Automation isn’t just changing the manufacturing industry; it’s enabling human-centric progress in tackling the industry’s workforce crisis.
In action: As part of the Automation Fair in Chicago last week, more than 15,000 attendees got to see how manufacturers—and companies like Rockwell Automation—are providing solutions to the shortage, which could reach 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to research from the Manufacturing Institute (the workforce development and education partner of the NAM) and Deloitte.
- Rockwell Automation brought the Creators Wanted Tour, a project of the NAM and the MI, to its Automation Fair, giving students, parents, educators and manufacturers the chance to see firsthand how digital transformation and new technologies are supporting careers and opportunities in modern manufacturing.
- The tour’s much-heralded immersive experience, along with displays and programs featuring experts from the MI and the Manufacturing Leadership Council (the digital transformation division of the NAM), gave attendees insight into the pathways and support available in the industry.
- FactoryFix, the official recruiting partner of Creators Wanted, was also on hand to showcase its manufacturing talent platform for job seekers—and manufacturers searching for a one-stop recruiting solution.
Changing perceptions: Creators Wanted aims to shrink the workforce gap by dispelling myths about automation and attracting the next generation to manufacturing jobs. It’s seeing impressive success, MI President Carolyn Lee said during a session at the event.
- “Today 40% of parents have a positive perception of manufacturing,” Lee said, citing a recent joint Deloitte–MI study. “And what we’re finding is that parents see these are durable careers with great possibility and opportunity, and they’re encouraging their children to consider them.”
Digital help: “Digital is going to help manufacturers deal with their workforce issues because it’s going to not only help change the perception of the industry, but create new jobs going forward, particularly in math-intensive areas like data analytics and artificial intelligence,” said MLC Vice President and Executive Director David Brousell.
- Brousell cited the MLC’s “Manufacturing in 2030 Project,” saying, “We have to think about digital transformation as human-centric digital transformation—because we’ve got to bring the technology and the people together simultaneously to have an effective transformation.”
Impressive results: Since it began just more than a year ago, the Creators Wanted Tour has seen more than 8,000 students pass through its immersive mobile experience, where more than 75% of attendees leave with a significantly improved view of manufacturing.
- More than 510,000 students and career mentors have also signed up to learn more about modern manufacturing careers.
- Creators Wanted has recruited successfully both mentors and mentees for the mentorship program of Women MAKE America, an MI initiative that aims to close the gender gap in manufacturing.
- The Automation Fair offered more than 150 interactive sessions on the newest industrial solutions and best practices, and more than 200 companies exhibited across 200,000 square feet at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
Media mentions: The fair and Creators Wanted’s presence drew a slew of media coverage, including from “Morning in America” with Adrienne Bankert, “The John Howell Show” on WLS-AM, Univision Chicago and suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald.
- In addition, the Daily Line published an op-ed on the future of manufacturing by NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons and Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO and NAM Executive Committee member Blake Moret.
The last word: “As the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation, Rockwell is always looking toward the future of manufacturing,” Moret said. “Campaigns like Creators Wanted are critical to recruiting the best future talent to create a thriving workforce.”
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Smithfield Foods puts its commitments into action.
The world’s largest pork processor has committed to measurable increases—of 35% and 30%, respectively—in the hiring and promotion of women and individuals in underrepresented groups. And it’s pledged to do it all by 2030.
Bridging a gap: In September 2020, the Virginia-headquartered manufacturer launched its Operations Leadership Program, created to develop a strong pipeline of diverse talent to fill future management roles.
- “We lead with data. And our data shows there’s a gap in diverse representation between production and management,” said Smithfield Foods Manager of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Jessica Jones. “The OLP provided us an opportunity to track data on team members, their promotion opportunities, how they’re elevating within the company with a commitment to monitor year-over-year data three years after program completion for each cohort.”
- In just over two years, the program, which garners participants through applications, has seen 132 graduates and nearly 50 promotions.
Providing encouragement: Ironically, many of the same employees the OLP was designed to help were initially reluctant to apply, Jones said.
- “We did focus groups and what we realized is, those who weren’t applying were women and people of color,” she said. “They shared, ‘I don’t think it’s for me,’ and when we heard that, we realized it meant, ‘I never saw myself going higher than my current opportunity.’”
