Workforce

Workforce

Inside the MI’s Pathbreaking Workforce Summit

The best minds tackling manufacturers’ workforce challenges gathered in Atlanta last week to discuss hiring, retention, training and more. The Manufacturing Institute’s workforce summit convened almost 300 manufacturers, partners from education and training groups, philanthropy leaders and representatives from community-based organizations to share insights and brainstorm solutions.

The economic backdrop: Amid a persistently tight labor market, manufacturers are looking for immediate and long-term solutions to attraction and retention challenges.

  • Chad Moutray, director of the MI’s Center for Manufacturing Research, provided the larger economic context for attendees, saying that “it’s not hard to be bullish about manufacturing. There continues to be signs of resilience in the sector despite a multitude of challenges.”
  • “However, it exacerbates workforce issues, which remain the top concern of manufacturers, especially in a solid labor market,” he added.

Energizing connections: The MI was focused on helping participants learn from each other and form lasting and productive bonds.

  • Organizations including the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, Siemens Foundation and River Parishes Community College sent leaders to facilitate conversations and share insights, while the generous support of WestRock, the Arconic Foundation and many others made the event possible.
  • In breakout sessions, MI experts analyzed the key challenges facing manufacturers and shared proven workforce solutions like high school internships, female mentorship programs and regional sector partnerships.

Fresh insights: The two-day event was brimming with new ideas and fresh perspectives—too many to list in one article. Here is a brief sampling of the topics covered:

  • People: The speakers highlighted manufacturers’ work to create positive company culture, prioritize flexibility and address issues like the shortage of child care. Maj. Gen. Kris Belanger also shared the importance of tapping into military talent pools like the U.S. Army Reserve. Programs like the MI’s Heroes MAKE America are making these important connections.
  • Skills: To meet their needs for skilled workers, manufacturers are working with the MI, economic development boards and educational institutions to train the current and next generations of manufacturing employees. Workshop sessions showcased solutions from the MI’s FAME USA program, second chance hiring initiative and student engagement.
  • Processes: Conversations in the popular “Brewing Solutions” rooms focused on ways manufacturers and workforce partners could tap into hidden populations, create attractive working environments and address policy barriers that restrict the adoption of innovative solutions.

Fearing you missed out? Don’t worry! There are plenty of ways you can plug into the cutting-edge work of the MI, the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate.

  • Get updates directly from the MI on the latest workforce insights and receive information about registering for the 2024 Workforce Summit.
  • Join us as a sponsor for the 2024 Women MAKE Awards in Washington, D.C., on April 18 to support female manufacturing leaders and network with manufacturers and other workforce partners.
  • Want more labor data and insights? Sign up for the MI’s comprehensive Workforce in Focus newsletter to stay up to date on the latest workforce trends.

The last word: “The MI’s unique positioning as both an insightful expert of emerging trends within the industry and an effective implementer of proven workforce solutions drives innovative problem-solving,” said MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “As we face structural workforce shortages, convenings like the MI’s Workforce Summit will continue to be crucial to build the types of partnerships and share important insights needed to ensure the readiness of the manufacturing workforce.”

Workforce

Creators Wanted Tour Sets New Records at Ohio Finale

a group of people around each other

The size of the Great Pumpkin at the 116th annual Circleville Pumpkin Show—Ohio’s iconic fall fest—wasn’t the only record shattered there last week. The Creators Wanted Tour, a historic initiative of the NAM and the Manufacturing Institute to build excitement about modern manufacturing careers, reached new highs for engagement at its 20th and final stop.

Driving the news: The show attracted a crowd of more than 400,000, with “Creators Wanted” the most prominent brand seen and heard throughout the entire event. Of show attendees, the Creators Wanted activation pulled in a tour record of 2,024 participants comprising students and chaperones, taking the immersive experience’s overall total to just shy of 17,000 in two years.

  • The digital campaign surrounding the stop collected an additional 110,000 email signups from students and career mentors interested in learning more about modern manufacturing careers, bumping the campaign’s email list above 1.6 million.
  • The tour stop also saturated local news, with NBC4, 10TV CBS and WTTE Fox all sending live crews to the experience.

Why it matters: The stop, sponsored by the joint venture of Honda and LG Energy Solution and in partnership with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, comes at a critical time for the nation’s manufacturers, as they compete against other industries to fill available job openings today and win the interest of young people for the careers of tomorrow.

