Manufacturing Inspires Youth to Make A Difference

02 Oct, 2015

Students and instructors from Franklin County Career and Technology Center in southern Pennsylvania toured the Volvo Trucks Group facility in Hagerstown, Maryland in October 2013 as part Manufacturing Day, a nationwide event that connects students with manufacturers. Photo: David Bohrer/National Association of Manufacturers

By Rachel Duran

Manufacturing Day showcases careers and opportunities to solve worldwide problems.

On October 2, as part of Manufacturing Day, thousands of manufacturers across the country will open their doors to provide a peek inside their operations. The Manufacturing Day initiative seeks to educate the public, particularly youth and their parents, as to the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy, and how the industry makes our lives better.
Participating manufacturers provide open house tours and interactive events. Higher education organizations also sponsor events to highlight the skill sets required to fill manufacturing positions.
The annual Manufacturing Day event is the sector’s opportunity to tell the story of how manufacturers solve global challenges every day. The event is co-produced by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association; the National Association of Manufacturers; The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of NAM; and MEP: Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
“We have seen a consistent increase in the number of manufacturers participating over the years,” says Jennifer McNelly, president, The Manufacturing Institute. “The first year there were about 250 companies, the next year 800 companies, and last year there were 1,600 companies participating, which drew 350,000 students, teachers and parents in all 50 states.” Events were also held in three Canadian provinces and in Puerto Rico.
What’s more, U.S. President Barack Obama attended an open house during last year’s Manufacturing Day, and signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing National Manufacturing Day. Additionally, the initiative was promoted and broadcast to 80 million viewers of Discovery Communications’ Science channel through its “How It’s Made” television series.
Building on this exposure and momentum, we asked McNelly to share how 2015’s event will expand the message as to why U.S. manufacturing continues to be the ninth largest economy in the world. In August, the U.S. Census Bureau said the total value of the shipments from U.S. manufacturing was $5.8 trillion in 2013.

Rachel Duran: What was behind the creation of Manufacturing Day and reaching out to the next generation of talent?

Jennifer McNelly: The genesis of Manufacturing Day was the need to be responsive to the misperception of manufacturing careers, and highlight what opportunities are in the marketplace.
What students learn in school is about the Industrial Revolution; and what actually drives manufacturing today is automation and innovation.
What we do know about the behaviors of the millennials is that they are cause oriented and want to make a difference. And when you think about the careers in manufacturing and the global challenges that manufacturers solve every single day — from the things we fly, the droids we invent, and the medicine that saves lives — we haven’t been good at telling that story.

Diverse Careers and Excellent Pay
When you stop and think about it, the manufacturing industry touches a wide range of activities and careers. Here are a few:
*Computer Programmers/Operators (IT)
*Operations Managers
*Human Resources
*Sales and Marketing Professionals

And, manufacturing careers are well compensated:
*$60,000 is the average salary for entry-level engineers
* More than $77,000 is the annual average salary for manufacturing workers in the U.S.
Source: “What Manufacturing Really Looks Like” infographic.

Often times manufacturing sits in an industrial park and you drive by and you know they are making something in there … we need to open up our doors and invite people in so that we showcase the great products, innovations and solutions that manufacturing makes in this country.

Duran: How do Manufacturing Day events play out; highlight some of the activities that take place around the country.
McNelly: Manufacturing Day is not just about bringing in the students but also about giving the 12 million men and women that are employed in manufacturing the opportunity to tell their personal stories. Kellie Johnson, the CEO of ACE Clearwater Enterprises in Southern California, brought students in and allowed those on the front lines to talk about what they do. The company makes complex formed and welded assemblies for the aerospace and power generation industries.
Johnson tells a great story about how one of the engineers talks to the kids about why math matters; how they use it every day as they make parts for an airplane. It puts things in context for the students that the engineer is making a part that makes a jet fly. It is impressive.

There are companies such as Alcoa, which in partnership with Discovery Education, did a virtual tour of its entire Davenport [Iowa] facility. And Sandvik Coromant had 1,000 students come through during 2014’s Manufacturing Day. What we have encouraged our manufacturers to do is to allow the kids to touch and feel the process.
So whether it is Lincoln Electric Co.’s welding simulator or in the case of GenMet in Milwaukee, students leave with an understanding of the welding, cutting and bending process. Students make decisions based on experience and interest. We are trying to give them an experience that gets them interested in manufacturing careers.

Duran: What can we expect from this year’s Manufacturing Day?
McNelly: Every year we try to focus expanding at the community level.
Part of what manufacturing is — the jobs, students and education — are local. We think Manufacturing Day is a great way to organize the first step. We think Manufacturing Day is every single day of the year and that is where our Dream It. Do It. network will come in.
[Editor’s Note: The Manufacturing Institute started this initiative in 2005 to offer local manufacturers, schools, community-based organizations and other stakeholders the opportunity to partner with a respected national platform to promote manufacturing as a top tier career choice in the United States.]