- Smithfield’s leadership began to strategically target their communications to specifically focus on these employees and encourage them to consider the program. “That’s when we started to see the uptick in more women and people of color applying,” Jones said.
Other D&I initiatives: To reach its lofty 2030 diversity and inclusion goals, Smithfield has deployed other programs, too, including the following:
- Smithfield’s Farmer Diversity Program, which aims to increase the number of Black and minority hog farmers in the company’s supply chain;
- A Future Leaders Program that gives scholarships and career opportunities to rising high school seniors through summer internships to increase diversity in leadership;
- An expansion of the Smithfield Foods Scholarship Program for eligible dependents of Smithfield employees so that it includes historically Black colleges and universities; and,
- A supply-chain initiative in which the company has committed to increasing its production-facility spend with minority-owned businesses by 14% by 2025.
The company has also signed NAM’s Pledge for Action, in which manufacturers commit to 50,000 specific actions to increase diversity and inclusion.
The last word: “I have seen this company change and evolve in such a wonderful way,” Jones said. “We now have opportunities to elevate and expose our employee base to Smithfield’s leadership—making sure they have a touch point, a way to connect. Our leadership wants to know how they are doing, prevalent challenges and support needed. The change has been so encouraging.”
On Veterans Day, we honor the service members who safeguard our country, many of whom will go on to contribute their skills and experiences to civilian industries. Manufacturing is one beneficiary, with many veterans finding that the high-tech, mission-focused industry is an excellent home for their talents.
But how do transitioning service members and veterans find their new career paths? The Caterpillar Foundation is helping America’s heroes become tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders through its support of the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America initiative.
HMA provides integrated certification and career-readiness training in partnership with local community colleges to prepare transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard members, reservists and military spouses for rewarding careers in the manufacturing and supply chain industries.
Virtual training: The Caterpillar Foundation’s support began in 2021 and has helped HMA develop and launch its first 100% virtual training offering in partnership with Texas State Technical College—an exciting option for individuals across the country who might not be able to attend an in-person course.
- The program uses innovative solutions like virtual reality technology, provided by Transfr VR, in order to add a “hands-on” aspect to the students’ training for their Production Technician and OSHA 10 certifications.
- “Heroes MAKE America was great,” said Benjamin Novak, a graduate of Heroes MAKE America’s virtual training program. “The virtual self-paced program allowed me to balance class, transitioning and family life. Getting an opportunity to connect and speak with companies directly was a huge opportunity as well.”
New programs: Additionally, thanks to the foundation’s grant, Heroes MAKE America launched two new in-person training paths: a Mechatronics training program at Fort Hood, Texas, also in partnership with Texas State Technical College, and a Certified Logistics Technician training program at Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, in partnership with Savannah Technical College.
- Together, the three new training offerings (the two mentioned above and the virtual option) have graduated 133 participants as of November 2022, with another 40 participants expected to graduate in December.
- “Heroes MAKE America is a great program that wants to see veterans succeed,” said Anna Rabago, a graduate of the Mechatronics training at Fort Hood, Texas. “They helped mold me into a great candidate for manufacturing while earning seven manufacturing certifications. The instructors are subject-matter experts in their field and are willing to work early or late evenings to benefit the soldiers.”
An impressive year: The HMA program is on track to graduate 303 members of the military community across all 6 training sites in 2022, bringing the total number of graduates since the 2018 inception of HMA to 957. The training sites include Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the 100% virtual option.
The last word: “HMA provided me with all the tools that I needed to thrive as a civilian,” said Tillman Harris, a graduate of the Production Technician training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “They provided industry training, résumé assistance, interview prep and much more. Trust in yourself and have confidence in everything you do. HMA is a program that cares about us and wants us to succeed.”
Learn more: Find out more about Heroes MAKE America here.
To Carol Enneking, creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is less of a race to a finish line than an ongoing expedition that never really ends.
A journey: “Realizing a workplace culture where DE&I is not just prioritized but celebrated was a critical aspiration,” said Enneking, Cornerstone Building Brands’ vice president of talent management, learning and diversity. “It’s a journey to get there, but not a destination where you will ever arrive to stay. You expect your workplace to evolve as highly diverse and inclusive, but you can always do more,” she said.
Taking action: Cornerstone Building Brands, a leading manufacturer of exterior commercial and residential building products, has been taking decisive actions to increase diversity and inclusion since the company’s inception in 2018. Extra focus has been given to its DE&I strategy since 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd, when the company began activating its DE&I commitment with employees.
