Workforce

“Why Inclusion Matters”: GM’s Stephanie Thompson on STEM, Women in Manufacturing

Stephanie Thompson may not have always intended to go into manufacturing, but she’s very glad she did.

The path taken: “You don’t necessarily plan your journey, but sometimes you can look back and see how those paths presented themselves,” and you’re thankful they did, said the engineering manager at General Motors’ facility just outside St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

  • “My career in manufacturing started in internships in university. I worked for a food manufacturer, for a company that made above-ground swimming pools … It was a great chance to try out different businesses, and I [realized that I] love the buzz and excitement that manufacturing has.”

Award nominee: Thompson is a 2024 Honoree of the Women MAKE Awards, honors given annually to 130 women making a difference in manufacturing by the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate.

  • Thompson—who started working for GM full time right after university and has held multiple positions in her 23 years there—was the first woman to become an engineering manager in her time at her site.
  • Women MAKE Award winners will be celebrated April 18 at the 2024 Women MAKE Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.

Always improving: An Ottawa native and graduate of the University of Waterloo, Thompson sums up her very complex job as “a manufacturing assembly specialist [who] makes sure people can do their jobs safely—and do it over and over again.”

  • She oversees the assembly of whole powertrain lines. For one particular engine, “I was there for the first one made, and I was here for the last—we made over 5 million,” she said of a recently retired line.
  • “We are always looking to make improvements, to make things more cost effective, to make things simpler,” she said. “The problem-solver part of me really enjoys making those incremental differences every day. [In manufacturing,] you get that sense of satisfaction from making stuff and ultimately giving a customer what they want.”

Women in STEM: Thompson, who has been recognized several times in her native Can

ada for her commitment to women’s education in science, technology, engineering and math, somehow found the time a few years ago to launch STEMbySteph.com, a STEM-focused website that includes a workshop series for women in the fields.

  • She is also a mentor for FIRST Canada, which aims to interest kids in science and technology, and a regular speaker on related topics.
  • “There are so many great women coming up through the ranks” in manufacturing today, she told us. “I want them to know there isn’t a limit to what they can do. I want to put myself out there as a technical role model, so women who apply [for manufacturing and STEM jobs] see themselves on the interview panel. They should know there’s a space for them in manufacturing.”

Work in progress: And while she’s had “nothing but great experiences with the men in manufacturing,” Thompson said the industry as a whole could benefit from “having some conversations” to make sure women feel welcome.

  • “I don’t think it’s malicious,” she said, of the relatively low number of women in manufacturing (they make up about 30% of the
    manufacturing workforce). “But one of the things you have to do as a leader is create intentionality and create environments where conflict is positive, where you can all create ideas to [fix] the problem and where individuals feel safe being themselves.”
Workforce

Study: Manufacturing in U.S. Could Need Up to 3.8 Million Workers

The U.S. manufacturing industry could require some 3.8 million jobs to be filled within the next decade, according to a new joint study from the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501c3 workforce development and education affiliate, and Deloitte.

What’s going on: Taking charge: Manufacturers support growth with active workforce strategies” found that manufacturing in the U.S. has emerged from the global pandemic on strong footing and is likely to continue to grow in the next few years.

  • That growth will call for even more skilled workers—particularly statisticians, data scientists, logisticians, engineers, computer and information systems managers, software developers and industrial maintenance technicians—spotlighting the need to build the national talent pipeline.
  • “Pandemic-driven shifts have already created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and now we are seeing increased demand for digital skills that need to be met or risk further widening of the talent gap,” said Manufacturing Institute President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee.

Key findings: Top takeaways from the report include:

  • If workforce challenges are not addressed, more than 1.9 million of the up to 3.8 million jobs likely to be needed between this year and 2033 could go unfilled.
  • Some 65% of manufacturers polled said attracting and retaining talent is their primary business challenge.
  • About 90% said they are forming at least one partnership to better attract and retain employees, and on average they have at least four such partnerships.
  • Approximately 47% indicated that apprenticeships, work study programs or internships at manufacturing companies would be the most effective way of increasing interest in the industry.
  • Some 47% also said flexible work arrangements—such as flex shifts, shift swapping and split shifts—have been their top retention tool.