  • For example, Honda and LG Energy Solution need to hire 2,200 workers within two years for their new electrical vehicle battery plant in Fayette County, Ohio.
  • At the stop, Honda and LG Energy Solution joint venture associates were on hand to provide information about modern manufacturing careers generally and about opportunities at the EV plant specifically. The traffic around the experience was so robust that all recruiting materials were exhausted before the event wrapped up.

Zoom in: On Saturday night, the Creators Wanted team also reinforced the industry’s commitment to communities by leading the largest parade of the show, in front of tens of thousands who heard the public address system broadcast the industry’s call for creators and highlight the campaign’s career resources at CreatorsWanted.org.

  • NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, a proud son of Circleville and Chillicothe, Ohio, also addressed an assembling of Ohio’s young women leaders and their families, emphasizing their capacity to make a difference in manufacturing careers while at the same time noting mentorship resources available to them through the MI’s Women MAKE America initiative.
  • The tour’s innovative approach received strong approval from state and local officials, strengthening the campaign’s ability to reach students and constituents. Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, State Auditor Keith Faber, State Sen. Michele Reynolds and State Reps. Brian Stewart and Mark Johnson, among others, stopped by to see what the buzz was all about.a group of people walking down the street in front of a crowd

Tour highlights: Beyond the pumpkin-centric celebrations, the tour also took its message of opportunity and rewarding careers to the new, state-of-the-art Logan Elm School, a combined elementary, middle and high school, as well as to students of the Ohio State University’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence.

  • At Logan Elm, Timmons was joined by OMA President Ryan Augsburger, Honda and LG Energy Solution joint venture representative and engineer Sandip Suvedi and representatives from Sofidel America. Honda engineer Meredith Reffey, who is now Honda America’s department lead for workforce partnership, joined Timmons and MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee at OSU. (The MI is the workforce development and education affiliate of the NAM.)

The big number: Post-tour surveys show that 84% of participants now view the manufacturing sector more positively.

On the record: “Closing our expansive 20-stop, 25,000+ mile tour at such a dynamic event serves as a potent reminder: the heartbeat of manufacturing lies within our communities,” said Timmons. “It’s in the eyes of the young dreamers in the crowd, the hands of our diligent staff and the spirits of every individual who championed our journey.”

  • “The Creators Wanted Tour helped us shift perceptions, but we also know the hard work of continuing to improve perceptions and build the workforce of the future goes on,” said Lee. “The Manufacturing Institute, with our scaled-up efforts to drive solutions with manufacturers and across the industry and the robust digital network and resources the campaign has created will build on the tour’s momentum to do even more.”

The last word: “Our aspiration with Creators Wanted was straightforward yet audacious: to transcend traditional boundaries, step out of the corridors of Washington, D.C., and engage directly with communities across the country,” said NAM Managing Vice President of Brand Strategy Chrys Kefalas. “That’s exactly what we and the manufacturers who joined this tour and campaign did, and we’ve made a lasting positive difference in people’s lives that will outlive this tour and help the industry for decades to come.”

Workforce

Creators Wanted Tour Sets New Records at Ohio Finale


The size of the Great Pumpkin at the 116th annual Circleville Pumpkin Show—Ohio’s iconic fall fest—wasn’t the only record shattered there last week. The Creators Wanted Tour, a historic initiative of the NAM and the Manufacturing Institute to build excitement about modern manufacturing careers, reached new highs for engagement at its 20th and final stop.

Driving the news: The show attracted a crowd of more than 400,000, with “Creators Wanted” the most prominent brand seen and heard throughout the entire event. Of show attendees, the Creators Wanted activation pulled in a tour record of 2,024 participants comprising students and chaperones, taking the immersive experience’s overall total to just shy of 17,000 in two years.

  • The digital campaign surrounding the stop collected an additional 110,000 email signups from students and career mentors interested in learning more about modern manufacturing careers, bumping the campaign’s email list above 1.6 million.
  • The tour stop also saturated local news, with NBC4, 10TV CBS and WTTE Fox all sending live crews to the experience.

Why it matters: The stop, sponsored by the joint venture of Honda and LG Energy Solution and in partnership with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, comes at a critical time for Ohio and the nation’s manufacturers, as they compete against other industries to fill available job openings today and win the interest of young people for the careers of tomorrow.