- “I spent a great deal of time on this in 2020,” Enneking said. “We had a group of executives that mobilized to provide a [company] response. It was a bit of a new frontier for us, especially as a new company, deciding to speak up and send a message about this. We worked hard to set the right tone.”
- It also became clear that a more focused DE&I approach would help the company in these situations and in the day-to-day creation of an inclusive culture.
- Now, the business has a DE&I team at the ready to drive their strategy forward: its DE&I Council, which meets monthly and focuses on strategic alignment; communications; coaching and training; and metrics and governance.
More diversity in management: Cornerstone Building Brands aspires to build a more diverse and inclusive organization that reflects the diversity of the communities where it operates. It is also focused on increasing the number of diverse employees in Cornerstone Building Brands’ management teams.
- “We have a very diverse frontline population,” Enneking said. “It’s close to 50% frontline employees of color and about 28% women, but we see those numbers decrease in management. The challenge is to bring that same representation into the management.”
- To engage employees in creating an inclusive culture, the DE&I Council disseminated a survey that led to the creation of four distinct employee resource groups: Women!, Patriots, Pride and Unity. All meet regularly to learn together, plan events, address specific employee concerns and foster mentoring opportunities.
- Another way forward has been the company’s 2021 signing of the NAM’s Pledge for Action, in which “manufacturers commit to taking 50,000 tangible actions to increase equity and parity for underrepresented communities, creating 300,000 pathways to job opportunities for Black people and all people of color.” In the first year after signing this pledge, Cornerstone Building Brands took 44 tangible actions toward achieving its commitment to the pledge and its broader DE&I goals.
How far they’ve come: All of Cornerstone Building Brands job descriptions now contain a DE&I statement that highlights its commitment, and the company recently published its first environmental, social and governance report, which included DE&I initiative details.
- Cornerstone Building Brands has worked to ensure that its “recruitment processes are bringing in diverse candidates” and that there is pay-scale parity, particularly in direct manufacturing roles, Enneking said.
- The company also has a reporting mechanism in place for all employees to make leadership aware of potential inclusivity violations or other issues.
- In addition, the manufacturer has instituted manager and employee DE&I learning modules, which comprise unconscious bias and inclusive leadership training led by professional facilitators, as well as accountability measures.
Making an impact: The work has started to pay off, said Enneking, who added that “there has been an increase” in diverse representation among Cornerstone Building Brands’ management. President and CEO Rose Lee, the first Korean American woman to head a Fortune 1000 company, was recently named a Pinnacle Award recipient by the Asian American Business Development Center. The company also recently hired two new female business unit presidents.
- The company has also broadened its search parameters in recruiting, Enneking said. “Diversity has many facets, many of which are not visible. We value diversity of thought and perspectives and are more willing to bring in people who may not have been in [our industry] all their lives but who can learn quickly and have transferable skills. In fact, those hires usually bring us a lot of ideas that we didn’t have. Sometimes you need to look outside to get those.”
Manufacturers continue to face an alarming workforce shortage—which could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.
The MI—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—is working hard to fill that gap. MI President Carolyn Lee spoke at the Made in Connecticut: 2022 Manufacturing Summit last week about how manufacturers are taking on this critical issue and what lies ahead.
The challenge: “One of the biggest long-term issues our industry is confronting is the perception problem,” said Lee. “Many Americans—usually parents—cling to the belief that the manufacturing industry is not a place where people can find satisfying, well-paying lifelong careers. … Our industry needs to overcome this perception and grow the supply of young workers.”
Making progress: “That brings me back to good news: perceptions are changing,” said Lee. “Thanks to movements like MFG Day, and campaigns like the National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute’s ‘Creators Wanted’ campaign, which is touring the country right now, we are moving the needle.”
- “We’re showcasing modern manufacturing as we know it to be: exciting, rewarding, clean and high-tech,” said Lee. “Thanks to these efforts, the positive perception of manufacturing among adults in the past few years has grown from 27% to 40%.”
Promoting programs: Lee spoke about a range of programs offered by the MI that are designed to help build an expansive and inclusive manufacturing workforce. These programs include:
- Women MAKE America, formerly known as the STEP Ahead program, which supports women in manufacturing;
- Heroes MAKE America, which eases the transition to civilian careers for veterans and other members of the military community; and
- FAME, which was originally founded by Toyota before transitioning over to the MI in 2019, and which offers an “earn and learn” apprenticeship experience.
