you could find yourself. Anybody with any skill set could be valued.”
It’s been almost a year, but the sights and sounds are never far from his thoughts: crowds of people surging toward departing planes, trampling those who stumble; gunshots ringing out; the explosion of a nearby bomb.
For Edris Akseer, now a bilingual recruiting coordinator at GE Appliances’ (GEA) Louisville headquarters, these memories are daily reminders of the horrors that he, his wife and his brothers endured in Afghanistan to get to the United States—and how different his situation is today.
- “That day [I left] was the worst day of my life,” recalled Akseer, a former translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan who was able to secure passage out through his U.S. military connections. “[But] I’m happy here. I really enjoy helping others and I find my job really interesting. … I saved enough to buy a car and I’m working on getting my driver’s license.”
Helping refugees: Akseer is one of more than 100 non-U.S.-born employees brought on in recent months by GEA in Louisville. About 50 are refugees from Afghanistan who came here last fall when the U.S. military exited the country. The other half are Spanish-speaking and hail from multiple nations.
- “In early 2022, we had a new production line–and we needed to hire over 1,300 people,” recalls GE Appliances Senior Manager Beth Mickle, who runs the production recruitment group at the company’s large campus in Kentucky.
- “Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries said they [were helping] a group of people from Afghanistan and said, ‘We think you would be a great employer for them. Would you be interested in taking a shot at this?’”
- GEA was interested—and opening the hiring process to refugees and other immigrants has been one of the best workforce decisions the company has made in recent memory, Mickle said.
Location, location: As a longtime U.S.-immigration entry point, Louisville has large populations of non-native-born people, said GE Appliances Workforce Development Recruiter Gabriela Salazar.
- These include people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Peru, Honduras, Venezuela and Mexico, said Salazar, who recently conducted a survey of languages spoken among GE Appliances employees. The findings: production staff at three factories communicate in a total of more than 40 languages.
- In a sense, working with charities to hire refugees is the next step in the company’s hiring practices. It “has helped us to tap into populations we might not have known how to tap into before,” Mickle said.
Learning as they go: GE Appliances now offers new-hire orientations in many languages, including Afghanistan’s official languages of Pashto and Dari, as well as Spanish and Swahili.
- The company also has a buddy system which pairs new employees with workers who have been at the facility for a while.
- “These are employees who volunteer to be points of contact, to help show people around,” Mickle said. “You know, ‘Where is the bathroom? ‘Where do I get my protective gear?’ We also translate all the new-hire documents [into native languages] because they won’t remember everything from their first day.”
- Recently GE Appliances hired an American Sign Language translator to help its deaf employees. “Where it started was different languages—and now we’re seeing a lot of new horizons,” Salazar said.
Onward and upward: Akseer has seen a lot of new horizons himself in the past few months.
- He was originally hired at GE Appliances as one of its much-needed production-line team members, but owing to his fluent English, compassion and constant willingness to help, Akseer was “always being pulled of the line to help translate” something for another new employee, according to Mickle.
- So when a translator role opened up on Mickle’s team mere months after his hiring, Akseer was in. “He was already doing the role of what we needed him to do. He’s just a natural teacher,” Mickle said.
- On top of the new country, the new company and the two new jobs in quick succession, Akseer underwent another major change: becoming a new father. His son was born shortly after the family came to the U.S.
Advice for other manufacturers: Hiring refugees and other immigrant workers has been a boon for GE Appliances, Mickle said, and other manufacturers should consider following suit if they can.
- “They are the first to raise their hands for overtime,” she said. “They work very, very hard. In [manufacturing], our jobs are not always the easiest. But they do it and they love it.”
The last word: “Manufacturers that bring on refugees see fewer turnovers and increased efficiency,” MI Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion AJ Jorgenson said. “They’re also helping to improve lives and communities. More inclusive workplaces strengthen manufacturing.”
When Tara Hogan was growing up in Texas, she wanted to be a basketball coach—a career in freight rail wasn’t on her radar. But after high school and six years of service in the U.S. Air Force, she finished her college degree, took on a few different jobs and went looking for her next gig. She found Union Pacific Railroad on a list of companies looking to employ military veterans and landed a job as an operations management trainee in 2006.