  • For example, Honda and LG Energy Solution need to hire 2,200 workers within two years for their new electrical vehicle battery plant in Fayette County, Ohio.
  • At the stop, Honda and LG Energy Solution joint venture associates were on hand to provide information about modern manufacturing careers generally and about opportunities at the EV plant specifically. The traffic around the experience was so robust that all recruiting materials were exhausted before the event wrapped up.

Zoom in: On Saturday night, the Creators Wanted team also reinforced the industry’s commitment to communities by leading the largest parade of the show, in front of tens of thousands who heard the public address system broadcast the industry’s call for creators and highlight the campaign’s career resources at CreatorsWanted.org.

  • NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, a proud son of Circleville and Chillicothe, Ohio, also addressed an assembling of Ohio’s young women leaders and their families, emphasizing their capacity to make a difference in manufacturing careers while at the same time noting mentorship resources available to them through the MI’s Women MAKE America initiative.
  • The tour’s innovative approach received strong approval from state and local officials, strengthening the campaign’s ability to reach students and constituents. Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, State Auditor Keith Faber, State Sen. Michele Reynolds and State Reps. Brian Stewart and Mark Johnson, among others, stopped by to see what the buzz was all about.

Read the full story here.

Workforce

Students Experience Manufacturing at MFG Day Kickoff

To say there was a lot for students to see and do at chemical manufacturer BASF’s MFG Day event at River Parishes Community College last Friday would be an understatement.

  • The activities at the Gonzales, Louisiana, college were made possible by a partnership between with the school and the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate.

A rewarding experience: Hundreds of middle and high school students gathered on the campus for a chance to learn about manufacturing and how rewarding careers in the industry can be.

  • Representatives from approximately 10 manufacturing companies and various departments at the college set up demonstration and interactivity stations where the students could find out more about the different careers and training programs available in their community.
  • BASF was platinum sponsor of this year’s MFG Day, a flagship initiative of the Manufacturing Institute that introduces students, parents and educators to the manufacturing industry.

Hands-on activities: Students got the chance to conduct science experiments (including one in which they made putty and learned how different chemicals react to create the substance), simulate firefighting, experience virtual and augmented reality welding systems, try out process control simulators and more.

Readying the future workforce: Partnerships between academia and industry are helping to deliver the right workers to the right jobs, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson told the students and other audience members at the event.

  • The LED’s “FastStart workforce development [program], that integrates with community colleges and four-year universities across our state, help[s] guide and then make the recipe to deliver exactly what BASF needs, exactly what Shell needs, exactly what ExxonMobil needs” in its workforces, Pierson said.
  • Said A. Denise Graves, Ascension Public Schools assistant superintendent, “[Today] is an opportunity for our children because they’re going to go home and they’re going to share this information [about manufacturing careers], they’re going to share this day with others.”

A guiding path: Louisiana State Rep. Ken Brass, who is also an electrical engineer at BASF, described his journey into manufacturing.

  • “I would like to publicly and personally thank BASF and the Manufacturing Institute for investing in me and my career,” he said. “It wasn’t too long ago [that] I was a senior at a nearby high school … and I was wondering [about] the path forward for my life after high school.”
  • “I attended a STEM event which led me to attend Southern University and ultimately receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a minor in mathematics,” he continued. “Upon graduation, BASF took a chance on me. I have now been at the company for over 20 years, which has allowed me the opportunity to continue to live in my hometown of St. James and to work in a nearby parish.”

Changing perceptions: Activities such as those at BASF’s MFG Day event allow students to get a real taste of modern manufacturing and perhaps take career paths similar to Brass’s, MI Executive Director Carolyn Lee said.

  • “MFG Day … is designed to give manufacturers a platform to come together to address one of the biggest challenges we all face each and every day—and that’s to change the perception of our careers,” Lee said.
  • “We’re showing students what manufacturing really looks like today and how operators get to work … in clean, bright, sleek technology-driven facilities while accessing state-of-the-art equipment and tools, including robotics and augmented reality, drones and digital twins, just to name a few.”

A bright future: “We know that by building an interest in STEM careers today, we’ll create the sustainable solutions [we need] for tomorrow,” said BASF Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Lebold. “It’s through these kids and … efforts like this with RPCC that I know that future is going to be more sustainable and it’s going to be very bright.”

