A One-Woman Workforce Solution: Meet Toyotetsu’s Leslie Cantu
Leslie Cantu has an unusual but effective method of stress reduction: cuddling with bovines.
“You can’t stay stressed or frustrated when you have a cow licking you on the cheek,” laughed Toyotetsu’s assistant vice president of administration.
Ranch life: Living on a ranch south of San Antonio, Texas, with 13 dogs, 15 cats, five miniature horses, multiple sheep and three newborn lambs might sound to others like a lot of work, but to Cantu, it is indeed a method of decompression.
- “I have five children and two grandbabies, and spending time with them out on the ranch, just being able to take care of the animals and enjoy time with the kids, it’s rewarding, it’s relaxing,” said Cantu.
- Life on the ranch sounds busy, but it’s nothing compared to work life for Cantu, a 2023 Honoree of the Manufacturing Institute’s Women MAKE Awards, which recognize top female talent in the manufacturing industry. She’s involved in a dizzying array of workforce programs both at the company and outside of it.
Finding FAME: Cantu, the first woman to be named an assistant vice president at the global automotive parts manufacturer, spends a lot of time making a difference for the company’s workforce.
- In 2016, her first year on the job, she helped Toyotetsu open the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education’s first Texas chapter, TX FAME – Alamo. Today, she serves as the chapter president.
- “Through FAME, we’ve really been able to build that multiskilled-technician pipeline to make sure we can meet those critical skills needed for our business,” Cantu said of the workforce development initiative for high school graduates, which was founded by Toyota and is now operated by the MI (the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate).
Seeking diversity: Cantu also helped Toyotetsu form a partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission and the local workforce development board to create a 12-week manufacturing apprenticeship program—the first of its kind in Texas—for individuals with disabilities. The inaugural class graduated in January.
- “It’s programs like this and FAME that help us find unique ways to fill those skills gaps and focus on diversifying the workforce,” she said. “There’s a lot to be said for diversifying the workforce, [including] improved morale and retention.”
A second chance: In 2018, in another bid to deepen Toyotetsu’s talent pool, Cantu spearheaded the launch of a second chance hiring initiative in partnership with the local county’s economic development board. The project now consists of seven manufacturers, all of whom regularly hire formerly incarcerated individuals—with great results.
- “Toyotetsu alone has hired about 140 ex-offenders and had tremendous success with that,” said Cantu.
- “Analyzing our data and metrics, we’ve been able to see that our second chance population has better performance and better retention than those who come to us through traditional recruiting. [Second chance] has effectively become a go-to, best practices strategy for us.”
Playing to strengths: Cantu credits some of her success in strengthening Toyotetsu’s workforce to her natural ability to think creatively.
- “As we continue to work through the national skills-force gap, hiring and COVID-19, it’s become important to think outside the box … to see how we could build our talent pipeline,” Cantu said.
- “That’s one of my strengths, tapping into those resources. Part of that is knowing what resources are out there, and thankfully, I’ve got a great boss and corporate office that support community involvement,” she added.
And if that wasn’t enough … Cantu is the chair of Workforce Solutions Alamo, and she sits on the board of the Texas Workforce Commission’s Adult Education & Literacy Advisory Committee and on the advisory board of a local high school.
The last word: Cantu has some encouraging words for women looking to follow in her (very energetic) footsteps:
- “Oftentimes there’s an image of manufacturing [as being] for men, or [that] it’s dark, it’s dirty, it’s dangerous. And that’s not what manufacturing is. There’s a lot of opportunity to use the skills that women bring to the table: multitasking, transferable skills,” she says.
- “It’s incredibly important that we mentor women thinking about careers in manufacturing, tell our stories and share the journey so that we can encourage others following the same path.”
A Young Engineer Makes Herself Heard in Manufacturing
Rashmi Vadlakonda is a woman with a voice, and she’s not afraid to use it.