More than 15 years later, after stints in Nebraska, Louisiana and Kansas, Hogan serves as a general manager at Union Pacific in Fort Worth, Texas, leading a team of 1,700 people as she runs the freight rail service in an active—and essential—area of the country.
Starting out: In many ways, Hogan found that her experience in the military gave her the tools to succeed at Union Pacific.
- “Union Pacific is a 24/7 operation that runs 365 days a year, as the military does,” said Hogan. “In the military, there’s a structure and a sense of certainty, and there’s comfort to that; at Union Pacific, there’s the same kind of certainty and structure. There’s a language in the military, and a language at Union Pacific.”
- “For me, it was the place I could go that felt the most familiar…. It’s got the structure of the military but the flexibility of the civilian environment.”
Paying it forward: Today, Hogan isn’t only an outstanding representative of the railroad industry in her own right; she’s also a role model for others who might be interested in a career in the sector—including individuals from communities that are currently underrepresented.
- Through Union Pacific’s UPLift program, which pairs underrepresented employees with executive sponsors, Hogan is sponsoring a woman in Fort Worth, offering career advice and networking support.
- “It’s not a one-and-done mentor situation,” said Hogan. “I’ll be with her throughout her career, and I’ll watch her grow. Hopefully, she’ll be my boss someday.”
A supportive environment: As a woman in freight rail, Hogan is generally in the minority, even as Union Pacific works to double the number of women employed at the railroad. Still, Hogan’s experience has been positive, and she has always felt encouraged to gain skills and rise in the company.
- “Everybody I have come across has wanted to see me succeed,” said Hogan. “If somebody is willing and wanting to learn, there are a ton of people here who want to teach you and see you be successful.”
- “I never thought I’d be in this position. I didn’t aspire to it. But the company saw something and kept challenging me to see what I can do. It’s been a great experience for me.”
The bigger picture: Hogan’s success at Union Pacific is part of the company’s ambitious efforts to advance women throughout its operations.
- Its Careers on Track program—in partnership with The Manufacturing Institute—aims to increase the number of women in the manufacturing and transportation, distribution and logistics industries.
- The program is designed to inspire women and youth to pursue modern industry careers through workforce development and career solutions.
The last word: “You can learn anything you want to learn here, depending on what your job is,” said Hogan. “Manufacturing has changed with the times and become better. All the opportunities to learn and grow have become better. If you’re a hard worker and willing to learn, there’s no glass ceiling anymore.”
Fernando Gonzalez grew up admiring his aunt because she served in the army—and when it came time for him to choose a career, he wanted to follow in her footsteps. He joined the U.S. Navy when he graduated from high school, working in navigation. But he still wanted to continue his education, so he eventually went to college, supporting himself by working as a security guard and later as a customer service representative for an auto company. At the same time, he joined the U.S. Army National Guard—giving him plenty to do all at once.
- “I was doing school, work and the National Guard,” said Gonzalez. “I suppose I’ve had a kaleidoscope kind of career—lots happening all at the same time.”
- Eventually, he decided to return to active duty and joined the U.S. Army as an industrial maintenance specialist. But when he completed his service, he found himself looking for a new kind of role.
A new path: As he was preparing to leave active duty, Gonzalez took advantage of the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program through his local transition office. It was there that he learned about The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America initiative. He joined the logistics career skills training program at Fort Stewart near Savannah, Georgia—led by Heroes MAKE America and education partner Savannah Technical College—and got to work.
- Through an eight-week accelerated training program, he learned about manufacturing while also getting hands-on experience.
- After interviewing with a recruiter from Cargill, a global food corporation based in Wayzata, Minnesota, Gonzalez was offered a position. Today, he works at the company as an operations manager.
What is Heroes MAKE America? The MI—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—designed Heroes MAKE America as an integrated certification and career-readiness training program that helps prepare transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard members, reservists and military spouses for careers in manufacturing. The initiative offers in-person training and remote training options, as well as career support and placement.
A positive experience: Gonzalez enjoyed the opportunity to learn about manufacturing and logistics and particularly appreciated being exposed to a wide array of careers in the industry.
