I spent most of my high school years as an unmotivated student with a near-zero interest in education. While I should have been an A student, I graduated with a 1.6 GPA. I also got my girlfriend pregnant and married her in January of my senior year. I only graduated because my new wife did some of my coursework. How does an individual with this background become someone that eventually earned a doctorate and became a manufacturing plant manager and college dean? Thankfully we will also celebrate our 45th anniversary in a few months, which also worked out well.
After high school, I bounced around for about six months in various jobs until I began one that led to an industrial machine repair apprenticeship. The apprenticeship combined work in manufacturing plants during the day and trades-level coursework at the local community college in the evenings. During a geometry course, the instructor ignited my desire to learn, leading to my earning four different degrees up to a doctorate. I also leveraged the machine repair work into ongoing promotions over 30 years in manufacturing, progressing into white-collar engineering and plant management roles. I then joke that I had a mid-life crisis where I transitioned into becoming a professor and, for 5 ½ years, a university dean.
A common question asked early of high school students is whether they will follow a blue or white-collar career path. While there are great merits of either choice, I offer an alternative to a pinstriped collar approach. One where individuals merge the best of the blue and white collars instead of an either-or choice. Based on my experience I:
o acquired a deep appreciation of the value of my shop floor peers,
o learned skills typically found in manufacturing that translated well to my success in white-collar work,
o developed strong problem-solving and project management skills,
o gained a deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges faced by those in blue-collar jobs,
o found a pathway to ongoing promotions,
o earned substantial manufacturing pay that led to a more robust base salary when negotiating later job offers, and
o worked for manufacturing employers that provided tuition reimbursement.
o was able to show proper gratitude to those working at all levels of the organization,
o acquired quicker credibility with those in blue-collar jobs,
o had a strong understanding of the value of those doing the blue-collar work,
o could solve issues using a more comprehensive range of stakeholder perspectives,
o brought to the managerial team an ability to break complex projects down to the smallest of incremental tasks,
o continued to be promoted due to extensive knowledge of plant operations, and
o ended up with almost zero student debt after earning four degrees, including a doctorate.
My pinstriped career was accidental. It should become the norm for all youth that are not in a position to graduate with little to zero debt. The workforce needs of manufacturing sector employers exceed the number of those with the interest and capabilities to do the work. The research conducted in a 2021 partnership of Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimates that 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2030. While closing the gap will take several solutions, I propose adopting the military recruiter model as an approach to helping potential employees understand the benefits of beginning their careers in a manufacturing setting.
"As a former Airman First Class in the United States Air Force like many veterans in America, my military experience played an important role in instilling in me a sense of character and discipline that has served me well throughout my life." - Chuck Norris
While I do not have military experience, I have hired and worked with many veterans exhibiting ideal workplace traits. As Norris suggests, there are benefits one can gain with service in the military, many similar to my own from my time in manufacturing. Unfortunately, our service branches face a similar challenge to the manufacturing sector. A recent article shares that the Army is falling twenty-five percent short of its 2022 recruitment goals. An Army webpage shares that working with their recruiter helps potential recruits explore a military future with support at each step of exploration of it as a career opportunity. The recruiter works to identify ideal candidates and then helps them decide if joining the Army would be a good fit, provides guidance, and supports the exploration of the many available opportunities. However, why would this be a good idea for the manufacturing sector if they fall twenty-five percent short?
Many have heard the "rising tide lifts all boats" quote. Some economists posit that if the economy improves, we will all strengthen our financial well-being. Using that analogy, I argue that if local manufacturers come together and hire a manufacturing recruiter, it could lessen at least some of the growing employment gap. While the Army could be seen as falling short, a positive perspective is that they are finding recruits to fill seventy-five percent of their needs. Would adopting this model help to attract more potential employees to at least initial careers in manufacturing?
With estimates that 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2030, we must explore initiatives to address this concern. While closing the gap will take several solutions, I propose adopting the military recruiter model as an approach to helping potential employees understand the benefits of beginning their careers in a manufacturing setting.
I encourage those interested in this topic to return next week to learn more about my thoughts on implementing the military recruitment model. While you wait, I suggest exploring what your local community college is doing around workforce development. They are often an ideal partner to work with local manufacturers to support their employment needs.
We owe gratitude to those who chose to enlist in our various military service branches. These individuals not only give up their time during their enlistment but, unfortunately, often carry mental and physical scars long after, often until they pass away. While we might disagree with what they are asked to do, we should appreciate that some are willing to volunteer to protect our country.
Next week's blog will further explore adopting the military recruiter model to fill some of the growing manufacturing employment gap.
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