The bottom line: Manufacturers continue to face a talent shortage—and the MI has the initiatives and resources ready today to help manufacturers address these challenges.

  • From the recent flexibility white paper—which explains how manufacturers can build and deploy flexibility options for the 49% of workers that are on the production teams—to the high school internship toolkit that allows manufacturers to start a recruiting pipeline in high schools, to the FAME USA apprenticeship program training global best multi-skilled maintenance technicians and more, the MI has solutions to the hurdles highlighted in this study. Learn more at themanufacturinginstitute.org.
Business Operations

Skilled Trades See Interest Uptick

More young people are choosing skilled trade jobs after high school, The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: “Enrollment in vocational training programs is surging as overall enrollment in community colleges and four-year institutions has fallen. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. The ranks of students studying construction trades rose 23% during that time, while those in programs covering HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7%.”

Why it’s important: The trades, including manufacturing, have experienced a worker shortage in recent years as the older generation of employees retires.

  • Finding and retaining quality talent is consistently a top business challenge among manufacturers, according to the NAM’s Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, a quarterly polling of the industry.
  • But now, trade-apprenticeship demand is surging, perhaps a signal that positions will start to fill.

Perception change: For many years the vocational education wing of one high school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was called “greaser hall,” but lately that’s started to change, a counselor there told the Journal.

  • “[B]usinesses have raised funds and donated new equipment, including robotic arms … [and] those classrooms now sit at the building’s main entrance. ‘There’s still a presumption that four-year college is the gold standard, but it doesn’t take as much work to get people to buy into the viability of other options,’ [he said].”

The last word: Indeed, the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 nonprofit workforce development and education affiliate, is seeing significant growth in its FAME initiative, an earn-while-you-learn training program with more than 40 chapters in 16 states—and more forming all the time. FAME, which was founded by Toyota and is now led by the MI, is truly the American model of skills training, according to MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee.

  • “FAME is training thousands of global best technicians nationwide and the number of program participants is on the rise,” she said. “This is good news for manufacturing, which sorely needs talent to continue to make the many, many things people use every day.”
Workforce

A Merck Manufacturer Leads the Way

a man smiling for the camera

For Alexandra Bryant-Boose, being a mentor matters—because she’s seen firsthand what good mentorship can accomplish.

From a mentor at a homeless shelter where she and her mother lived for a time, to an eighth-grade science teacher who pointed her toward a scholarship at an engineering summer program, she is grateful for all the people who helped guide her in the right direction.

  • “There were so many experiences where someone gave me an opportunity,” Bryant-Boose said.

Today, as an automation specialist at Merck Manufacturing Division, part of Merck in Durham, North Carolina, Bryant-Boose is paying that opportunity forward, making sure that others are able to find their passion and achieve their dreams.

Discovering manufacturing: Bryant-Boose graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in chemical engineering, a concentration in biomolecular engineering and a double minor in microbiology and biotechnology.

  • When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she began looking at careers at Merck, and in her words, just stumbled onto automation. After doing some research, she was hooked.
  • “Automation is like playing investigative journalism or being a detective,” said Bryant-Boose. “Sometimes there’s a problem and no one will know what the issue is—and automation is about looking into the nitty-gritty, getting a little dirty and opening up a system to find what the issue is. That way of thinking and working is what makes me enjoy what I do.”

Educating young people: In 2022, Bryant-Boose launched a project designed to spread opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math to young people who might not otherwise be able to learn about those subjects.