Pushing policy: Lee noted the importance of ensuring that government policy is aligned with the needs and realities of the manufacturing industry. She also highlighted elements of “Competing to Win”—the NAM’s policy blueprint for bolstering manufacturers’ competitiveness. Proposed policies include:
- Reorienting the education system and its funding around a skills and employer-involved model;
- Updating federal tax policy to encourage and reward companies that invest in upskilling their employees; and
- More federal investments in apprenticeship models.
The last word: “Our industry’s strength and competitiveness will be determined by the strength of our workforce,” said Lee. “After all, they are the creators who pioneer and produce lifechanging electronics or lifesaving medicines. They are innovating and building the machines that transform human mobility, improve quality of life or bolster our national defense.”
Learn more: Find out more about the MI’s vital work here.
Last year, The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—came to a realization: There were manufacturing conferences and there were workforce conferences, but neither addressed manufacturing-workforce challenges from a broad, national perspective. The MI wanted to change that.
And it did, just this month—with the inaugural, now-annual, MI Workforce Summit.
What it is: The summit, held this month in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a first-of-its-kind, multiday event that brought manufacturers, educators, community partners, association leaders and more together to network, attend workshops and hear talks from manufacturing and workforce leaders. All of them had the same goal: to build the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow to ensure the industry’s competitiveness.
- Made possible by sponsors including the Arconic Foundation, WestRock, FactoryFix, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council and EY, and supported by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the summit drew more than 300 participants.
- Half the attendees were manufacturing employers and half were from the MI’s leading partners.
- “Forging partnerships isn’t a theme, it’s an action item,” said Arconic Foundation President and Treasurer Ryan Kish. “Come up with concrete actions for your organization on how you’re going to go into the community and forge partnerships to tackle the manufacturing workforce challenge.”
What happened: The summit, with its theme of forging partnerships, resulted in the creation of more than 920 new connections among workforce stakeholders. It focused on three “areas of importance”: attracting, training and retaining quality employees and how partnerships enable success across all three. Specific events at the summit included:
- A plenary fire-side session on how partnerships helped Toyota and the entire manufacturing sector grow in northern Alabama;
- Breakout sessions focused on a range of key issues, including how parents and teachers help manufacturers attract talent, how the workforce can prepare for automation and how economic developers are now assisting in workforce development;
- Newly released research from the MI on adaptive skills and future skills needs;
- A plenary on the impact of culture on employee retention;
- Interactive Q&As on recruiting, training and retaining employees; and
- A session on how corporate and foundation grants can improve the manufacturing workforce ecosystem.
“Hidden” talent: A frequently untapped pool of potential workers—individuals with previous involvement in the criminal justice system—was another topic of discussion at the summit.
- One in four adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, according to the National Employment Law Project. Many companies have had success in hiring people with criminal records, which has led more manufacturers to begin recruiting “second chance” hires.
- A leader in these hiring practices is JBM Packaging, whose director of human capital and culture, Valerie Plis, spoke at the summit.
Hiring veterans: Military veterans are another group of promising potential hires, as speakers advised the attendees.
- More than 200,000 men and women transition out of the U.S. military and into civilian life every year, according to the Labor Department.
- The MI’s Heroes MAKE America program seeks to attract many of them to the manufacturing industry, by building connections between the military and veteran communities and companies seeking top talent.
Growing talent: The summit dove into another successful workforce solution model: the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), created by Toyota in 2010 and transitioned to the MI in 2019.
- FAME, which recently wrapped up its own annual national conference, combines strong technical training and professional skills development with hands-on manufacturing work experience to create global best-in-class entry-level technicians. In just three years, it has spread across the U.S. and now has more than 400 manufacturer partners.
- From 2021 to 2022, the program saw an 18% increase in the number of participants, according to MI President Carolyn Lee.
The last word: In her remarks, Lee encapsulated the central idea behind the new summit: “When we pioneer solutions together, we’re stronger than when we work alone.”
While participants were having fun at this week’s Creators Wanted stop in Decatur, Illinois, the nationwide tour and its mobile experience were doing something, too: moving the needle on people’s perceptions of modern manufacturing.
