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“Manufacturing Is an Obvious Choice” for a Veteran

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Dan Mitchell didn’t expect to join the Army, which means he couldn’t have expected to translate his military experience into a career in manufacturing. But thanks to The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, that’s where he is now.

The son of Fish and Wildlife Service officials, Mitchell set his heart on the Army while a Boy Scout in high school. As he describes it, he entered West Point as “a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 17-year-old”—and faced a wake-up call. It wasn’t at all like the movies!

Instead, Mitchell learned that Army life involved doing a great number of small, important things effectively. He spent time in maintenance at industrial facilities, managing safety and operations, and tracking armored units and heavy vehicles. Whether he was keeping his room clean or doing inspections or ensuring the safety of weaponry, he learned that routines were vital. It was a lesson that would serve him well in his next career.

Heroes MAKE America: After eight years in the Army, Mitchell heard about the Heroes MAKE America program from some of the 145 soldiers under his command, and he quickly signed up.

  • While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented his Heroes class from touring facilities—“I was excited for the Frito-Lay tour,” he says, “and that’ll stick in my craw for my entire life”—he calls his experience in the program “phenomenal.”
  • From general career support, such as help with building a LinkedIn profile and drafting a resume, to the “invaluable” Certified Production Technician course, Mitchell saw Heroes MAKE America as a vital program that offered him critical tools.
  • “It was eye-opening to see the level of skilled labor and craftmanship that’s involved in modern American manufacturing,” Mitchell says. “It spoke to me. I had no idea of the width and breadth of opportunities, or how interesting and dynamic and challenging the jobs are.”

A new job: As he begins his new role as a production supervisor at Daikin Applied Americas in Minnesota, Mitchell sees manufacturing as a natural fit. “What I did in the Army doesn’t directly translate to what I’m doing now, but it’s pretty darn close,” he says. “I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’d be way behind if I hadn’t gotten the Heroes training.”

Words of advice: “For anyone who has been a leader in the Army—as long as you’re willing to learn and put in the work—manufacturing is an obvious choice.”

Policy and Legal

North American Trade Gets a Makeover

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The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) goes into effect today—after years of advocacy by the National Association of Manufacturers and its partners.

So what does that mean for the American and global economies? NAM Senior Director of Trade Policy Ken Monahan’s answer: “The agreement will help strengthen supply chains, restore certainty, enable growth, bolster America’s competitiveness and support manufacturing jobs in the United States.” Here’s a condensed interview with Monahan that lays out the USMCA’s importance.

What’s in it: The USMCA updates and replaces the 26-year-old North American Free Trade agreement to ensure open, rules-based trade across North America. Monahan summarizes its long list of provisions: “intellectual property protections, new standards for the digital economy, reduction in red tape and unnecessary regulations, fair standards for competition and binding enforcement to protect all parties.”

Why it matters: The strength of America’s economy and markets is connected to the way we interact with our closest trading partners, Monahan emphasizes. Some numbers to keep in mind:

  • Canada and Mexico alone purchase one-fifth of the total value of U.S. manufacturing output.
  • Canada and Mexico purchase more U.S.-made goods than our next 11 trading partners combined despite representing only 6 percent of the world’s population.
  • In addition to more than 2 million American manufacturing jobs, more than 40,000 small and medium-sized businesses depend on exports to Canada and Mexico.

What’s next: “Manufacturers are committed to working with the U.S., Mexican and Canadian governments to ensure that the USMCA is implemented in a manner that will support the recovery and renewal of the U.S. manufacturing economy,” says Monahan.

The last word: NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons summed it up: “The landmark trade agreement we fought hard to secure now enters into force at a critical time. It will help restore certainty, ensure supply chain continuity and provide opportunities for economic growth—all of which will help our industry lead the nation’s recovery and renewal.”


Three Diversity Chiefs Share Insights

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Manufacturers are looking to make their workplaces more diverse and inclusive—but what steps should they take? Following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, many companies have supported the NAM’s own Pledge for Action, an agenda for advancing justice, equality and opportunity for Black people and all people of color.

As part of its Diversity and Inclusion pillar, The Manufacturing Institute has begun hosting roundtables, drawing on the expertise of D&I chiefs from across a wide range of companies. Below is a brief recap of a recent event.

The panel: Speakers included AAON Community Relations Director Stephanie Cameron, Dow Senior HR Director of Talent Acquisition/Pipelines and Corporate Director of Inclusion Alveda Williams and Trane Technologies Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Talent Management Michelle Murphy. Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee moderated the conversation.