  • She started small in 2022, with a program at a local middle school. Last summer, in collaboration between the Society of Women Engineers and Durham Parks & Recreation, the project grew into a STEM summer camp with about 30 Merck volunteers.
  • “We hosted 90 kids in three locations who all got that face-to-face interaction with Merck employees,” she said. “It was a lot of work to organize, but it was good to pay it forward. I’m giving kids someone to look up to and helping them figure out where they might go.”

Promoting support: Bryant-Boose is also a talent acquisition lead for the League of Employees of African Descent at Merck. The internal group, which offers both mentoring and reverse mentoring—in which younger employees provide advice and knowledge to executive team members—gives her a chance to both advise and be advised.

  • “I like being able to give people advice that I wish I had,” said Bryant-Boose. “At the end of the day, it’s good to be around people who can relate to things you’re going through. And I find that LEAD allows me to do that at Merck.”

Gaining recognition: Recently, Bryant-Boose was named an Emerging Leader in manufacturing by the 2024 Women MAKE Awards, a distinction for a select few women under the age of 30 who have achieved unique accomplishments at the start of their careers in manufacturing.

Offering advice: Some of Bryant-Boose’s best advice is to encourage people— especially women—to find their own mentors.

  • “I know coming into what’s historically been a male-dominated field can be intimidating,” said Bryant-Boose. “If you’re a woman considering manufacturing, or actively getting into it, find that person who can be your mentor. Claim them. Go to them when you need someone to talk to.”

Go deeper: To see the full list of 2024 Women MAKE Award Honorees and Emerging Leaders, click here. To learn more about the Women MAKE Awards, click here, and to learn more about the MI’s free Women MAKE Mentorship Program, click here or contact the team at [email protected].

Policy and Legal

State of Manufacturing: Strong, But Not Guaranteed

a group of people standing in front of a crowd

What’s the state of manufacturing in the U.S.? Strong and resilient—but under threat.

That was the message delivered by NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons and other speakers at the NAM’s 2024 State of Manufacturing Address at RCO Engineering in Roseville, Michigan, on Thursday.

  • Attending the address were nearly 100 RCO Engineering team members—some of whom are second- or even third-generation manufacturing workers—as well as local education leaders, including Macomb Community College President James O. Sawyer IV and Macomb Intermediate School District Superintendent Michael R. DeVault.
  • The address was the keystone event of this week’s launch of the 2024 Competing to Win Tour, an opportunity to visit local manufacturers and report on where the industry stands at the start of 2024. 

A place of strength: “The state of the manufacturing industry depends on the people in it,” Timmons said in remarks covered by POLITICO Influence (subscription). “And we are now 13 million strong—the largest in more than 15 years. If we can continue on this trajectory, this resurgence, imagine what the state of manufacturing might look like in 2030.”

  • Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer and NAM Board Chair Kathy Wengel echoed that sentiment in her opening remarks. “Manufacturers are improving the quality of life for everyone. … Together, we can lead the way.”
  • And Michigan Manufacturers Association President and CEO John Walsh told the audience at RCO Engineering, “You are making parts here that are going everywhere. It’s a phenomenal story for us in Michigan. It not only helps you as employees here, but it helps your families, it helps your communities. It builds our state. It builds our nation.”
  • “Manufacturing … is an industry that is vital to our economic competitiveness,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. “In Macomb County, we’re not just witnessing the growth of manufacturing; we’re actively contributing to it. What we are doing here is creating an environment where innovation thrives and where manufacturers can grow as well as compete.”
  • RCO Engineering General Manager Jeff Simek agreed. “The manufacturing brand is coming back, and it’s coming back alive—and you guys are a big, huge piece of that,” he said to loud applause. 

Fork in the road: But continued manufacturing strength isn’t guaranteed, Timmons said. Rather, it’s in large part contingent on sound policy decisions by U.S. leaders.

