• Four Steps to Change Manufacturing's Misperceptions

    By Patty Hoffman, Alexandria Industries

  • What can you do to help change the misperceptions people may have about manufacturing?

    Working in our booth exhibit at the Minnesota State High School Trapshooting Tournament, I was showing a student’s father some items we make, while also discussing the opportunities that exist around manufacturing careers. Out the corner of my eye, I noticed the student’s mother stick a finger down her throat as if she would gag at the thought of anyone working in manufacturing.

    This gesture stunned me. Because I know firsthand about the great careers available in manufacturing. Her impression, however disappointing, may be common.

    While it is clear to us as manufacturers that advancements in technology have revolutionized our work, we need to band together to find ways to get our messages through to those important to our success―our future workforce.


    So where do we start to help change the misperceptions about working in manufacturing?

    The effort may seem daunting, but to change the misperceptions, we can educate those we want to influence about what it is like to work in manufacturing TODAY. One conversation at a time, we can:

    • Share detailed information about the different roles and skillsets needed in manufacturing
    • Show our career opportunities, the education path, and ways to get started
    • Share facts about manufacturing – industry statistics, growth potential, jobs, career paths, wages, and benefits offered

    Working together, our efforts can help close the skills gap and ensure the future of U.S. manufacturing remains strong and continues to grow.

    Step 1: BUILD Relationships

    The first step to change misperceptions about working in manufacturing is by forming relationships with the people we want to educate – those who are important to our success.

    • Students
    • Parents and grandparents
    • Teachers
    • School counselors
    • Academic advisors

    Build relationships with students by meeting and getting involved with them on their turf.

    • Support academic advisory committees: Participate in academic advisory committees to set course curriculum and expose students to advanced technologies used in manufacturing.
    • Connect with students: Work with high schools and technical college students, providing projects, and bringing subject matter expertise and manufacturing solutions to their coursework.
    • Volunteer for Jr. Achievement: Meet with elementary students to build relationships and spark their interest in manufacturing a young, impressionable age.
    • Visit classrooms: Talk about manufacturing. Share things you make, and show images of your work environment. Spark their interest in wanting to learn how to make things.
    • Support student programs: Work with school robotics’ teams to provide engineering design assistance, financial support, and manufacturing assistance to create the fabricated components students need to build their robots.
    • Seek students where they gather: Exhibit at student events, such as the state high school trapshooting tournament, where 30,000 student competitors, and their parents, gather.
    • Connect with non-traditional students: Reach out to local homeschooling communities or online students – an untapped audience.
    • Educate influencers: Meet with guidance counselors and academic advisors, invite them to your organization for a tour, and share industry facts and details about manufacturing careers. Emphasize our need to change the mindset that every student should pursue a four-year college track.

    In every conversation with students, share information that is easy for them to understand. Talk about how they will work with their hands and build things. Tell them they could be the one to create a revolutionary medical product doctors would use to save lives. Share unique stories, such as this EdgeFactor video, to show how a life-changing event can lead to a medical breakthrough.


    Step 2: PARTNER with Industry

    Work with industry organizations to communicate your actions and the messages for the target audiences you want to reach. Many state and national organizations are participating in specialized efforts to change the misperceptions people may have and grow our workforce.

    What organizations can you partner with?

    There are numerous national, regional and state organizations working to share the message about great manufacturing careers.

    • Manufacturing Institute (National)
    • National Association of Manufacturers (National)
    • Society of Human Resources Management (National)
    • Society of Manufacturing Engineers (National)
    • Tri-State Manufacturers’ Association (Regional)
    • Enterprise Minnesota (State)

    A good example is the Manufacturing Institute’s Dream It. Do It. competition targets high school students to educate them on today’s manufacturing and available careers. Students work with their local manufacturers to create a video that explains, “What’s so cool about manufacturing?” Through the program, manufacturers meet directly with students who are interested in learning about manufacturing.


    Step 3: CHANGE the Image

    Those you want to reach may visualize manufacturing as it was during the industrial revolution. We can tell people about the transformations that have taken place. But until the dirty, assembly line, black and white visual representation of yesteryear changes, people may be reluctant to believe in the value of manufacturing careers


    What can you do to help change the visual representation of manufacturing?

    • Make sure your manufacturing images (photos, videos, websites, stories, etc.) and onsite tours feature the latest manufacturing technologies, such as robotics and automation equipment.
    • Show a safe work environment in all of your communications and marketing materials.
    • Feature happy employees in clean uniforms, brightly lit facilities and colorful environments.
    • Host a tour. Show the product you make, your equipment and technology, to give people an accurate view of today’s manufacturing.


    Step 4: SHARE Best Practices

    Changing the misperceptions of working in manufacturing is not about recreating the wheel. It is about keeping the effort alive, fresh and productive.

    Go crazy. Get creative. Develop a video game that features a high-tech manufacturing environment maze with different levels to get through one-step at a time. Host a high school design contest, asking students to compete to build a better mousetrap.

    Commit to developing and sharing the ways you are changing manufacturing’s misperceptions. The opportunities to share today’s manufacturing message and the abundance of jobs are virtually endless.


    What will you do next?

    Start today! Take on the challenge. Work with other manufacturers and the organizations that support these efforts. One conversation at a time, we can change what people believe about working in manufacturing to help increase the number of skilled workers and grow our workforce.

    Share best practices. Do not worry about competitors stealing your great ideas. With 2 million job openings going unfilled over the next decade, if we do not find a way to attract employees, we will not have the jobs to fill. Period.

    What will you do to make the change happen? Let us know. Email your efforts and ideas to phoffman@alexandriaindustries.com. We will keep a list and share these in future newsletters.