Workforce

Husco Cracks the Employee-Retention Code

For Husco—a family-owned manufacturer of hydraulic and electro-mechanical control systems—building a strong, cohesive culture is the key to retaining talent.

The Waukesha, Wisconsin, company is among the many manufacturers that find retention to be a top business challenge, as the NAM’s quarterly Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey shows. So how do they create this cohesion?

It all starts at the top: Angela Stemo, vice president of global human capital at Husco, says the company has always prioritized trust and communication between employees and their managers.

  • “Our retention has grown and strengthened because of the emphasis we place on our leaders having strong relationships with their employees—get to know who they are, find out what their interests are,” said Stemo.
  • The company also lays the groundwork for strong bonds between coworkers, which often flourish outside of work as well. “Once they feel connected to people within the organization, they’re going to want to stay,” explained Stemo. “They’ve built friendships, they’ve built connections, and they feel really tied to the organizational culture.”

How they do it: Husco conducts employee engagement surveys once a year and holds occasional in-person focus group discussions to get feedback from employees.

  • “As our organization becomes more diverse, we are offering surveys in more languages,” said Stemo. “We have a large Afghan population on our shop floor as well as many Burmese workers, so we’ve had our surveys translated into various languages for all employees to participate.”
  • “For us, we really try to listen to what people say and what their suggestions are,” said Stemo. “If it’s something feasible and we can implement it, we try to figure out how to do so.”

Career development and advancement: Stemo noted that workers have consistently mentioned career development and advancement in the focus groups and surveys. The company has responded by expanding its offerings:

  • Husco offers its workers 100% tuition reimbursement—whether for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree—and fully funded internal and external training.
  • The company also offers a “scholars program” that helps recent high school graduates complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering while working at Husco. Scholars receive full-time pay and benefits along with 100% tuition support.
  • “Husco emphasizes and truly supports lifelong, continuous learning,” said Stemo.

Internal programs: Within the company, Husco offers career development programs that feature rotations through different departments, such as quality, manufacturing and design. These rotations prepare workers for leadership positions, usually in engineering or manufacturing, said Stemo.

  • Husco provides the opportunity for employees to pursue external certifications in Six Sigma (green, yellow or black) and project management, as well as attend classes in negotiation, presentation and communication through a third party or university/college. If an employee has the desire and completes the appropriate request forms, the company approves it, said Stemo.

Patent awards: Husco also provides a monetary reward for ideas that contribute to new products, processes or anything else that might be patented.

  • “There is a staff engineer within each division who partners with various legal teams to apply for a patent award,” explained Stemo. “We recognize the award with a plaque and a patent award bonus.”

Other perks and support: Husco offers employees the flexibility of working one day a week from home and provides free health risk assessments, flu shots and on-site medical consulting. Through a corporate membership, the company also provides employees with day passes to visit the local zoo or museum for free.

Philanthropy: Philanthropy is central to Husco’s culture, and the company encourages its employees to get involved and help their communities. Husco supports employees’ philanthropic efforts through local outreach programs and volunteer opportunities.

  • Husco donates 10% of its profits to charitable organizations, putting a special emphasis on those that support K-12 education. The company also donates to colleges and universities, while providing scholarships for exceptional local students and the children of Husco employees.
  • “We match dollar to dollar employee donations to hundreds of different organizations,” noted Stemo. “Our philanthropic efforts are a big part of our culture and what makes employees ‘sticky.’”

The last word: Stemo shared some advice for companies struggling with workforce retention: there’s no substitute for good leaders.

  • “People leave bosses,” she said. “It may not be the final reason why someone leaves a company, but a lot of times, that’s the beginning of why someone starts looking for a job elsewhere or takes that recruiter call.”

Go deeper: The Manufacturing Institute—the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate—has many resources to help employers retain and develop their teams.

  • Start with this study on boosting retention and employee engagement, and register for an upcoming webinar on company culture.
  • Interested in labor data and key workforce insights? Sign up for the MI’s new monthly publication, Workforce in Focus.
  • For more on the latest trends and best practices in workforce development, sign up for the MI’s Workforce Summit on Oct. 16–18 in Atlanta. Click here for more information and to register.
Press Releases

Manufacturers: Impact of Strike Will Echo Far Beyond Detroit

Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement on the United Auto Workers’ announcement to start a “Stand Up” strike:

“The impact of this strike will echo far beyond the city of Detroit as multiple economic analyses have demonstrated. The small and medium-sized manufacturers across the country that make up the automotive sector’s integrated supply chain will feel the brunt of this work stoppage, whether they are a union shop or not.