As a manufacturing engineer at Trane Technologies—a company focused on sustainable climate innovations—Vadlakonda is making advancements in engineering and paving the way for more women of color to join her. That’s why she was recently recognized by the Manufacturing Institute’s 2023 Women MAKE Awards as an Emerging Leader.
The award: The Women MAKE Awards, formerly known as the STEP Ahead Awards, honor top female talent in the industry while providing honorees with a platform to inspire other future industry leaders. Vadlakonda sees the honor as an opportunity to keep speaking up for people who are underrepresented.
- “I believe that for young women in manufacturing, especially for me as an immigrant young woman of color … a title helps,” said Vadlakonda. “This award gives me that title [and] the courage that I need to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I have something to share, and I want you to listen to me. There’s a reason I was recognized.’”
Starting out: Vadlakonda wasn’t immediately drawn to engineering, but when she was growing up in India, it was typical for young people to pursue engineering or medicine.
- Once she “fell into it,” she loved it, and took an especially strong interest in 3D printing while in graduate school at North Carolina State University. Her passion for 3D printing is what brought her to Trane Technologies.
Making the transition: When she first came to the company, she was responsible for operationalizing additive manufacturing throughout the company.
- She spent a few years in a corporate setting, traveling to different offices and introducing advanced manufacturing technologies—but when the pandemic hit and travel was largely suspended, she had plenty of time to think about what she wanted to do next. That’s when she decided to pivot to working in a factory setting.
- “The factory is a basic building block of the manufacturing industry,” said Vadlakonda. “Coming from a research background, I wanted to understand how a factory functions, how the people there think, how different groups interact with each other, and what it takes to actually deliver a good product.”
The factory floor: Vadlakonda is grateful she got a chance to work in both the corporate and factory environments. In a factory, she says, the pace is much faster, and you’re pushed to solve problems right in front of you. This was a challenge she found thrilling.
To women in the industry: When asked what her advice is for women in the industry, Vadlakonda first had advice for industry leaders. She believes they must create a comfortable environment for people from all walks of life.
- “Sure, you can get someone interested in manufacturing, you can help them come into the industry,” said Vadlakonda. “But we also have the responsibility of creating a welcoming environment where they feel like they can grow, so that they don’t leave, so that they’re happy here in the industry.”
The future: Vadlakonda, who is a champion of, and volunteer for, the industry’s Creators Wanted campaign to inspire the next generation of creators, believes it is vital that young people are exposed to manufacturing career options at an early age.
- “It doesn’t start with talking to women who have decided on a career path,” said Vadlakonda. “You have to start with kids. That’s why I like talking at Creators Wanted. Young people are naturally attracted to what they’re attracted to. Our job as adults is to help them see the options.”
The last word: “Manufacturing is very exciting,” said Vadlakonda. “It’s very interesting, you get to be creative and solve problems—and it’s such a satisfying feeling to solve problems.”
More Women Join the Manufacturing Workforce
Fresh off International Women’s Day, which was March 8, there’s some encouraging news on the labor front: more women are coming back to the workforce, both in manufacturing and throughout the economy.
In manufacturing: Female employment in the industry reached its height this year, with a total of 3.77 million workers, according to NAM calculations based on BLS numbers.
- Women now account for 29% of the manufacturing workforce.
- A year ago this week, the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education partner, launched its 35×30 campaign, an initiative that aims to boost women’s share of the manufacturing workforce to 35% by 2030.
The overall economy: “Women have gained more jobs than men for four straight months, including in January’s hiring surge, pushing them to hold more than 49.8% of all nonfarm jobs,” according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).
- “Female workers last edged higher than men on U.S. payrolls in late 2019, before the pandemic sent nearly 12 million women out of jobs, compared with 10 million men.”
Why it’s happening: The child-care disruptions and health concerns that made many women leave the workforce during the pandemic are diminishing, while employers offer historically high pay and increasing numbers of remote positions.
Why it’s important: More women in the workforce could help ease both worker shortages and inflation.
- With January unemployment reaching a 53-year low, “[a] greater supply of labor could work to counter rising wages and align with the Federal Reserve’s goal of cooling inflation,” according to the Journal.