  • “We will head in the wrong direction if Congress lets taxes go up on small businesses when rates expire next year,” Timmons said. “Or if they hit you with even more regulations—regulations even harsher than ones they have in Europe. Or if they fail to solve the immigration crisis because they put politics over good policy. Or choose trade barriers rather than trade agreements, or … abandon our allies overseas and put our national security at risk.”
  • The recent regulatory onslaught by federal agencies—which Timmons discussed with Fox Business earlier this week—must stop and be replaced with sensible rulemaking done in cooperation with manufacturers, he said.
  • He cited the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently finalized, overly stringent standard for particulate matter and the Biden administration’s decision to freeze liquefied natural gas export permits. This “forc[es] our allies, like Europe and Japan, to buy dirtier energy from countries we can’t trust, potentially enriching the likes of Russia … undercut[ting] our most basic national security objectives,” Timmons said.

No new taxes: The NAM’s message to Congress on taxes is simple: “No new taxes on manufacturers in America,” Timmons said. 

  • “And while we’re at it, Congress should bring back some of the tax policies that made it easier for manufacturers to invest in the future.”

On immigration: The U.S. needs a common-sense solution to immigration, and it needs it now, Timmons said.

  • While manufacturers may not like every piece of the bipartisan border deal that was recently killed in the Senate, “here was my test: Does it make us more secure than we are today? Yes. Does it make our workforce stronger than it is today? Yes. And does it help our allies overseas? Yes,” said Timmons.

Come what may: No matter what the November elections bring, manufacturers will continue to do the jobs so many people depend on them to do, Timmons concluded.

  • “Our commitment is to work with anyone, and I truly mean anyone, who will put policy—policy that supports people—ahead of politics, personality or process. We will stand with you if you stand with us in advancing the values that have made America exceptional and keep manufacturing strong.” 
Workforce

Can a Factory Offer Flexible Work Schedules?

Manufacturing operations are meticulously scheduled and dependent on consistent in-person labor—so how can employers in the sector give workers the flexibility that many want?

With competition for workers remaining fierce, it’s a question that the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate) has started to tackle. Now, manufacturers looking into providing flexible options can consult a new MI whitepaper that draws on real companies’ experiences and decision-making processes. 

The new reality: Flexibility is a high priority for workers nowadays, as the MI’s own research shows.

  • “Nearly 50% of manufacturing employees cite flexibility as a reason they stay with their employer, with 63.5% reporting that they would look for more flexibility in their next role if they were to leave their current company.”

Figuring it out: So how are manufacturers adjusting? According to a working group of 17 companies convened by the MI, many manufacturers have started by surveying their workers and talking through options with them.

  • While feedback from current employees is often a prime motivator for companies considering flexible work arrangements, some manufacturers also pursue them to attract a wider pool of prospective workers—including parents of young children, who may put a premium on flexibility.

What’s on offer: As feedback from the working group showed, manufacturers are considering a wide range of creative options. The whitepaper cites several intriguing examples, which should give other manufacturers ideas for their own operations.

  • One manufacturer in the group was trying out different shift options, remarking that they’re “exploring 4–9s and 4–10s primarily as well as adding a Sunday second shift and having folks on rotating shifts.”
  • Other companies organized teams of “floaters.” At one firm, these employees work limited hours on different shifts and acquire a large variety of skills. While not full-time, such positions offer a viable option for workers in search of considerable flexibility.
  • Shift swapping was another option under discussion, with one company allowing workers to swap up to a week at a time, so long as a supervisor approved.

How to get started: Check out the full whitepaper for more useful tips, including a toolkit to help companies start making these complex decisions on their own.

  • Here is the recommended first step: “Identify the objectives that your company hopes to achieve in providing workplace flexibility by focusing on the challenges that you would like to solve, whether it’s increasing the number of applicants or reducing turnover and absenteeism. Establish your baseline by evaluating your company’s status on these metrics.”
  • Manufacturing employers can learn more about effective approaches to flexibility for production employees at the MI’s upcoming workshop March 19–20 in Washington, D.C. Check out more details from the MI here. 