“American families are already feeling economic pressures from near-record high inflation and this will only inflict more pain. We urge a swift resolution to end this strike and avoid further undermining the strength of our industry and harming our broader economy.”

-NAM-

The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs nearly 13 million men and women, contributes $2.91 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 55% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.

Press Releases

Overregulation and Workforce Challenges Weigh Heavily on Manufacturing Sector

Optimism Sinks to Pandemic Lows in Q3 Outlook Survey

Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Manufacturers released its Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey for the third quarter of 2023, which registered the lowest level of optimism among NAM members (65.1%) since Q2 2020, as the sector continues to confront a tight labor market, unbalanced federal regulations and critical policy debates in Congress.

“Manufacturers continue to be challenged in today’s economy, but what this survey makes clear is that unbalanced federal regulations are harming families and communities, with nearly two out of three manufacturers reporting that the regulatory burden is preventing them from hiring more workers or increasing pay and benefits,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Congress and the administration can help correct this trend by restoring sensible regulations, enacting further permitting reforms, taking action to keep our tax code competitive and other bipartisan steps to strengthen manufacturing in America and build on the progress we achieved with tax reform, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and more.”

Key Survey Findings:

  • Only 65.1% of respondents felt positive in their company’s outlook, edging down from 67.0% in the second quarter. It was the fourth straight reading below the historical average (74.9%).
  • Concern about an unfavorable business climate was the highest in six years (Q2 2017).
  • The survey found that 69.1% of small manufacturers, and 63.2% of all respondents, would hire more workers or increase compensation if the regulatory burden decreased.
  • More than 70% of manufacturers would purchase more capital equipment if the regulatory burden on manufacturers decreased, with 48.6% increasing compensation, 48.6% hiring more workers, 42.5% expanding their U.S. facilities and 38.4% investing in research.
  • The top challenges facing manufacturers include attracting and retaining a quality workforce (72.1%), weaker domestic economy (60.7%), rising health care/insurance costs (60.1%), unfavorable business climate (56.7%), increased raw material costs (45.5%) and supply chain challenges (37.8%).

You can learn more at the NAM’s online regulatory action center here.

The NAM releases these results to the public each quarter. Further information on the survey is available here.

-NAM-

The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs nearly 13 million men and women, contributes $2.91 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 55% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.

Workforce and Education

How Manufacturers Can Tap into a Large, Talented Workforce

Discipline, reliability, a team-player mindset, leadership—manufacturers are looking for all these qualities in the talent they recruit. What if companies could tap into a population not only equipped with these skills but experienced in using them in high-stakes situations?

Well, the Manufacturing Institute—the workforce development and education affiliate of the NAM—has good news, if you haven’t heard it already: this population exists, and it’s military talent. Transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard members, reservists and military spouses have a wealth of skills and experience that translate easily into a manufacturing context.

So how can manufacturers reach these workers and make the best use of them? The MI recently convened both military and manufacturing leaders in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for its third Workforce Solution Series event, where they answered this question and offered a range of useful advice. Here are some of the highlights.

Generally speaking: Major General Eugene J. LeBoeuf, Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command, highlighted the talents and skillsets that Army reservists can offer the manufacturing industry, including agility, a can-do attitude and a thorough grounding in engineering, logistics and mechatronics.

  • With nearly 190,000 soldiers, the Army Reserve comprises much of the readiness force of the U.S. Army. Many of these reservists are underemployed or unemployed, which means they represent an opportunity for manufacturers.
  • Manufacturers interested in hiring from this labor pool can partner with the Private Public Partnership Office, which connects companies with reservists at no cost.

Reaching military talent: Several panelists emphasized the importance of developing recruitment processes that encourage military talent to apply and interview for manufacturing jobs.

  • “Make sure that the requirements you’re listing in your position descriptions are actually required. Do you really need someone to have a master’s degree to get the job done?” asked Rob Patton, vice president of Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corporation.
  • As a recently transitioned service member, James Goppert, HR business partner at WestRock, explained some of the challenges that military talent may face when entering the workforce. “Having to explain military skills and certifications to a civilian in an interview was strange. It would have been helpful to have someone on the other side who understood my experiences.”