- More job seekers could also help U.S. manufacturers, whose job openings edged up to 803,0000 in January.
The last word: “In just a year, the 35×30 campaign has made great strides in increasing the number of women in manufacturing—and the latest data show as much,” said MI President Carolyn Lee. “We’re close to our goal. Together, we can get the rest of the way there and make it to 35% by 2030.”
Manufacturers: Find Our Open Jobs and Pathways to Careers at CreatorsWanted.org
Amid a workforce crisis, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute partner with FactoryFix to launch a new resource
Washington, D.C. – With the number of manufacturing job openings in the United States averaging 830,000 per month over the past year, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute have partnered with FactoryFix to launch and power Creators Connect, a new digital career resources platform designed to help students, parents, career influencers and job seekers easily explore and pursue the wide range of pathways available in modern manufacturing.
“Addressing the workforce crisis is among the top concerns for manufacturers across the country,” said NAM President and CEO and Manufacturing Institute Board Chair Jay Timmons. “While we cannot fully solve this challenge without immigration reform, manufacturers are determined to lift up more people in the United States with the promise and reward of modern manufacturing careers—and Creators Wanted’s new digital career resources platform is another way that manufacturers are leading with solutions.”
Creators Connect is the first and only unified platform to search and explore career pathways, job openings and job training programs across the entire manufacturing industry while making it easier for manufacturing professionals to attract and identify talent to fill the skills gap.
“We’ve made tremendous strides in inspiring a new generation of manufacturers at the Manufacturing Institute and across the industry, but what’s been missing is a single resource for manufacturing jobs and pathways opportunities,” said MI President Carolyn Lee. “Today, we bring an unmatched tool—in terms of volume and quality of jobs—to help us close the skills gap and change more misperceptions about modern manufacturing.”
Creators Connect is live on CreatorsWanted.org, home of the NAM and MI’s Creators Wanted campaign, which is the largest industry campaign to build the workforce of today and tomorrow. Since 2021, Creators Wanted has built an email network of more than 1 million students, early career entrants and potential career influencers. FactoryFix is already the leading manufacturing recruitment platform in the U.S., hosting more than 400,000 job openings and having its own talent network of more than 650,000 manufacturing workers. The partnership is the first of its kind for the industry’s largest and oldest manufacturing trade association.
“It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity for FactoryFix to be the engine behind Creators Connect and a part of the Creators Wanted campaign,” said FactoryFix CEO and Founder Patrick O’Rahilly. “As a one-stop recruiting solution for manufacturers to find qualified and engaged candidates, we’re looking forward to increasing our impact in addressing the labor shortage and helping more Americans create their future in modern manufacturing.”
By powering Creators Connect, FactoryFix representatives will join the NAM and the MI’s Creators Wanted workforce campaign as it continues its roadshow in 2023 and expands its digital campaign across the United States. By 2025, Creators Wanted aims to recruit 600,000 new manufacturing team members; increase the number of students enrolling in technical and vocational schools or reskilling programs by 25%; and increase the positive perception of the industry among parents and career influencers to 50% from 27%.
To explore Creators Connect, visit CreatorsWanted.org.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12.9 million men and women, contributes $2.81 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 55% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit nam.org.
The MI grows and supports the manufacturing industry’s skilled workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing. The MI’s diverse initiatives support all workers in America, including women, veterans and students, through skills training programs, community building and the advancement of their career in manufacturing. As the workforce development and education partner of the NAM, the MI is a trusted adviser to manufacturers, equipping them with resources necessary to solve the industry’s toughest challenges. For more information on the MI, please visit https://www.themanufacturinginstitute.org.
FactoryFix is the leading recruitment automation solution for manufacturing companies, combining the power of a talent network with specialized recruitment technology. Our platform helps HR manufacturing teams save time and budget by automating tedious tasks, streamlining recruitment efforts and providing a consistent flow of engaged candidates.
