Manufacturing Day 2015 is this Friday, Oct. 2. Across the country, manufacturers will open their doors to school groups, community members, the press and others to demonstrate what work in a modern industrial production facility looks like. Plant Services recently had the opportunity to speak with Ed Youdell, president and CEO of the Rockford, IL-based Fabricators and Manufacturers Association and a co-founder of Manufacturing Day, about what he hopes this year's event will accomplish and the misperceptions that Manufacturing Day is aiming to change about the industry.
PS: For those unfamiliar with your organization and the event, can you provide a little background?
EY: FMA is one of the partnering groups that put Manufacturing Day together. We partnered with the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute, (and) the National Institute of Standards and Technology through the Department of Commerce. And then a group came to us called Industrial Strength Marketing after the first year we had the event. They were very interested in us because they saw all this online chatter going on about Manufacturing Day, so they came on as a guest producer as well. We've got a couple of other partners—Edge Factor, The Science Channel, the "American Made" movie who all collaborate on producing Manufacturing Day.
My role is—Me along with a guy—I was in a conversation with a guy from NIST, and he was telling me about their MEP program, or manufacturing extension program, and I said, you know we should have an MEP day for FMA members to expose them to all the services MEP provides to manufacturers. And I kind of chewed on it a while, and I said, you know, it's bigger than that. Let's call it Manufacturing Day. Let's use this as a platform to start changing the perceptions and get people interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing. It took off from there.
PS: You mention misconceptions about the industry. What are a few of these that Manufacturing Day is working to change?
EY: The first issue that we're trying to address is what is modern manufacturing. We're trying to change the perception or the thought especially in parents' heads of the image of maybe 1970s manufacturing, of dirty and dingy and unsafe. We really want to define what manufacturing is and what it isn't. It's much more technology-driven today. You think about high-tech, you think about user interfaces—these are all, I think as the future workforce develops, expectations that they will have technology in their hands when they are working. And I think if we can get manufacturers to open their doors up and show people what's going on in the plant, then we'll have a better chance to attract the best and the brightest to manufacturing.
The coolest thing when I talk to young people—I always try to point out to them, thinking about the iPhone, or the iPad—everybody has one; everyone thinks it's the most high-tech device they can imagine; they can't live without it. And I ask them to consider for a minute that somebody made that. And the elegance in the product is not in the functionality; the elegance in the product is that it was actually built and manufactured.
PS: Talking about the modern manufacturing facility—the ones we've seen this year those are clean facilities, with lots of fresh air and sunlight. These aren't dirty, dingy manufacturing facilities that people are working in.
EY: Right. And as part of that, also we want to show that there are family-supporting wage-earning careers available through manufacturing. If you look at some of the opportunities for skilled machinists, skilled press-brake operators, laser operators—the capital investment in something like that can be upward of 1 million dollars. You need somebody who is skilled, smart, who has that technology gift so to speak. We just need to be able to reinforce that those opportunities are out there and hopefully get young people to pursue them. Also, key in this day is getting educators out and counselors out to get into the shop so they can help understand what are those opportunities so they can advise students, maybe this is a plan for you to consider. As part of FMA, we also have a scholarship foundation where we give out scholarships as well as fund summer manufacturing camps for kids, and we really believe strongly in the community college and technical school path because the cost is so much less than a four-year university. Not every kid wants to go to a four-year university; not every kid should go to a four-year university, and there are excellent education opportunities (available elsewhere). Everybody needs to be educated; they just don't necessarily need a four-year degree to have a fulfilling career. We think if we can get the kids into those technical school programs, then we're arming the future workforce in the most effective way to help manufacturers compete globally. Because really it's all about competing globally, not just with the chop shop down the street. We have to think a little broader than that, and talent is one way you address that, along with technology.
PS: What can manufacturers do to better get out the message that hey, there are good jobs available here?
EY: I often think people maybe underestimate the opportunities that they have right now. It's as simple as inviting a school to tour your plant. It really is as basic as that. Getting somebody inside your factory to consider what you have and what you do, and get people to really value manufacturing. U.S. manufacturers are still producing about 20% of the world's value of manufactured products. China is behind us in that. We're really good at, here in the United States, making high-value, sophisticated products and equipment. China is really good at making a million of one little thing. Maybe it's in our best interest to let them make a million of one low-value thing and continue to work in the higher-value products and services.