What went on: Over the course of three days, more than 800 students from 13 area middle schools, high schools and community colleges poured into Richland Community College to learn about manufacturing careers. Also present were many educators and parents.
- Attendees “raced to the future” in the Creators Wanted mobile experience, solving various manufacturing-related challenges as they wound through the escape room.
- They heard panel talks from manufacturing leaders and team members and learned about some of the industry’s many perks, including great wages, flexible schedules, upward mobility, chances to earn and learn and more.
- Interactive activities, set up and run by manufacturers and the campaign’s recruiting partner, FactoryFix, were designed to garner interest—and display some of the real work done every day in modern manufacturing.
- This included virtual-reality paint and assembly training from Creators Wanted host sponsor Caterpillar, as well as a hazard-awareness simulator, a drink-making station and a laser-system exhibit from host sponsor ADM. Richland Community College took students on a tour through its state-of-the-art lab.
Generation inspired: Manufacturing leaders at ADM, Caterpillar and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, which together brought the tour to Decatur, got the chance to galvanize crowds.
- Said IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler: “Manufacturing makes the world a better place to live every day. Some of you are going to find the next cure for a disease. You’re going to build the next robot.”
- “For anyone who really is looking for a career that you can get into that is good-paying, that will provide you an opportunity to progress, consider manufacturing,” Caterpillar Group President of Resource Industries (and NAM Executive Committee member) Denise Johnson told the crowd.
- Following the event, students were indeed inspired. “It kind of changed my mind on what I want to do in the future,” one student
- “It was amazing,” said another. “I’d think about doing this for a career.”
Shoring up the shortage: The lack of skilled workers has been a pain point for manufacturers for several years now—and it’s a problem Creators Wanted aims to fix.
- “Programs like Creators Wanted are crucial in narrowing the workforce shortage in manufacturing and also showcasing the many opportunities within the manufacturing industry,” said ADM Senior Vice President of Global Operations and NAM board member Veronica Braker.
Meeting people where they are: “How do you get more young people interested in the field [of manufacturing]?” 25 News WEEK-TV anchor Erin Brown asked in a segment for the Peoria, Illinois, news station. “The answer could be more hands-on experiences with businesses like Caterpillar and ADM.”
Manufacturers come from many different communities and backgrounds—and Phoenix Closures, a sixth-generation, family-owned business that makes packaging and closures, wants to make sure that all of them feel welcome in the industry. In the past few years, the company has created a D&I initiative that ensures their employees feel included in and excited about the place where they work.
Getting the ball rolling: The company began by installing a leader to oversee their D&I efforts and combine programming and support into one place. Vice President of Quality and Corporate Social Responsibility Meena Banasiak—a 2020 honoree at the Women MAKE Awards, formerly known as the STEP Ahead Awards—sees her role not only as that of a leader, but as proof of Phoenix’s commitment.
- “I’m part of our progress in terms of D&I at Phoenix,” said Banasiak. “This position I am in was created in order to have someone in the role to establish a framework for corporate social responsibility. This position had never previously existed.”
- “We knew as a business that we were in many ways doing a lot of things that would fall within a D&I program, but without that clear purpose and intention and definitive resources put behind it.”
- “So, in a very visible and important way, I had the opportunity to be in a position of leadership and join the executive staff as a woman of color and set the course for the nature of this work that we
’ve been pursuing.”
Developing programs: The company has created and implemented a range of initiatives that allow employees to connect and contribute.
CSR committee: Phoenix developed an employee resource group that is focused on corporate social responsibility and includes representation from all the company’s operating locations. Employees are encouraged to voice their ideas on the types of programs that could be offered to the workforce, and the group offers tools and resources to help members implement programs at their respective sites.
- “It’s great to have a way to give people that voice, to make the work environment something
- that enables us to feel more included,” said Banasiak. “Yes, we’re here to do good work, but we might just be able to have fun while we’re doing it! We want our employees to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work if they want to and develop more profound relationships in the process.”
Parental leave: The company has expanded its parental leave benefits. Today, all full-time employees are eligible for the program, and the benefit applies to the non-birthing parent as well—including in cases of adoption.
- “There are people who have been able to take advantage of it right away—and just hearing their personal story, and their sense of relief knowing they have this support from their company—it’s unfettered relief,” said Banasiak. “It goes a very long way toward cementing the relationship between employer and employee, when you feel like your employer is invested in you.”