Founded in 2017 in Chicago, Illinois, FactoryFix has nearly 650,000 manufacturing professionals in its talent network and is the exclusive recruiting partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, Manufacturing Institute and Creators Wanted. Hundreds of the top manufacturing companies in the country trust FactoryFix to help meet their hiring goals. For more information, please visit https://www.factoryfix.com.
WATCH: 2023 State of Manufacturing Address
Presented by Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, the 2023 State of Manufacturing Address was given from Husco International in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Special remarks were given by Kurt Bauer, President and CEO, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Special thanks to Husco President and CEO Austin Ramirez and his team for hosting this year’s address.
Read the official remarks here.
We’re hitting the road. This year’s NAM State of Manufacturing Address officially kicked off the 2023 leg of the NAM’s Competing to Win Tour. The tour will continue to spotlight the industry’s rapid transformation, while also focusing on manufacturing’s well-paying careers, diverse workforce and real-world solutions for the industry’s continued growth.
Upcoming stops: Waukesha and Pewaukee, Wisconsin (Tue, Feb 21); Fishers, Indiana (Wed, Feb 22); Harahan and Avery Island, Louisiana (Thurs, Feb 23)
The Next Step in Building the Manufacturing Workforce
As part of the Creators Wanted campaign, the NAM and the Manufacturing Institute have partnered with FactoryFix, a leading one-stop solution for manufacturing recruitment, to launch Creators Connect.
- The digital career-resources platform aims to address the skills gap and misperceptions about the manufacturing industry, providing manufacturers with a powerful new tool to help build their workforces.
What it is: The platform, which is housed on Creatorswanted.org and powered by FactoryFix, is free to use. It is the first and only unified platform where users can search and explore job openings, career pathways and job training programs across the entire manufacturing sector.
- With more than 400,000 listed job openings, Creators Connect builds on the success of its parent initiative, Creators Wanted, the award-winning, national workforce and perception campaign of the NAM and its 501(c)3 workforce development and education partner, the MI.
- Creators Wanted, which has an email network of more than 1 million students, job seekers and career influencers, aims to recruit 600,000 new manufacturing workers by 2025.
- It is also working to boost the number of students enrolling in technical and vocational schools or reskilling programs by 25% and to increase the positive perception of the manufacturing industry among parents and career influencers.
Why it’s important: “Addressing the workforce crisis is among the top concerns for manufacturers across the country,” said NAM President and CEO and Manufacturing Institute Board Chair Jay Timmons.
- “While we cannot fully solve this challenge without immigration reform, manufacturers are determined to lift up more people in the United States with the promise and reward of modern manufacturing careers—and Creators Wanted’s new digital career resources platform is another way that manufacturers are leading with solutions.”
What’s next: The platform will benefit from FactoryFix’s talent network of more than 650,000 manufacturing workers—and the NAM and FactoryFix are confident it will help fill much-needed manufacturing jobs.
- Said FactoryFix CEO and Founder Patrick O’Rahilly: “As a one-stop recruiting solution for manufacturers to find qualified and engaged candidates, we’re looking forward to increasing our impact in addressing the labor shortage and helping more Americans create their future in modern manufacturing.”
Learn more about how to get the most out of Creators Connect by visiting the FAQ page here. Questions? Contact the Creators Wanted team here.
NAM Launches 2023 Competing to Win Tour
President and CEO Jay Timmons to Deliver the NAM State of Manufacturing Address
Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Manufacturers will kick off its 2023 Competing to Win Tour on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, traveling to three states and visiting four manufacturing facilities along the way.
The tour will begin in Wisconsin, where NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons will deliver the 2023 NAM State of Manufacturing Address at Husco.
Throughout the week, Timmons will join local manufacturers, employees, media, community leaders and elected officials to discuss the challenging environment facing manufacturers and the urgent need for solutions on issues including immigration reform, permitting reform, workforce development, tax policy and more.
The tour comes as nearly two-thirds of manufacturers are concerned about the challenging economic environment characterized by inflation, supply chain disruption and the workforce crisis, according to the NAM’s latest Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey. More than three-quarters of respondents said pushing back against regulatory overreach should be the top priority of the 118th Congress.
