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.
U.S. manufacturers have experienced record growth over the past couple years, but certainty on a wide portfolio of issues, from infrastructure to trade, will be critical to keep that growth sustained throughout 2019. For policymakers in Washington, the May jobs reported should make that clear.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs data, the U.S. economy created just 75,000 new jobs in May, with a sluggish 3,000 manufacturing jobs created for the month.
“Manufacturing employment has been more sluggish than desired for four straight months, coinciding with weaker demand and production activity and lagging behind the robust pace we experienced last year,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said. “Indeed, manufacturers created 264,000 net new jobs in 2018, the best pace of employment growth in the sector since 1997. Yet, the sector has added only 13,000 employees since February. For those numbers to pick back up, our leaders in Washington must recommit to tackling the issues currently creating uncertainty for businesses and focus on policies aimed at sustaining the vigorous growth the industry saw last year.”
Employment has not been the only indicator that’s lagged behind. Earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management® said manufacturing activity in May expanded at its slowest pace since October 2016; whereas the competing survey from IHS Markit reflected growth that was the weakest pace in nearly a decade. In addition, manufacturing production has fallen in three of the past four months.
“Manufacturers need certainty,” Moutray said. “Things like ratifying the USMCA, securing a bilateral trade agreement with China, passing a long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank and enacting a bipartisan agreement to update our nation’s infrastructure are immediate steps policymakers can take that would greatly benefit the industry long into the future.”
Another factor holding back manufacturing growth is the looming workforce crisis—a challenge which continues to be the top concern for business leaders, especially in a tight labor market. The number of job openings in the sector has remained highly elevated, averaging about a half million per month over the past 12 months.
“At the end of the day, despite lower levels of industry growth, manufacturers are still creating far more open jobs than workers ready to fill them,” Moutray said. “That’s putting a damper on job creation as well.” Overall, the labor market remains tight, with the unemployment rate remaining 3.6 percent, the lowest since December 1969.
The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s education and workforce partner, is the leading industry authority on workforce development and recognizes the need to grow the qualified manufacturing workforce and close the skills gap. It has a range of programs and initiatives designed to do just that.
“The future of this industry and our economy at large are both tied to the future of the manufacturing workforce,” said Carolyn Lee, Manufacturing Institute executive director. “It’s just one more reason why we at the Institute work so hard every day to support the manufacturing workforce of today and grow the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow.”
Ferroloy, a Kansas-based small business that manufactures ductile and gray iron castings, was once on the verge of bankruptcy. But with the help of tax reform, they have doubled the size of their workforce and are in the process of dramatically expanding their facilities.
Mark Soucie, Ferroloy president and owner, bought the company back in 2017 when it had just 20 employees. The business was struggling to break even due to the collapse of the agricultural market, in which most of their customers were involved. Soucie and his team spent much of 2017 stabilizing Ferroloy. It became quickly evident, however, that the supercharged economy could deliver big gains.
“We could tell in early 2018 that activity was picking up, so we added a second shift and more than doubled our workforce by the end of the year,” Soucie explained.
“Now we are in the early stages of adding over 12,000 square feet to our facilities so that we can de-bottleneck the foundry, increase the size of the company’s machine shop and build an in-house pattern shop, which will allow the company to save money while also adding more jobs to their growing workforce,” Soucie said.
Soucie cited tax reform as a significant driver in allowing Ferroloy’s expansion plans to move faster than they otherwise would. More importantly, tax reform has ushered in the strongest economy in more than a decade, which is impacting Ferroloy by increasing demand for their products.
“To me, tax reform is an opportunity to level the playing field,” Soucie explained. “Large businesses have a significant competitive advantage due to scale and capability relative to smaller businesses. Over 50 percent of our working population is employed in small businesses. If you want small businesses to grow and prosper in this country, we need laws, like tax reform, that can drive economic growth and drive business.”
In Soucie’s eyes, keeping tax reform on the books is a no-brainer.
“I don’t understand why some people in Washington want to roll back something that allows small businesses to compete,” Soucie added. “Maybe it’s me being politically naïve, but economically, tax reform that allows small businesses to compete just makes sense.”