The panelists focused on helping those who are just beginning this conversation as well as those who are working to accelerate their current efforts. A few of the suggestions included the following:

  • Don’t rely on programs. Williams noted that programs can be cancelled when budgets are cut or an unforeseen situation arises. Instead, manufacturers should find ways to make D&I a part of their identity, ensuring that their work in the area won’t be scaled back or discarded.
  • Emphasize inclusion. Inclusion drives innovation, productivity and team engagement, Cameron pointed out. While diversity can be considered a collection of unique differences, Williams added, you can’t capitalize on those differences unless you value inclusion. Achieving diversity is about the workforce, but inclusion is about the workplace, and creating a culture and environment that emphasizes a sense of belonging.
  • Embrace change. Murphy emphasized that companies must be agile and adaptable not only to keep up with workplace changes, but also to promote positivity and lead with their values.

The conversation also included some concrete practices and initiatives, including:

  • Companywide virtual conversations about issues like race, gender and LGBT inclusion to encourage learning and discussion;
  • Internal leadership development programs to ensure that diverse leaders have opportunities to move up within the company, which might include English and Spanish courses on-site; and
  • Employee resource groups and inclusion resource groups that bring forward ideas from diverse employees and allies to move the company forward.

The business case: Strengthening D&I isn’t just the right thing to do, participants said; it’s also the smart thing to do. Inclusion drives engagement, and engaged employees are more productive—making inclusive workplaces better for a business’s bottom line.

You can access a recording of the full conversation here.


From Army Mechanic to Food Manufacturer

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Brittanee Sayer is the sixth of seven siblings who have served in branches of the military. Given her family’s example, she always knew she would serve her country. But what would come after that? The answer: manufacturing, thanks to training at The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program.

Her military experience proved useful to the career change. Sayer spent most of her seven years in the service working as a generator mechanic at Fort Riley. She was in charge of maintaining tactical, utility and precise power generation sets, internal combustion engines and associated equipment—a job that included running power for Fort Riley’s hospital. When she decided to leave the military, she wanted to keep employing these skills.

Heroes MAKE America: Prior to her Army service, Sayer had worked at Wolverine, which manufactures military boots—“I went from making the boots, to wearing the boots,” she says. Given her experience in the Army, she thought a return to the industry made sense, and that the training offered by the Heroes MAKE America program would help her advance further.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March required a few changes to ensure safety, but Sayer says the program adapted effectively. Adjustments included:

  • Online learning, with Skype meetings once per week to ensure students could still engage with the material together;
  • Smaller classroom meetings, with in-person tests offered to five people at a time; and
  • Digital networking opportunities to help students and graduates connect with companies seeking employees and learn from manufacturing leaders.

The new career: Recently, Sayer accepted an offer of employment at a large U.S.-based food company, and expects to start by the end of the month. She says the Heroes program helped get her resume in front of every possible employer. Since she graduated from the program in May, she’s received a range of job offers from across the United States.

The last word: “I tell all my friends still in the Army: if you can do the Heroes MAKE America program, do it,” says Sayer. “It’s a great opportunity, and it really does help.”

Business Operations

“It Takes One Part Not to Make a Car”: An Interview with ALOM’s Hannah Kain

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ALOM President and CEO Hannah Kain has been playing one of the most complex games imaginable: trying to retool global supply chains during a pandemic. And meanwhile, she’s overseeing the supply chain management company’s “aggressive” production of COVID-19 testing kits, while also manufacturing protective equipment for its customers and employees. We talked to Kain recently about what these complicated operations look like from the inside—and how manufacturers can adapt to supply chain uncertainty.

The supply side: A single finished good—say a car—could easily require thousands of parts from multiple countries, notes Kain (who is also an NAM board member). Now imagine that every single one of those parts could be held up on its journey. And that’s only the beginning.

  • Here’s a risk factor that no one is thinking about, Kain says: “If we are manufacturing overseas, who is governing those places?” Companies need to fly engineers out to their foreign facilities to check certifications, labor conditions, etc. And now they often can’t.
  • Meanwhile, freight rates have significantly increased, with rates from China “multiplying by a factor of 5.”
  • Plus, many companies operate in multiple locations, each with different COVID-19 rules and restrictions. ALOM, for instance, works out of 19 locations around the world, Kain adds.

Put it all together, and it’s a recipe for anxiety. Kain says, “I remember someone from an automaker saying once—it takes 2,500 parts to make a car; 1 part not to make a car.”