“Our focus on this tour is telling the story of resilient, modern manufacturing—and the tools we need from policymakers to continue leading our economy forward and making the world a better place,” said Timmons. “To unleash our full potential, we need to reinstate critical tax provisions, a smarter, balanced approach to regulations, immigration reform and significant permitting reform, and reject top-down air regulations that cost jobs and snarl supply chains.”
For more than a decade, the annual NAM State of Manufacturing Address has focused the nation’s attention on the industry that is the backbone of the American economy, highlighting the 13 million men and women who are building our future.
The NAM has frequently traveled the country, bringing policy discussions and conversations about the future of work to shop floors, schools, economic clubs, televisions studios, the White House and more.
At a time when the future of work is top of mind for workers and thought leaders alike, the tour will also spotlight the industry’s rapid transformation, while also focusing on manufacturing’s well-paying careers, the industry’s diverse workforce and the real-world solutions for manufacturing’s continued growth.
Tour events will take place in Wisconsin, Indiana and Louisiana. Details are as follows:
Tuesday, Feb. 21 // Wisconsin
8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. CST
2239 Pewaukee Road
Waukesha, Wisconsin 53188
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CST
Waukesha County Technical College
800 Main Street
Pewaukee, Wisconsin 53072
Wednesday, Feb. 22 // Indiana
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. EST
INCOG BioPharma Services
12050 Exit 5 Parkway
Fishers, Indiana 46037
Timmons will be joined by Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)
Thursday, Feb. 23 // Louisiana
8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. CST
200 Laitram Lane
Harahan, Louisiana 70123
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. CST
Avery Island, Louisiana 70513
MEDIA RSVP: Members of the media interested in covering the tour or attending an event should contact [email protected]
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs nearly 13 million men and women, contributes $2.81 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 55% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
Why Female Mentorship Matters in Manufacturing
A great mentor can make all the difference to your career—especially if you’re in an industry where you may find yourself in the minority. To help women in manufacturing reach their full potential in a male-dominated industry, the Manufacturing Institute’s Women MAKE America program has created a mentorship program, generously supported by its 35×30 Campaign supporters, Dow, General Motors, Arconic Foundation, Alcoa Foundation and Ketchie.
- The program has an ambitious goal: to train more than 1,000 female mentors by 2030 and connect them with younger women in the industry as well as students in colleges, high schools and middle schools.
One year into the program, the participants are already seeing an impact. In a recent Women MAKE webinar, attendees got to hear from one successful and happy mentee, while also receiving guidance on building their own slate of mentors.
Making a difference: “I was especially thankful for the Women MAKE Mentorship Program because it filled a gap in my support system and allowed me to have a mentor who was really dedicated to my professional development,” said Zen Saunders, a 2022 Women MAKE mentee and diversity, equity, inclusion and employee experience leader at Dow.
- Saunders explained that her mentor shared examples of how she built her career, which inspired Saunders to map out her own next steps more creatively. Through regular meetings with her mentor, Saunders learned to find common interests with colleagues and earn their buy-in on new projects.
- “[My mentor has] been an active listener and committed to my success, creating a safe space for me to learn from the challenges that I’ve faced while offering a refreshing perspective that’s uplifting and encouraging,” said Saunders.
Support from Women MAKE: After hearing from Saunders, participants in the webinar were asked to design a personal “board of directors” to mentor them in their own careers. Women MAKE hosts many such activities, which are designed to forge connections between participants and encourage them to think ambitiously about their career paths.
- The board members could be people from participants’ personal or professional lives, instructed MI Director of Women’s Engagement Sarah Shields. An ideal board of directors should include a sponsor, an innovator, an expert, a truth teller and a safe space.
- After they brainstormed a list of people who could fit these roles, Shields encouraged participants to ask these people to act as mentors and to schedule regular times to discuss their career plans.