2018 was a record-setting year, as manufacturers reported the highest levels of optimism in the 20-year history of the NAM’s Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey.
“With tools like tax reform and regulatory certainty, manufacturing is thriving – and manufacturers are paying it forward,” Chris Netram, NAM vice president of tax and domestic economic policy, said. “Across the country, manufacturers small and large are hiring new employees, expanding operations, raising wages, improving benefits and more. Tax reform has fueled manufacturing, and the industry is propelling the American economy.”
Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement on announced U.S. tariffs on Mexico:
Manufacturers, like so many Americans and like President Trump, are frustrated with our broken immigration system and by the inaction that has led to a true humanitarian crisis. The answer to our broken system is a comprehensive, legislative solution, which manufacturers have offered in ‘A Way Forward.’ We continue to urge the administration and Congress to work together to address this crisis because the problem will not be solved just by blaming other countries. Intertwining difficult trade, tariff and immigration issues creates a Molotov cocktail of policy, and America’s manufacturing workers should not be forced to suffer because of the failure to fix our immigration system.
These proposed tariffs would have devastating consequences on manufacturers in America and on American consumers. We have taken our concerns to the highest levels of the administration and strongly urge them to consider carefully the impact of this action on working families across this country. Manufacturers have been working hard to secure passage of the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement, and the last thing we want to do is put that landmark deal—and the 2 million manufacturing jobs that depend on North American trade—in jeopardy.
We will continue to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle on immigration reform, just as we are working to continue our hard-won progress on the USMCA. We cannot afford to put the livelihoods of millions of Americans at risk at the same time.
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 12.8 million men and women, contributes $2.38 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, has the largest economic impact of any major sector and accounts for more than three-quarters 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 Manufacturers or to follow us on Shopfloor, Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
In many ways, manufacturing has never been doing better. Record numbers of manufacturers are optimistic about the future. Many are growing, investing, and hiring. Yet, this success is also fueling a growing crisis: too many manufacturing jobs and not enough workers to fill them.
Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute (MI)—the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—helps explain manufacturing’s “skills gap” workforce crisis and what the MI is doing to help solve it.
Carolyn, just how bad is the problem currently?
There are more than half a million open jobs in manufacturing right now, and based on a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2.4 million jobs could go unfilled and about $2.5 trillion worth of GDP could be at risk over the next decade if we don’t get this under control soon. So this is a problem for manufacturing, yes, but it’s also a problem for the economy overall.
What’s driving it?
There are three main drivers. Some don’t know these jobs exist, some don’t have the right skills to land them, and some just don’t see the point. That last challenge—the perception challenge—is particularly tricky. Many envision manufacturing jobs the way their grandparents remember them. But that really isn’t how modern manufacturing careers look today.
Well, how do they look?
Modern manufacturing careers are increasingly high-tech, high-skill, and high-pay. The possibilities in manufacturing will become even more exciting as Manufacturing 4.0 technology continues to revolutionize the industry. Tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs will increasingly rely upon irreplaceable human skills—things like creativity, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering and finance—and, by the way, many of these careers don’t require a four-year degree or the debt that can come with it.
What is the Institute doing to address this challenge?
We have a variety of programs designed to excite, educate and empower the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow, with a particular focus in four key areas: women, veterans, youth and lifelong learning. We are empowering women already in the industry and giving them tools to inspire and mentor others (STEP Women’s Initiative), we are connecting transitioning service members and veterans to great careers in manufacturing plus arming them with the exact skills and qualifications needed to excel (Heroes MAKE America), we are helping excite the next generation by encouraging companies and educational institutions across the country to open their doors to the reality of modern manufacturing careers (MFG Day), and we are engaged in a variety of initiatives to help current manufacturing workers access training for newer technology-intensive jobs—among many other programs and initiatives.
What can others do to help be a part of the change the MI is trying to enact?
One thing I’d recommend, and something the Institute is working to facilitate, is for people to educate themselves, their families, and their friends on what jobs in manufacturing truly look like. It’s an exciting time to be a manufacturer and there are lots of great opportunities in the industry, so come join us.
