As a production scheduler for Mars, Incorporated, Thomas Schlieper has a hand in sending sweet treats all over the world.
In some ways, it’s very different from his former career. As a teenager, Schlieper joined the Army National Guard because it offered benefits like tuition assistance and scholarships that would help him go to college. When he finished school, he worked in his hometown and eventually decided to go into active service in the U.S. Army. That career spanned two decades and helped lead him to the manufacturing job he enjoys today.
While Schlieper served as an Army senior supply specialist, he enrolled in the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, which aims to connect manufacturers with highly qualified candidates and offer transitioning service members manufacturing-related training and support, thus creating a pipeline between the military and manufacturing. Through this U.S. Department of Defense-approved program, he toured the Mars production facility in Topeka, Kansas. Mars recognized his logistics experience and offered him a production scheduler position, which he accepted in February 2019.
“I served 20 years as a logistics guy,” he said. “Ordering supplies, making sure soldiers in the Army had what they needed. The leadership skills I learned in the Army helped me adapt to this new role.”
Schlieper recalls the stress he felt during his first day on the job at Mars, when he wondered whether he was up to the challenges of his new role—and the moment when it all clicked.
“My first couple days there, after I did the orientation, I was overwhelmed,” he said. “I thought, am I getting over my head? I was just a soldier, and now I’m something different.”
He was shadowing another employee when he suddenly realized that the system he would be using as a production scheduler at Mars was exactly the same system he used every day when ordering supplies and managing logistics in the Army.
“I looked at the system, and I was totally relieved,” said Schlieper. “All that stress went away, and I was like, I know this. I can do this.”
Today, Schlieper is deeply immersed in his new industry. He feels it’s a good fit for former members of the military, who will have an easier learning curve as a result of their training.
“Before I retired, some people I knew thought manufacturing jobs were jobs nobody wanted,” he says. “But that’s really not the case. It’s completely different. It’s a whole new world.”
Learn more about the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program.
In September 2018, the National Association of Manufacturers acquired the Manufacturing Leadership Council, an association for manufacturing executives that is dedicated to helping the industry transition to the digital era. Nearly one year later, the MLC wraps up its 15th Anniversary Manufacturing Leadership Summit and continues to provide its members with programs and services around digitization.
MLC’s Co-Founder, Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell shares the groundbreaking work of the organization and why it matters to manufacturers today.
What is the Manufacturing Leadership Council?
The MLC is designed to help senior manufacturing executives and emerging leaders define and shape a better future for themselves, their organizations and the industry at large by focusing on the intersection of critical business and technology issues that will drive growth today and in the future. We do live events like conferences; we do plant tours that enable members to see firsthand how different companies are implementing the latest digital technologies; and we publish in-depth articles that focus on best practices and cutting-edge ideas on the use of technologies and the leadership requirements of the digital age.
How is leadership changing in the digital age?
It’s changing in some very important ways. There’s a whole new layer of competency that has to be added to the traditional functions of leadership. We call this “digital acumen,” which has to do with understanding the potential of advanced technologies like analytics, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, 3D printing and other technologies. It’s not just improving efficiencies, but also offering new business models, ways of doing things and services.
This new era in manufacturing requires leaders to manage organizations that are flatter and more collaborative, with more and more employees having the benefit of information at their fingertips. Managing in prior years was around a top-down structure. That doesn’t cut it in the digital age.
What benefit do companies get from being a part of this group?
The MLC presents the opportunity to be part of a community that is collectively sharing ideas, insights and best practices to as the industry continues its radical transition. The truth is, you can’t do this alone as a company. You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them, to learn what’s possible, to see what works and what may not work well in your company and to form that bond. It’s a tremendous learning experience.
What does the future look like for manufacturing—and how does the Manufacturing Leadership Council fit in?
The future looks very, very bright for manufacturing. We’re going to increase efficiency and produce products that satisfy personalized needs—everything from cars to medicine. We’re going to be able to have better quality and create jobs that are fulfilling, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The extent of innovation happening right now in manufacturing is mind-blowing.
But this is not an easy transition. The future offers tremendous opportunities, but only if we make the transition industry-wide. If we’re able to do that, not only will individual companies be more successful globally, but the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole will continue to lead the world. There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers. That’s why the partnership between the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the NAM is so important.