The demand side: COVID-19 has reconfigured the market, Kain notes. Demand for medical supplies and home electronics went “through the roof,” while demand for other products cratered. This situation created what she calls the “pulsing supply chain”—i.e., “the disjunction between demand fluctuations and ability to meet them.”

So what’s her advice? For other manufacturers and supply chain experts: “Anyone who can react faster is going to win the game.” Agility is a necessity, in other words. Here are some of the tactics that ALOM and its customers have tried:

  • Keep products unconfigured (or un-customized) until as late as possible in the production process—so the same part can be used for different purposes. The finishing touches can be added the day of shipment. “Customers think the products are sitting on shelves, but in fact they shouldn’t be,” says Kain.
  • Make sure you know as much as possible about demand. “Visibility is key,” she stresses. Companies should research what’s going on at the retail level and use business intelligence tools, such as AI that tracks keywords on social media. And don’t forget to track the analytics on your own website—“that can actually predict a lot,” says Kain.
  • Be smart about contracts. “If you have a critical supplier, try to ensure you’ll be first in line if there’s a restriction.”
  • Be good to your suppliers. “Don’t tell them things like ‘we’ll now pay you every 120 days instead of every 60.’ And pay people early if you can.”

The last word: “I saw myself pulling back from strategic work and going into crisis management,” Kain says. Only now is she beginning to get back to her usual routine.

At the end of this interview, Kain mentioned she was off for a restorative weekend in Yosemite. We think you’ll agree she deserved it.


CEO Gina Radke Talks Female Leadership—and Restroom Lines

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Who says longer lines for the women’s restroom are a good thing? Manufacturing CEO Gina Radke does. And here’s why—longer lines for the bathroom at manufacturing conferences would mean that more women worked in the industry, where they now only make up a third of the labor force.

Radke used to take photos of the bathroom doors at these conferences and post them to social media, highlighting the absence of other women in line. And if she has anything to say about it, those lines will be growing a lot longer.

The CEO of Galley Support Innovations, Radke likes to say that she got into manufacturing by mistake, and then learned it from the ground up.

  • When she and her husband bought the company—which specializes in interior hardware for aircraft—she thought she’d focus on the marketing side. But as she puts it, she fell in love with the process of turning raw materials into a finished product.
  • They moved the company from California to Arkansas, and soon, she had learned to run all the machines on the floor and immersed herself in every aspect of the business.

Along the way, she couldn’t help but notice that few other women had the same trajectory. Radke was often mistaken for an assistant and rarely encountered other women in leadership positions. She was determined to change that.

  • “If you can see it, you can be it”: Radke has worked to make herself more visible in the manufacturing world, as a role model for other women. The company even designed a calendar in which their female machinists posed as Rosie the Riveter.
  • STEP honoree: In 2019, she was a recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Awards—a national honor for accomplished women in the industry. Radke says the conference for honorees was the first time she had been around other women leaders in the industry. It made her feel a sense of relief and encouragement, and she resolved to step up her mentorship so more women would feel the same.
  • “I could write a book”: Inspired by her experience at the STEP conference, Radke wrote a book called “More Than.” In it, she offers guidance to both women and men, so they can achieve a more equitable workforce together.

And there’s more: Under Radke’s leadership, the company has been a pioneer in hiring formerly incarcerated individuals and people who have been involved in the criminal justice system. It also created programs to train kids who age out of foster care, helping them transition into well-paying jobs.

The last word: “To women who haven’t considered manufacturing: consider it,” says Radke. “It’s a great field to be in. We need everything, so you get to be creative and process driven. And you have an opportunity to break stereotypes and shatter the status quo.”

Business Operations

How Manufacturers Can Donate Effectively

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During a disaster, up to 60% of product donations are thrown away because they’re the wrong products at the wrong time.

That’s according to philanthropic organization Good360, which solves the problem by soliciting specific products and matching them with its network of 90,000 nonprofits. Now, it’s helping manufacturers provide much-needed supplies to the COVID-19 relief effort and prepare for a hurricane season during a public health crisis.

How it works: As a partner to the NAM, Good360 makes it as easy as possible for manufacturers to donate products.

  • Once a manufacturer makes contact, Good360 will find out what and how much it wishes to donate and where the supplies are located.
  • Then Good360 finds the right nonprofit to receive the donation—and picks it up and moves it where it needs to go.

How long it takes: Pickups happen within the week, with timelines typically closer to 48 hours.