Volunteer time off: Phoenix’s full-time employees are encouraged to take up to eight hours of paid time off per calendar year to volunteer with the charitable organization of their choice—either individually, or as part of a team.
- “There have been a few different events where a group of employees have gone together, so it simultaneously serves as a teambuilding exercise with a broader impact,” said Banasiak. “At the same time, we get to share the stories of these experiences and celebrate those organizations that our employees find meaningful to them. Excitement breeds further excitement.”
Pledge for Action: Phoenix was a signatory of the NAM’s Pledge for Action, which committed the manufacturing industry to taking 50,000 tangible actions to increase equity and parity for underrepresented communities, creating 300,000 pathways to job opportunities for Black people and all people of color, and reflecting the diversity of the overall U.S. workforce by 2030.
Starting small: According to Banasiak, it’s important to be sensitive to needs across the entire company, but also to create small forums where employees can feel comfortable discussing issues. By empowering employees to come forward with ideas, a company can unleash the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of a diverse workforce.
Building the habit: “At first you might be in a place that feels more performative rather than substantive, but it’s still a legitimate starting point,” said Banasiak.
- “We never before made an intentional effort to acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month. By now, our employees are creating and hosting their own events—but before that, our first step was literally a single email to the organization.”
- “I’d argue that first step is every bit as necessary and valid on this journey. Just making that conscious effort—that’s going to be meaningful to someone. It’s necessary to build that habit in small ways to create an environment where ideas start to flow. The motivation builds upon itself, but you have to start somewhere.”
The bottom line: “Results are not instantaneous or something that one person can achieve,” said Banasiak. “It’s about slowly shifting the narrative.”
Two of manufacturing’s top executives took centerstage yesterday as a part of the industry’s largest perception campaign to build the workforce of the future—by helping educators, parents and other career mentors coach students on their career journeys.
- Caterpillar Group President of Resource Industries (and NAM Executive Committee member) Denise Johnson and ADM Senior Vice President of Global Operations (and NAM board member) Veronica Braker joined NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler and other notable state, community and education leaders to kick off the Decatur, Illinois, stop of the Creators Wanted Tour at Richland Community College.
- More than 120 students from American Dreamer STEM Academy attended the kickoff event. (More than 800 students are expected over the tour stop’s three days.) There they heard manufacturing leaders’ perspectives before exploring the various exhibits and activations showcasing the many opportunities in modern manufacturing.
Power of visibility: “Not everyone has a perspective or has heard from someone who looks like me or is from the same place,” said Braker, who is also on the global nutrition company’s Executive Council. “But together, we can change one event at a time.”
- “While pursuing my degree in chemical engineering, I interned with several manufacturing companies. … For me, manufacturing was always an attractive choice due to the fast pace, the energy, as well as the opportunity to solve problems while working as a part of a team, making a real impact on people’s lives,” emphasized Braker.
- On the rewards of her own manufacturing career, spanning more than a quarter of a century in operations leadership, Braker pointed out, “I’ve made lifelong friends. I’ve been exposed to innovative technologies that will change the way that people and generations live forever.”
Teamwork and growth drove Johnson’s path into manufacturing—and an ascent to the upper echelons of the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.
- “I was working in the design and engineering arena, and I was really wanting to move into manufacturing because I thought it would give me an opportunity to learn some new skills and be able to … work with teams and people to a larger degree.”
- In a panel conversation, Johnson, along with Tara Tolly, operations director of ADM’s Decatur manufacturing complex, highlighted more of the advantages of manufacturing careers, including great pay, diverse career paths and roles, upward mobility, variability of days, earn-and-learn options and chances to lead and develop transferable skills.
Answering the call: “It’s events like Creators Wanted where we need to be present and active for our students and encouraging them to start early and get engaged with opportunities that offer rich and fulfilling experiences for them,” said Braker.
- Braker and Johnson were instrumental in arranging the Creators Wanted Tour appearance in Decatur, in partnership with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, mobilizing not just financial backing but also team and community support to help excite the next generation of creators.
Why it matters: “Fifty percent of Macon County’s economy [where Decatur is located] comes from manufacturing … the single highest share of any county in Illinois,” said Denzler. “Programs like Creators Wanted are crucial for making significant progress in narrowing the workforce shortage … in manufacturing,” added Braker.
