Posted By Chris Chiappinelli, October 09, 2012 at 9:35 AM, in Category: Industrial Policy
Columbus has a day. So do grandparents and groundhogs. It’s high time manufacturing had its day.
In the United States, Friday, October 5 was Manufacturing Day, the first nationwide celebration of the industry that forms its backbone. Put on by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); the Manufacturing Institute; the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International; and the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, Manufacturing Day “showcases how important the sector is for economic growth and job creation,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, in a statement.
I talked to three people involved in the Manufacturing Day effort—a school teacher and STEM coordinator, a marketer at a Midwestern manufacturing company, and the director of Tennessee’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership—all of whom consider Manufacturing Day a vital tool in drawing attention to the industry and helping seed its next generation. All three had unique stories about their Manufacturing Day experience and their plans for the Days ahead.
“We had good turnouts at many of the plant tours held here in Tennessee,” said Dan Miller, director of the Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services. Miller and his colleagues stretched Manufacturing Day into Manufacturing Week, sponsoring six plant tours and presentations that he described as well attended.
“The primary focus of Manufacturing Day is mostly to [convey to] the next workforce, the younger generation, that manufacturing can be a very good career,” Miller told me. “We know there’s a little bit of an image barrier we’ve got to overcome. We want to send the message to both the professional and the blue collar workforce that manufacturing is here to stay and we need to grow it.”
In Lansing, Michigan, Metalist International Inc. held an open house on Manufacturing Day, welcoming outsiders to view the daily operations of the 48-employee shop that rebuilds forging and stamp presses. Anne Wilson, Metalist’s director of marketing, said the company was happy with the turnout, which included two candidates for state representative; emissaries from Michigan Works, an association that helps get unemployed Michiganders back to work; and the state’s veterans employment specialist.
Of the occasion, Wilson said, “I think it benefits us not just in the short run, but it [helped form] those partnerships we need. I think that’s where we’re going to see the long-term outcome.”
Mark Harrell had the job no one wants on Manufacturing Day or any other day: monitoring 26 high school kids on a bus. Harrell is the STEM coordinator for the Franklin County school district in Kentucky, as well as a teacher in the county’s career and technical center. As part of Manufacturing Day, Harrell chose 13 students from his computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) class and a civil engineering class, and his colleague chose 13 students from a welding class. The group first toured Commonwealth Tool & Machine, a manufacturer that creates tool cells that run other manufacturers’ processes, then drove up the road to explore the massive Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky plant.
“It was neat for kids to see first how the machines are built that run the factory at Toyota, and then go to Toyota and take the tour,” Harrell said. And the experience wasn’t just a cool way to visualize the concepts students had learned in class; it also showed them possibilities for the future.
“The students in my CIM class were like, ‘Wow, I could actually make a living off what I’m learning in high school,’ ” Harrell said.
As I spoke to Harrell, a teacher with an obvious passion for the manufacturing industry and for the success of the kids he mentors, I thought about rebranding manufacturing. Anyone who has followed Manufacturing Executive over the past few years has probably heard us advocate “rebranding manufacturing,” and this first-annual celebration of manufacturing seemed perfectly aligned with that effort. In the words of Dan Miller at the Tennessee MEP, the idea of Manufacturing Day was to give people a glimpse into today’s manufacturing, “not the old smokestack, dirty, greasy factory tour.”
Harrell is one of the people doing the rebranding. I asked him how high school kids in Franklin County end up in the technical school where he teaches. Today, he said, the center takes whoever signs up. But Harrell wants to help shape the program into an academy to which high school-age kids apply. Those interested in a separate middle school program focused on STEM skills would need to present teacher recommendations for admission.
That’s a great way to help change the perception of manufacturing: Create an aura of prestige. Have the kids apply for admission, or seek teacher nominations to get in. Choose only the most enthusiastic and promising students to attend Manufacturing Day events. That approach is a subtle yet important twist on the old stigma that vocational schools are the place where dead-end kids end up. Doing things Harrell’s way is like setting up a velvet rope in front of a club. It’s what Abercrombie & Fitch did when it refashioned its stores into pseudo clubs where the cool kids hung out. Harrell and his colleagues are creating the image of exclusivity, and that can go a long way toward sparking kids’ natural curiosity.
As the excitement of this year’s event percolates through the manufacturing industry, the three participants I spoke to were already making plans for next year’s Manufacturing Day.
In Tennessee, Dan Miller wants to bring attention to the activities through a more collaborative approach.
“We found that as we partnered with other organizations—the state community colleges, more regional colleges, and economic community development organization—that we did a better job of communicating these events.”
Anne Wilson and the folks at Metalist International want to get teachers and students involved in the next Manufacturing Day.
And Mark Harrell is hoping to work with manufacturers to customize the tour experience for his students.
“The manufacturing company could present the types of positions they have, show them what it takes to get into these types of facilities, what it takes to be successful, and [the potential] earnings, because money speaks volumes to kids.”
He also suggested that the company giving the tour could present students with a real-world manufacturing challenge and let them brainstorm solutions.
“Kids love working with their hands, they love technology, so why not use it?” Harrell asks. “Kind of trick them into learning the math and science.”
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To learn more about Manufacturing Day, click here.
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Written by Chris Chiappinelli
Chris Chiappinelli is the online research manager for Manufacturing Leadership. He covers enterprise software, sustainability, economic trends, workforce issues, and emerging technologies.