The last word: As one working group participant said, “At our company, we’ve seen what workplace flexibility means for our production workers. The change in company culture is so valuable.” 

Workforce

How Pioneer Service Solves the Retention Puzzle

a couple of people that are standing in front of a building

For Pioneer Service President and Co-Owner Aneesa Muthana, having an engaged team is the key to solving the workforce retention puzzle. The Addison, Illinois–based, woman-owned company is among the many manufacturers that find retention, along with recruitment, to be top business challenges, as the NAM’s Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey shows. So how has Muthana gone about building such a team?

Where it all starts: For Muthana, meeting this challenge begins with upholding the company’s core values: integrity, diversity, leadership, outreach, stewardship, quality and learning.

  • These words appear on the shop floor, and every job candidate who comes in for an interview receives a handout outlining their importance. “These are more than just pretty words on a wall,” said Muthana. “We chose these values as a team because they pinpoint our path to success, both financially and ethically.”
  • “I give them a copy because I want them to understand the importance from the beginning,” said Muthana. “We want to plant the seed before they’re on our payroll that these are the expectations. Then it becomes fair to hold people accountable to them.”

Providing training opportunities: In keeping with its core values of stewardship and learning, Pioneer Service offers internal training opportunities for employees who express an interest.

  • “We offer training to anyone who raises their hand, whether it be in safety or leadership,” said Muthana. “It can also be very technical training on the shop floor. We also provide GD&T training, including for our sales team.”
  • GD&T, or geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, determines how parts fit together into an assembly to form a product.
  • The benefit of having a salesperson learn about GD&T? “A salesperson would be able to look at a customer print confidently and feel comfortable talking to the customer without needing to have an engineer in the room,” Muthana pointed out.

Offering support: Pioneer Service established a chaplaincy program, which connects employees and their families undergoing hardships—such as caring for an elderly parent, grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a personal struggle—with a chaplain who can provide counseling and offer spiritual and emotional support. Muthana says that the chaplaincy program is open to any employee, regardless of religious background or preference.

  • “The chaplain service is part of our team,” said Muthana. “We have one chaplain come in every week—one week a male and then the following week a female—who is available to meet with staff if needed.”
  • Muthana says she used the service a few years ago when her son, who is in the military, came back from Afghanistan. Many of his friends did not.​​​​​​​
  • “As a parent, you feel grateful that your child survived, but also guilty for feeling that way because a lot of his friends didn’t come home. The chaplain service provided me someone to talk to because I couldn’t talk to my family, and I couldn’t talk to my staff,” she recalls. “I developed a strong relationship with the chaplain that I feel never would have happened if I didn’t look out for my staff and implemented the service.”

Job shadowing: When Muthana goes to a speaking event or conference, she sometimes takes one or two of her staff with her so they’re able to benefit from attending. It’s also a way for her to get to know her staff on a more personal level, outside of the formal workplace setting.

The last word: Muthana shared some advice for companies struggling with workforce retention:

  • “Having an engaged team and workers only happens with a people-first mentality,” said Muthana. “When you take care of them, you become successful because you have an engaged team that has your back.”
  • “It’s harder to make a profit than ever. The only way that we’re going to be successful is by having an engaged team.”

Go deeper: The Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate) has many resources to help employers retain and develop their teams.

Workforce

Three Sisters Build Manufacturing Careers Together

a person standing in front of a building

For three sisters in Kentucky, manufacturing is a family affair.

Emily Bastin, Heather Craven and Hannah Geneve are all working in maintenance roles supporting various shops at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. Growing up, they had disparate interests—while Emily had taken robotics classes in middle school and Heather had always enjoyed working with her hands, Hannah switched to manufacturing only after working in customer service. Today, all three of them are building careers in manufacturing together.

How they got here: Emily, Heather and Hannah found their way into manufacturing through FAME—an initiative for current and aspiring manufacturing workers that was founded by Toyota in 2010 and is operated today by the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate.