What they need: Good360 is looking for everything from PPE for frontline workers to essential consumer products for families to toys and games for kids stuck at home. Critical needs include the following:

  • N95 masks
  • Face shields
  • Tyvek coveralls/shoe covers
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Thermometers
  • Soap
  • Diapers
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Baby formula
  • Personal hygiene products (dental, cosmetics, soap/conditioner, lotions)
  • Home cleaning supplies
  • Paper products (plates, paper towels, toilet tissue)
  • Boredom breakers (board games, cards, coloring books)
  • Education materials
  • Laptops and computers

Beyond COVID: As the U.S. enters hurricane season, Good360 is also preparing to respond to additional needs for products like shingles, building supplies and other vital materials.

How to help: Manufacturers that have products or financial support to donate should visit Good360’s online portal.

Business Operations

SCOTUS Protects LGBT Workers’ Rights

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The United States Supreme Court Building at sunset in Washington DC, USA.

The Supreme Court ruled today that civil rights law protects employees from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription).

The ruling: “The high court, in a 6-3 decision, said the broad language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, should be read to cover sexual orientation as well.”

  • “Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in addition to the four more liberal members of the court.”

Here’s the legal reasoning behind it:

  • “[The] case was simple, Justice Gorsuch found. He focused on the text of the statute Congress passed in 1964, forbidding workplace discrimination against an individual ‘because of…sex.’”
  • “There was no getting around it, he said: ‘An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it wouldn’t have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.’”

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons welcomed the news and said in a statement:

  • “This ruling, one of the most consequential since Obergefell, not only sends a powerful message of inclusion and equality to millions of Americans but also affirms that LGBT Americans cannot be fired just for being their authentic selves as work.
  • “Too many LGBT Americans go to work every day hiding who they are or whom they love because they believe that simply living authentically would mean losing their jobs and livelihoods. The Supreme Court has begun to lift that heavy emotional burden and made history by affirming that LGBT workers are entitled to federal protections too.
  • “For our part, manufacturers are committed to building diverse and inclusive workplaces, a mission that has taken on renewed importance in recent weeks. We will continue to be advocates for equal opportunity and champions for justice—because ultimately we know that diversity and inclusion makes our workplaces stronger, just as it makes our country stronger.”
Business Operations

Watch: The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 and Getting Back to Work

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In a recent NAM webinar, three experts broke down the economic effects of COVID-19 and how companies can respond. Here’s a selection:

You can sign up to watch the full webinar here.

Business Operations

Anderson Fabrics Sews Masks and More

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Right now, 86-year-old employee Nina Anderson is happily making masks and other protective gear at Anderson Fabrics. Nina (a distant relation of the company’s founders) has resisted her employer’s urging to stay home, and now works amid precautions that keep her and fellow employees safe—including social distancing, frequent cleanings, and PPE. She thinks of this as her mission.

The company says the same thing of its efforts. The Minnesota manufacturer, which normally makes window treatments, bedding and other interior design elements, was in an unusual position to help when COVID-19 hit. Few companies in the U.S. have hundreds of commercial sewing machines—and hundreds of employees who know how to run them—to make PPE this quickly.

What they’re making: 250+ employees are producing masks and ties of different varieties—including an original, fully adjustable mask, a mask with ties and custom accessory bands for elastic masks. All of these help relieve ear pain caused by extended mask use.

Plus, the company is also producing isolation gowns, booties, and hoods.

Who benefits: Anderson Fabrics has received phone calls from local healthcare operations, sheriffs’ departments, dentists, long-term care facilities and many other Minnesota manufacturers in need of specific PPE. It’s made a point of collaborating with any organization that needs assistance.

The numbers: The company has already sold or donated nearly 80,000 masks and currently has the capacity to produce between 2,000 and 3,000 per day.

And that’s not all . . . The company is also designing new products like reusable PAPR hoods.

PAPR hoods use positive air pressure and a face shield to keep outside air particles away from the wearer’s face. Generally, they’re disposable—but supplies are running short.

  • The solution: Anderson Fabrics has been working with a large healthcare organization to create a PAPR hood that can be disassembled, laundered and reused to prevent shortages.
  • The next step: The design will be submitted to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the FDA for approval and certification. The company hopes to make it available on a large scale soon.

In her own words: Recently, Nina wrote a poem about Anderson Fabrics, her fellow employees and the experience of so many COVID-19 responders. You can listen to Nina recite the poem here.

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