Open to all possibilities: Jennifer Goodman, senior manager of talent initiatives at Coca-Cola Consolidated, drew on her experiences as a military spouse. “Military spouses are 92% women and have a 22% unemployment rate. That’s a huge labor pool that’s going underemployed or unemployed.”

  • While relocation is often a concern for companies, Goodman points out that it does not have to be a disadvantage. “Think of manufacturers who have locations across the country. Maybe you can start a military spouse at one location and then move them to another. Or, if they’ve proven themselves after a few years, you could transition them to remote work.”
  • “The benefits don’t stop with the one military spouse you hire,” she added. “We’re a very loyal community with great word of mouth and a larger referral network.”

The last word: “Don’t underestimate the value of an event like this Solution Series can have. You can take the information, energy and passion that you get from meeting with people who have the same goal of building a stronger economy and use it to power you forward,” said Nathan Huret, economic development director for Catawba County. 

Learn more: To get started—or continue—with hiring military talent, check out the extensive resources of the MI’s Heroes MAKE America initiative, which prepares prospective military workers for new and rewarding careers in manufacturing.

Workforce

STEP Ahead Awards Honor Women in Manufacturing

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The Manufacturing Institute’s 10th annual STEP Ahead Awards took place in Washington, D.C., last week, honoring some of the most impressive and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry today. The Awards are part of the STEP Ahead program, which is designed to help advance women’s achievements in the fields of science, technology, engineering and production.

  • The event highlighted the 2022 STEP Ahead Honorees (100 women who are leaders in manufacturing) and the 2022 STEP Ahead Emerging Leaders (30 women under 30 years old who have already had a significant impact on the industry).

The awards ceremony took place on Thursday night, with hundreds of guests in attendance at the National Building Museum and hundreds more viewing the ceremony online. The program featured:

  • 2022 STEP Chair and former 3M Senior Vice President Denise Rutherford;
  • 2022 STEP Vice Chair and Cornerstone Building Brands President and CEO Rose Lee;
  • MI President Carolyn Lee;
  • MI Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion AJ Jorgenson; and
  • NAM President and CEO and MI Board Chair Jay Timmons.

Sponsors included an all-star roster of manufacturers, including Arconic Foundation, BASF Corporation, Cornerstone Building Brands, PTC, Trane Technologies, ABB, Molson Coors, Novelis, Rockwell Automation, SABIC, Sherwin-Williams and Toyota.

What they said: Carolyn Lee lauded the Honorees and spoke about the importance of closing the skills gap by bringing more women into the manufacturing industry.

  • “My hope is that 10 years down the line, when we meet here for the 20th anniversary of these awards, the young women we will honor won’t have even heard of the glass ceiling, because it’ll be ancient history,” said Lee.
  • “And that will be thanks to the support system, the mentorship and the sterling examples set by the women in this room and the support from our allies.”

Rutherford spoke about leaders’ opportunities to work together to make important progress.

  • “Throughout my career, I’ve learned that being a great leader, as an individual or as a company, means that we don’t go it alone,” said Rutherford. “True change only happens when we work together as trusted allies, advocates and sponsors.”

Rose Lee laid out the qualities that all the Honorees showed and highlighted their shared successes.

  • “The STEP Ahead Awards recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production who exemplify leadership within their companies and within their communities,” said Lee. “Tonight is their night to celebrate their accomplishments.”

Timmons praised the STEP Honorees and called on allies to continue supporting women in the manufacturing industry.

  • “Your achievements, your success and your dedication are showing women what’s possible in manufacturing,” he said. “If you can see it, you know you can be it.”

35×30: Carolyn Lee and Jorgenson spoke about the 35×30 initiative—a program designed to close the skills and talent gap in manufacturing by adding half a million women workers to the industry, increasing women’s representation in manufacturing from 29% today to 35% by 2030.

  • The campaign will train more than 1,000 women mentors, build new tools and resources and work with manufacturing leaders to deploy proven strategies to attract and retain female talent.
  • It will also support young women throughout their education by offering best-in-class leadership development programming and creating a STEP alumnae-funded scholarship.
  • “Tonight, we are done with waiting for other leaders to ‘change things,’ to make society better, more equitable,” said Jorgenson. “We are the leaders. So, tonight, we ask you to join us, to lead.”