  • The FAME Advanced Manufacturing Technician program offers on-the-job training and classroom education that combine technical training with professional practices and lean learnings to create world-class technicians. The two-year AMT program leads to an associate degree and the FAME certificate.
  • “They came to my school—the AMT program—and I was like, you know, let’s give this a shot,” said Emily. “I didn’t realize I would have that kind of potential. This was cool stuff.”

The family business: Emily was the first of the three sisters to graduate from FAME, and she has been helping her sisters as they work their way through the program. Both Hannah and Heather are enrolled in FAME while working at Toyota, and they expect to graduate in May 2025.

  • “We’re all working in the same plant, and if they need anything from me, I’m there to be supportive,” said Emily.
  • “With schoolwork, I try to help Heather, and she tries to help me,” said Hannah. “We all help where we can.”
  • “It’s nice to have that sister love to lean on,” said Heather. “They understand the frustration of school and work, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them.”

Opportunities abound: The sisters advise others who might not have considered manufacturing as a career—especially women—to give the industry a second look, emphasizing the sheer diversity of jobs on offer.

  • “Working in manufacturing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working on a factory floor,” said Hannah. “There’s an administrative side, an HR side—there’s a lot more to manufacturing than people expect.”
  • “I do see us being examples for women who might not normally see themselves in the field,” said Heather. “You want to see women come in and say, hey, I did it, and you can, too. It’s nice to see yourself reflected back.”

The community: It’s not just their family ties that keep the sisters in manufacturing. All three sisters have high praise for their fellow students and colleagues, and for the supportive culture they’ve encountered at Toyota.

  • “The mentorship I got helped me gain my confidence while I was learning,” said Emily. “And even now, the teamwork that goes into everything, every day—it’s been a nice surprise.”
  • “Everyone has been super nice, super helpful and super welcoming,” said Hannah. “When you start out, it can seem intimidating, but everyone’s willing to help you out. They really want you to succeed.”

The last word: “It’s nice to feel like you’re a part of that network—that family,” said Heather.

The MI’s 35×30 campaign aims to increase the share of women in manufacturing to 35% by 2030 and spotlights outstanding women in the industry like these sisters. To learn more about Women MAKE America and explore its many opportunities, including its new mentorship program, go here.

The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education provides global-best workforce development through strong technical training, integration of manufacturing core competencies, intensive professional practices and intentional hands-on experience to build the future of the modern manufacturing industry. Learn more here.

Workforce

How Mentorships Help Women Advance in Manufacturing

a person holding a sign posing for the camera

Jacqueline Cooley spends her days coaching manufacturing employees and helping them build better lives. So when she was looking to improve her professional skills and career trajectory, she knew it would be valuable to find her own coach or mentor.

Cooley found a great match through the Women MAKE Mentorship Program, a free initiative run by the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate), which aims to strengthen women’s careers in the industry by connecting them with peer advisers.

She recently told us about her experience with the program and what it has meant for her career so far.

A better life: Cooley is a better life coach at JBM Packaging, an “eco-friendly, flexible packaging” manufacturer in Lebanon, Ohio, which prioritizes hiring and supporting those who have been involved with the justice system. These “fair chance” hires make up about half the company’s approximately 160-person workforce.

  • “I haven’t really found anybody else who does what we do,” said Cooley, whose job entails management of the fair chance program and its participants. “We have life coaching, financial coaching, our Wheels [car leasing] program. We do parental coaching; there are loans [employees] can take out. It’s holistic.”

A coach finds a coach: “I saw [the mentorship program] on the MI’s website and was immediately interested because I’d been looking for a mentor,” Cooley told us.

  • “It has been really good. My mentor and I both work in human resources. She’s someone I can bounce ideas off.”
  • “I’m at a point in my career where I wanted somebody else’s guidance, wanted to get [the benefit of] their experience in the HR world and learn the steps they took to get to the next level,” she added.