Beyond the campus: WAND-TV, the local NBC affiliate, covered the kickoff, and Timmons and Denzler joined Decatur’s top morning radio talk show, “Byers & Co.,” to amplify the Creators Wanted message. More than 500,000 students and career mentors have signed up to date through the Creators Wanted Tour to learn more about modern manufacturing careers.
Last week was a milestone for the Creators Wanted Tour—it marked the first time the nationwide initiative returned to a community and got to see how perceptions of manufacturing had changed since its first visit.
Welcome back: The Creators Wanted Tour, a joint venture of the NAM and its workforce development and education partner, The Manufacturing Institute, returned to host and champion sponsor Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation in West Columbia, South Carolina, in the 11th stop of the roadshow, which took place Oct. 4–7.
Happy MFG Day! On MFG Day, Oct. 7, Creators Wanted campaign co-chair Lou Kennedy, president, CEO and owner of Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, and her team hosted the tour stop’s premier event at its new Nephron Nitrile Glove Factory. The 426,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open next month and will produce nitrile gloves used in hospitals and sterile rooms globally.
- The protective-glove shortage in the U.S. during the pandemic inspired Kennedy to build the factory, which is set to produce 2 million gloves a year at full capacity.
- South Carolina legislators from both sides of the political aisle were on hand for a tour of the site. House Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn and Republican Reps. Joe Wilson and Jeff Duncan joined hundreds of local students, educators, community leaders and manufacturers to view and learn more about the campaign and its resources.
Ready for the “boom”: “There is a manufacturing boom taking place all over the country,” Majority Whip Clyburn said. “We’ve got to focus on getting these young people prepared” for manufacturing careers.
- As Rep. Wilson said, “The opportunities for manufacturing just can’t be better.”
- “401(k), great salary—average wage of 75 to 80K—clean and beautiful working conditions and hard work with a lot of fun,” Kennedy said of jobs at Nephron, while extolling opportunities at modern manufacturers across the state and in nearby communities.
- Major Creators Wanted supporters Honda and Trane Technologies also have operations in the Palmetto State, and several other campaign sponsors, including Chroma Color Corporation, are within a short distance of West Columbia.
More career guidance: Students seeking tailored advice about their professional futures got it from representatives of FactoryFix, official recruiting partner of Creators Wanted, who were on hand to meet and coach job seekers.
- South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Morgan, whose organization is a tour partner, was on site with his team to give students information on manufacturing opportunities in South Carolina.
- On Friday, Creators Wanted sponsor Autos Drive America had an exhibit showing attendees the types of vehicles being manufactured in South Carolina.
Women in manufacturing: During a “fireside chat” panel on the tour stop, Kennedy was joined by Autos Drive America President and CEO Jennifer Safavian and MI President Carolyn Lee to discuss the importance of advancing more women in manufacturing.
- “Growing up here in the deep south 20, 30 years ago, we were supposed to be teachers or … nurses; we weren’t supposed to be pharma CEOs,” Kennedy said. “And so, my goal is to help every young lady be what she wants to be, even if it’s the nontraditional career path. … If you want to be a super-genius chemist, you can do that. If you want to be a super-genius engineer, you can do that.”
- Echoed Safavian, “I think the message [of Creators Wanted] is, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try something. For women especially, this is a terrific opportunity. … A lot of people think manufacturing is dark, dirty, dangerous. It is not. … it is the complete opposite.”
Calling all veterans: Modern manufacturing is also a natural fit for those who have been in the military, speakers told the audience during another panel discussion.
- “I started at Nephron as a senior system analyst, and throughout my career everything that I was faced with at Nephron I’d already seen in the military,” said Air Force veteran Eric Jackson, now a senior IT security analyst at Nephron. “So, I think the [military] training … is what prepared me for this job.”
The reach: The South Columbia 2022 tour stop, made possible by additional support from Dow, Honda and Nephron Pharmaceuticals, was a record breaker.
- More than 700 students from 13 schools—most located in traditionally underrepresented communities—participated in the tour stop’s events. Last year, those numbers were 500 and seven, respectively.
- This year’s West Columbia email signups—people wishing to learn more about manufacturing careers—brought Creators Wanted’s total signups to more than 520,000.
The last word: The tour stop may have been best summarized by one young student who attended the events. “Creators Wanted,” she said, “is a helping hand.”