New commitments: To help this new initiative along its way, Arconic Foundation President Ryan Kish and Ketchie CEO Courtney Silver stood up during the ceremony to pledge new financial commitments to the program.

The last word: The gala featured a stellar musical performance by award-winning singer–songwriter Rachel Platten, which left not a dry eye in the house. Inspired by the women of STEP, she surprised the audience by singing a new song she’d written for her daughters. It captures what the women leaders of today want to tell the girls who will someday be their heirs:

Girls, you were born to run. To reach the stars and chase the sun.

Girls, you’re wild and free. The wind is at your back, the world is at your feet.

Workforce

Parts Life Helps Workers Achieve the American Dream

Attracting and retaining a quality workforce has long been a top business challenge for manufacturers. The Parts Life Inc. family of companies is no different—but its variety of workforce strategies have led to considerable hiring success.

The Moorestown, New Jersey–based manufacturing group—which consists of engineering firm Parts Life, armament support manufacturer DeVal Lifecycle Support and electrical manufacturer LC Engineers—offers a number of inducements for new and existing workers, President and CEO Sam Thevanayagam explained. Together, they are helping the companies, and their workers, thrive.

The plan: “We create an environment where [people] can achieve their God-given potential,” Thevanayagam told us.

  • After being inspired by several books—David Docusen’s Neighborliness” and Hernando De Soto’s “The Mystery of Capital” among them—Thevanayagam sought to provide workers with a range of benefits, some of them unusual for an employer to offer.
  • “In ‘Neighborliness,’ [Docusen] realized people need education, a job, health care and housing to be successful and build community,” Thevanayagam said. “So we are making sure we are offering these things to our people.
  • For example, Parts Life recently devised a financial program called Help U Buy, which helps workers buy their first homes. 

Helping the whole employee: Parts Life offers its employees a variety of educational opportunities to help them advance at the company and better their lives.

  • Approximately 40% of the workforce at DeVal Lifecycle Support is made of immigrants to the U.S., according to Thevanayagam.
  • To help employees learn the language, the Parts Life companies offer no-cost formal English courses with a trained Teaching English as a Second Language instructor. “It’s helped them not just at work, but in being better neighbors, parents and citizens, too,” Thevanayagam
  • The businesses also offer free basic financial management classes for workers.

Upskilling: Several years ago, when a nationwide shortage of trained machinists began to impede the companies’ operations, Thevanayagam devised a fix. Parts Life would “create” its own machinists.

  • “As difficult as it is to find a trained machinist, it’s even harder to find teachers” for machining, Thevanayagam said. Once Parts Life found and hired a machinist instructor, the company had him begin training other employees.
  • “Now he’s working with about 10 of our machinists—upskilling them, teaching them everything” they need to know, Thevanayagam said. “He’s sort of like a pitching coach, working with them on their technique and speed. That’s the model we’re using. … It really increases employee engagement and retention.”

Talent in the community: The Parts Life family of companies is also building relationships with local schools in an effort to find potential hires.

  • These include partnerships with technical high schools that offer welding and machining training and partnerships with local colleges and universities to source engineering and business talent.
  • “I look at [the partnerships] as building an entire ecosystem,” Thevanayagam said. “These are ways to be able to recruit and retain good people.”

Veterans: Lastly, Parts Life has had success in hiring from another pool: veterans. One of the reasons? It is willing to provide needed accommodations.

One recent veteran hire, a former U.S. Marine, had post-traumatic stress disorder and a substance-abuse problem when he was brought on board and “we were able to … get him counseling and get him a support system through veterans organizations,” Thevanayagam said.

  • “We try to be veteran-ready,” said Thevanayagam, adding that veterans now account for about 3% to 5% of Parts Life companies’ workforces. “These are people who have sacrificed for our country—and I want to make sure we are an environment where they can achieve.”

The last word: “The fact that we’re able to create meaningful work for people so they have the ability to … become part of the American dream—it’s a big part of who we are,” said Thevanayagam. 

Read more: As the 501(c)3 nonprofit workforce development and education affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute is a trusted adviser to manufacturers, equipping them with solutions to address the toughest workforce issues. Visit the MI’s site for workforce solutions insights and resources.

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