The last word: “I’m thankful to the Manufacturing Institute for this opportunity and the amazing Women MAKE Mentorship Program. It’s really been a life-changing and transformative experience for me. I highly recommend this program for women and girls currently in or interested in the industry,” Saunders said.
Get involved: In addition to young and senior manufacturing professionals, this year Women MAKE is inviting young women and girls ages 13+ who are interested in STEM, as well as refugees seeking opportunities in the U.S., to join the Women MAKE Mentorship Program.
- If you are interested in joining the Women MAKE Mentorship Program as a mentor, or know of someone who would benefit from becoming a mentee, check out the application. The deadline for applying is Tuesday, Feb. 28.
- You can also tune in to the next Women Connect webinar on “Building Your Personal Brand” on Thursday, Feb. 16.
- And last, if you have questions, please contact the Women MAKE team at [email protected].
How Manufacturers Should Pursue Second Chance Hiring
With one-in-four Americans possessing a criminal record, manufacturers who pursue “second chance hiring” are accessing a diverse and motivated talent pool. What do they need to know to begin?
At the Manufacturing Institute’s inaugural Workforce Summit, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, last October, panelists from manufacturers Saint-Gobain and JBM Packaging and from Envoy, a social impact advisory firm specializing in fair chance employment, shared tips on how to create such hiring programs.
Risk assessment: While safety is a concern, panelists emphasized that there is a difference between perceived risk and actual risk.
- “The data shows that second chance individuals are retained longer, have higher productivity and engage in more training than the average individual that you bring in,” said Cassi Zumbiel, managing director at Envoy.
- Saint-Gobain uses “a framework for background checks which we have developed in collaboration with our legal team. Candidates in the second chance hiring programs demonstrate higher level of commitment and a proactive approach to job searching, setting themselves up for success in future roles. We like to collaborate with our community partners in order to provide a good candidate experience and a seamless recruiting process,” explained Magda Dexter, senior vice president of communications and human resources at Saint-Gobain.
- For JBM Packaging, it’s about having honest and transparent conversations with candidates about their backgrounds. JBM also works with case managers to get referrals and assess candidates’ fit with the company.
How to get started: Dexter recommended that companies start with a pilot program, then scale it up, noting that it’s important to select a site that has the right culture, an engaged plant manager and HR support.
- Saint-Gobain has also tried out a variety of different support systems across their company, including hiring a part-time social worker as well as instituting a buddy system and a mentoring program.
- Zumbiel encouraged companies to do background checks only after a conditional offer has been made, recommending that companies should limit the look-back period to three to seven years. “That helps eliminate some of that bias and makes you really look at the candidate holistically.”
- Panelists also noted that it was important to review job descriptions to make sure they specify that second chance candidates are welcome.
From jobs to careers: Ninety percent of JBM’s second chance hires are entry-level production workers; the other 10% have mechanical or machinist skills and fill entry-level technical roles. However, Valerie Plis, director of human capital and culture at JBM, realized there was a lot of experience that the company wasn’t tapping into.
- Plis shared a story of a second chance hire who started as a machine operator. As Plis got to know her, she realized that the new hire had a background in training. The new hire progressed from an operator trainer to a lead trainer, then joined the HR team. In addition to leading training across the company, she now helms the second chance recruiting initiative, coming back full circle.
- Plis added, “At JBM, we started working on putting together some very defined career paths. It’s changed the way we conduct our performance reviews, so now we’re focused on growth and development.”
Succeed by partnering: While second chance hires come with a lot of benefits, there are also some challenges that are unique to this population. Partnering with community organizations can help, the panelists said.
- For Dexter, it’s about figuring out what the company will offer and what the community partners will offer. “We will support with on-the-job training. We will support with [providing] structure at work. We will rely on [our community partners] for job readiness and life skills training.”
- Zumbiel noted that “the community partner can advocate for the employer about the great opportunities and the benefits of working in manufacturing” and also prepare candidates to ace their interviews.
The last word: “A lot of the things we implemented, we thought we were doing just for our second chance population, but they actually ended up becoming a huge benefit for our entire workforce,” Plis said.