How Much is the Skills Gap Costing You?
The Manufacturing Institute recently released a Return on Investment Calculator for manufacturers at This free, web-based tool helps identify the cost of an open position and offers several ways to reduce costs. Key indicators include on-the-job training, turnover and productivity loss.
More than 80 percent of executives agree there is a talent shortage in U.S. manufacturing. Finding quality workers takes time and money, and hiring the right employee for the job is a daunting task. The Return on Investment Calculator helps manufacturers identify expenses across human resources, training, recruiting, and operations in order to reduce costs and improve their business operations. The ROI calculator was produced in partnership with the National Aviation Consortium, led by Wichita Area Technical College.

The things I expect this year, in addition to our continued partnership with a host of other associations, are things such as virtual welding tours. And activities where students get to engage in the manufacturing process so they can see what it really looks like.
Ideally an important element in this is the role the local education system plays. We have to give partners, counselors and teachers good information as to what skills are necessary and what education and job training is necessary to get these careers.
So we also encourage our education partners to open up their doors and invite the students in, and partner with the manufacturers in these communities.

Duran: Tell me about the role of collaboration and what it takes to get the message to students, counselors and parents.
McNelly: It is such an important piece of this equation. The skills gap we face as manufacturers requires a renewed sense of public-private partnership. There needs to be more collaboration and more cross coordination between associations and between the public education system so we expose students to the careers and opportunities of the future.
The great thing about Manufacturing Day is although we give the manufacturers guidance on how to conduct a plant tour, what they should consider, and how to make the tour interactive — and we have done the same on the educator side — in the end, we want manufacturers and education partners to build the right partnerships at the community levels. We are lending a national platform to guide and encourage local action.

Madison, Wis.: Moving Beyond Dialogue and Taking Action to Reach Future Talent
By Rachel Duran

A recent survey conducted by the Wood Communications Group in Madison, Wisconsin, found that 85 percent of high school teachers in Wisconsin want a better relationship with the business community. Of course, the business community has been craving that for years.
After working together for years, Madison’s businesses and education system have a few initiatives underway to attract young talent to manufacturing careers. Inspire Madison Region connects students with workplace learning experiences as well as job opportunities. “Inspire wants to onboard 375 companies this year,” says Paul Jadin, CEO, Madison Region Economic Partnership. The companies serve as mentors and coaches so students gain a better understanding of what it takes to become a welder, operate CNC equipment and other positions, among other initiatives.
A recent effort in Madison is the Business and Education Collaborative (BEC). The organization brings together 12 school superintendents, four technical college presidents, the president of the University of Wisconsin system, two workforce development board directors, a private college president and 15 private sector leaders. The goal is create a dialogue between educators and businesses that will be engrained and institutionalized in the region’s overall economy,
“It is all about the relationship between education and business,” Jadin says. “With better dialogue the business community will understand education and their resources better. And the education community will understand the needs of manufacturers. If you go into a high school today and ask about what happens at the plant a mile away, very few teachers will be able to tell you.”
In five years, Madison’s officials want teachers to know exactly what is going on at that plant and know the skills students need to secure a career at that plant.
For complete details about youth-based workforce attraction efforts, visit and

Duran: Will Manufacturing Day again be promoted by Science’s “How It’s Made” television series?
McNelly: We have been blessed by the partnership with Discovery and Science channel and “How It’s Made,” and we will continue the partnership.
The program is so hands on and customized and is such a great representation of the diversity of manufacturing, whether you are making jelly beans or a violin. We are very fortunate to have a lead-in that promotes Manufacturing Day.
And we continue to have, with the support of the Alcoa Foundation, and their Manufacture Your Future partnership with Discovery Education, ongoing content and material that can be driven back into the classroom and accessed by teachers.

Duran: What should readers takeaway from a discussion about attracting youth to manufacturing careers?
McNelly: We make cars drive fast, jets that fly, the beer you drink, the chairs we sit in, life saving medicines and so on. There is so much opportunity in manufacturing, so much technology and so much excitement.
What is so great about manufacturing in this country is that we are about value-added manufacturing, and the global complexities of the environment that we operate in. This is a great opportunity for young people and their parents to understand that this is not your grandfather’s manufacturing.
We need to get them excited and directed into the right education and job training at the community level so they are getting the skills they need to have great careers in manufacturing.
When you see it, it becomes real and you see how you can be a part of the nation’s great manufacturing economy.

Rachel Duran

Rachel Duran is the editor in chief for Business Xpansion Journal. Contact her at

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