As the North America Deliver Operations Lead at Johnson & Johnson, Elaine Thibodeau’s work helps ensure quality, continuity, preparedness and resiliency across the supply chain. She also serves as an advocate for women in the manufacturing industry and a voice of encouragement for millions of young women and girls who might enter the industry one day.
“I think we need to keep fighting the myth that a manufacturing career doesn’t marry well with having a family,” Thibodeau said. “We need to find opportunities to bring young women into our factories and give them early, positive experiences with the industry.”
Her 30 years of experience at Johnson & Johnson includes time in orthopedics, diagnostics, pharmaceutical manufacturing and consumer medical devices – roles that have come with all sorts of challenges. Earlier in her career, Thibodeau led a team that was tasked with taking over a third-party plant to continue producing an oncology medication that was on the FDAs drug shortage list. By making a deal with a supplier to take over a section of their plant, she kept production running.
Doctors in an advocacy group told Thibodeau how essential the medication was for their patients and how shortages caused them to make difficult decisions. “That always stuck with me – it motivated me every day to do my job well,” she said.
At times, Thibodeau faced immense challenges. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, she worked to get manufacturing up and running, bringing jobs back to the community that was deeply affected and providing vital products to enable employees to take care of themselves.
“Day-to-day life was just physically difficult,” she said. “We had to take care of the people first, making sure they had what they needed to be safe, whether that was a generator or medicines or water or diapers.” In collaboration with site leaders and other businesses in the area, she helped to rebuild the industry and begin the process of renewal.
Thibodeau’s interest in manufacturing began at a young age. As a young girl, she built furniture for her dolls with raisin boxes and pieces of wood she found in her family’s garage. When her father, an electrician, went to work, she would tag along, learning how to trouble shoot, which is a skill that has proven valuable.
“I had building blocks and I liked to sew,” Elaine remembered. “I was always interested in putting things together.” An enthusiasm for math and some encouraging teachers led her to an engineering degree, and after a few years, she was offered her first role at Johnson & Johnson – beginning an exciting career that continues to draw her out of her comfort zone.
“If the new job or the new project doesn’t scare you a little bit,” she said, “you’re probably going to be bored in six months.”
A new report from The Manufacturing Institute – the workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers – and PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that increased automation in manufacturing may come with significant opportunities for workers in the industry.
The report – “Navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution to the Bottom Line” – examines the ways that systemic changes are impacting the manufacturing industry, from the expansion of robotics to an increased interest in developing connected products. While manufacturers recognize the potential value of advanced technologies – including robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud computing, advanced analytics, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality – the prospect of integrating these new innovations with existing processes has raised questions.
The new report suggests automation may have a significant positive impact for people interested in the manufacturing industry – an increased need for talent to manage in a more automated, flexible production environment and new jobs for workers who can engineer robotics and their operating systems, to name a few opportunities. Rather than taking jobs away from workers, the report’s survey finds that most manufacturers see automation as reinforcing the need for distinctly human abilities.
“This technological shift is moving manufacturers rapidly toward jobs that require irreplaceable human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering and finance,” said Chad Moutray, Director of The Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research. “Machines need workers to program, operate and maintain them, and today automation often works alongside workers, especially in the performance of monotonous tasks, which helps free workers to shift their focus to more interesting ones.”
Some of that work will come from existing employees. In fact, the report suggests that most manufacturers are planning to upskill and reskill their current employees on using and managing new technologies. In addition, manufacturers see a need to expand their workforce to include new employees – in part, by identifying and recruiting talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students, and by providing outside training at community colleges and through technology vendors in order to prepare potential new workers for roles in modern manufacturing.
“According to the World Economic Forum, we could create 133 million jobs by 2022 if workers are given significant reskilling and the next generation of workers is trained properly,” said Moutray. “Technological change can be a plus for manufacturing workers if we undertake the right approach now.”
All told, about 70 percent of manufacturers say the biggest impact of robotics on the workforce over the next five years will be the increased need for talent to manage in a more automated environment, and for new workers fill important jobs. The Manufacturing Institute has become the leading industry voice in Washington calling for workforce and education policies that bridge the skills gap, and it has a number of programs aimed toward supporting the manufacturing workforce of today and growing the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow.