- “Heroes was great,” said Gonzalez. “We toured some plants in the Savannah area, near where I was stationed in Fort Stewart. We saw a crew ship at port, we toured a steel mill, we learned about manufacturing and logistics.”
A smooth transition: Gonzalez found that his new career had plenty of similarities with his time in the military, making it a good match for the talents and work style he had honed there.
- “The soft skills correlate,” said Gonzalez. “You still deal with people; you still deal with some type of chain of command. You have goals for the day, the week, the quarter. In the military, we talk about missions, and that’s still what we do here. In the military we have this attitude of getting things done, figure it out. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it before—you figure it out and make it happen, and that’s been true here, too.”
A great job: Gonzalez has enjoyed learning new processes and applying his skills in new areas, working to maintain and operate equipment that receives, stores and loads commodities like corn and soybeans onto train cars for shipping. “Every day I learn something new,” he said.
The last word: “Manufacturing is a crucial industry,” said Gonzalez. “It has incredible opportunities at all skill levels. It’s vital to our country, to our security. And it’s not going away.”
Job openings in manufacturing remain high, with many manufacturers citing the shortage of skilled labor as a major business challenge. Increasingly, companies are taking a closer look at their internal cultures and asking themselves a crucial question: How can we make ourselves more attractive to new recruits from diverse backgrounds?
Seeking all willing workers: Panelists at the recent D&I Roundtable: Recruiting and Retaining LGBT+ Employees, hosted by The Manufacturing Institute, discussed the growing awareness among manufacturers of ensuring that their companies are LGBT+-friendly workplaces.
- “When you build a psychologically safe environment, all employees benefit from it because all employees will start to share their ideas without [fear of] retribution,” said Entegris Senior Manager of Talent Management & Development Phillip Spencer.
- “More generations identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and want to work for companies that … support [them]. So, it really will benefit everyone and the bottom line of all of our companies” to be inclusive of the LGBT+ community.
Say no to “rainbow washing”: To recruit talent who identify as LGBT+, panelists agreed, manufacturers must genuinely create an accepting, open culture rather than just engage in “rainbow washing,”—i.e., adding a rainbow to company branding while offering few, if any, benefits to actual LGBT+ people.
- Make sure your company is “really aligning your policies and your practices and those unspoken rules in your organization to make sure that you are doing the things that you say that you believe in when you’re talking about supporting the [LGBT+] community,” said Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Georgia Power Company and Southern Company Sloane Drake.
- Entegris went back to basics with its inclusivity efforts, Spencer said, and it’s worked. “We started with a program talking about what does LGBTQ+ mean? And what does it mean in the workplace? Why are we talking about this in the workplace?”
- The company also rejiggered its employee retirement fund structure when it realized the old setup did not account for same-sex couples, Spencer added.
Seek out ambassadors, but don’t push: LGBT+ employees can act as ambassadors to help a company build trust among other LGBT+ workers and prospective new talent, speakers said. Companies should seek out such potential representatives, but without assuming they will want to take on the responsibility.
- “Nobody knows better what the experience is like than somebody who’s going through it,” said Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Senior Engineer Arwen Kathke, who is also the community outreach chair for the Goodyear pride network. “Including those employees in your decision-making processes and having those conversations with them to understand what their experience is will go a long way.”
- “We’ve really spent a lot of time educating” our workforce, Drake said. “It’s not the responsibility of every LGBTQ+ employee in our organization to explain what [LGBT+] means. We’ve actually put some of our employees who were willing through storytelling training; they felt very comfortable being able to share and tell their stories in large meetings and on videos and podcasts, and that was very powerful. But [you don’t want] to make it feel like the one person in the room who [identifies as LGBT+] has to be the only one who can speak on that topic.”
Measuring success: How can manufacturers determine whether they’re reaching LGBT+ talent? There are various way, panelists said.
- “There’s one great metric that’s going to help any organization understand 100% if it’s inclusive: Do you allow people to self-identify?” Drake said.
- Another way is to review employee representation data, as well as the number of self-identifying people moving through leadership-development pipelines into leadership positions.
The last word: “If you create a supportive environment and have your internal development done,” said Kathke, “with employees who are starting to step up and really foster that environment, that’s going to work out a lot better in the long run.”