How it works: The MI pairs its mentors—all of whom are volunteers—with mentees based on personal and professional goals and interests, communication style and a dozen other criteria provided through a self-assessment.

  • Cooley’s mentor—who works in human resources for another manufacturer—has already helped Cooley fulfill one of her primary goals: to broaden her network in the industry and meet more people.
  • “My mentor has been in HR for 20 years or so, and she has a lot of contacts in the [Cincinnati] area and is well-connected,” said Cooley. “She’s invited me to her [workplace], had me talk to other people there, invited me to other [events]. I’ve met a lot of people through her.”

What’s next: Cooley, who said she is considering becoming a mentor herself once she finishes the nine-month program, said more women in manufacturing should participate.

  • “It’s a great way to make connections with other women,” she said. “Don’t sell yourself short by thinking you don’t have anything to offer. The mentor can learn from the mentee as well as vice versa. It will open up opportunities for you.”

Dive deeper: To learn more about the MI’s free Women MAKE Mentorship Program, click here or contact the team at [email protected].

News

Manufacturers Should Think Local When Addressing the Workforce Crisis

No man is an island, and neither is any manufacturer. Indeed, local and regional ties have never been more important to the industry’s success, as companies seek to fill hundreds of thousands of open positions and secure a talent pipeline for the next decade.

That’s why building partnerships with local organizations, schools and leaders was a key topic at the Manufacturing Institute’s 2023 Workforce Summit in October.

  • As MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee put it, “The current state of the economy calls for new ideas for solutions…. We’ll need to build more diverse talent pipelines and connect with our partners in the workforce ecosystem.”

The problem has changed: “The workforce challenges we are seeing are not transitory; they’re structural,” emphasized MI Vice President of Workforce Solutions Gardner Carrick. “Addressing these structural challenges are going to require local, regional solutions.”

  • In this case, “regional” means approximately a 40-mile radius around a facility. Manufacturers should focus on sourcing the bulk of their workforce from this immediate area, said Carrick, since it is unlikely that workers outside of that radius would be willing to commute.
  • Carrick noted that manufacturers will need other organizations to help their outreach. “We need to collaborate. This is not a problem that can be solved individually.”

Which partners? Manufacturers should seek out economic development boards, education partners and community-based organizations, as well as individual leaders within their local communities.

  • “With every new partnership, identify the point person and the decision-makers,” Carrick advised. “Work with them to maximize the relationship. You want to build awareness and institutional memory of your company within that organization.”
  • In addition, manufacturers can seek out regional chapters of the MI’s Heroes MAKE America, Women MAKE America and FAME USA initiatives—which help members of the military community, women and others find rewarding manufacturing careers.

Connecting industries: Manufacturers can also find partners within their industry sectors and create relationships with local schools.

  • In another session at the summit, MI Director of Workforce Initiatives Pooja Tripathi pointed out that “A group of employers can sponsor a noncredit pathway—which is relatively inexpensive—at a community college, which can then use it to attract the workforce manufacturers are looking for.”
  • Fresno Business Council CEO Genelle Taylor Kumpe added that manufacturers could work with high school counselors to challenge perceptions of manufacturing and the need for a four-year college degree. “We’ve seen internships and other short-term exposure programs work in attracting youth to the manufacturing industry,” she noted.
  • Fresno Economic Development Corporation Vice President of Workforce Development Chris Zeitz gave general guidance on approaching industry partners: “Different manufacturers and organizations have different incentives and ropes to navigate. The speed at which different sectors like manufacturing, education and economic development boards make decisions and move can also vary.”

The final word: Caterpillar Foundation President Asha Varghese emphasized the importance of seeking local solutions for workforce challenges, a key element of the foundation’s efforts to strengthen communities nationwide. As she rightly noted, “A business cannot thrive unless the community is successful.”

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