“Technology isn’t a threat – technology is an enabler,” said Moutray. “It’s actually helping us do our jobs, helping us get to where we need to go, and then enabling that next generation.”
Laura Mahany doesn’t just serve as a plant manager at Air Liquide. She’s also mentoring women within the organization and recruiting top engineers to increase female presence in manufacturing.
“I usually talk about sitting at a desk all day,” she says. “In manufacturing, you almost never do that.”
When she speaks to other young women on college campuses, she stresses the collaborative environments that manufacturing offers and the opportunities to interact with operators and technicians thatmake her work more interesting and engaging. From these conversations, she’s learned sustainability is an important issue for young people, who have become more vocal about being part of a grand environmental solution. And she has found that one of the biggest challenges for recruiting new manufacturers is simply a lack of visibility.
“When you talk to a child, they always know what a doctor does or a teacher does because they interact with those people,” Laura says. “But it’s not very often that they get to interact with engineers or visit a manufacturing plant.”
While in college, Laura provided some of those interactions herself as a mentor to underprivileged kids learning math and science. Each session involved experiments centered around different subjects and activities, from building roller coasters to making ice cream to using liquid nitrogen. By changing different elements of the experiments and studying how changes affect outcomes, Laura helped drive home scientific concepts – and gave kids a real-life example of what manufacturers do.
“Manufacturing is just a big word to them,” she says. “We need to make it real.”
Laura has learned firsthand how real manufacturing challenges can be. In 2017, she was tasked with preserving operations at her plant in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and although she and her team evacuated during the hurricane itself, they returned to a scene that she calls “something out of a zombie apocalypse.” Because her plant was critical to the safety of the community – it produced nitrogen, which other industries use to prevent the release of dangerous chemicals – she had to restore operations quickly, even before the local government had given the all-clear for residents to return.
“We had to collaborate with other industries to get what we needed, like cooling water and electricity,” she says. “Luckily, I had good relationships with people at other companies – it really made such cooperation possible.”
Laura credits college internships with convincing her that she was destined for a career in manufacturing. Although she had always had an aptitude for math and science – as a child, she took part in academic competitions to improve her skills – a college program for women in engineering made the larger engineering program feel more approachable and drew her into more applied opportunities.
“I realized I liked the more hands-on work of manufacturing – the direct interaction with the meat of a business,” Laura says. “I liked how every day was different, fast paced, challenging.”
NAM Senior Vice President of Communications and Brand Strategy Erin Streeter discusses the NAM’s digital strategy and the shift to become a news source for the industry.
Why is the NAM diving into becoming more of a news source for the industry?
First, it’s a direct response to the needs of our members. We’re committed to ensuring that our members and allies have the tools they need to be nimble and effective advocates for our industry. We also want to be a platform for our members to tell their stories of success and achievement.
Second, in this disruptive environment, becoming America’s manufacturing news source isn’t really a choice. We saw this tidal wave of change hitting advocacy and communications coming, and we’ve been building a messaging, rapid response (“War Room”) and newsroom operation that has drawn the attention of some the most powerful leaders in our country and is watched by key business reporters and decisionmakers. We can’t let up now. If we don’t write our story and if we don’t present the facts, we are ceding control of our industry’s future to others.
Building “brand newsrooms” and operating like a media organization aren’t things trade associations have been known to do. Can you explain the rationale for a trade association like the NAM moving in these directions?
That’s right—but it is critical if we want to continue to position the NAM as a leader not only in the manufacturing industry, but also in Washington and across the country.
With today’s noisy, fragmented media environment, manufacturers need a resource they can trust and resource that can get their stories out to the public and key decision-makers. And lawmakers and the public need an authority on all things manufacturing.
What is new about NAM.org?
Everything. The whole concept is new. Take a look around. You’ll see various streams of relevant, timely news on a range of topics. You’ll see interviews with leading experts and CEO perspectives. This site is the next step in our mission to be a constant presence in people’s lives, using new technology, data and analytics to provide customized user experiences that interest, educate and drive action for the manufacturing sector.
With this new site, we are supercharging our ability to provide a best in class user experience across our social, email and mobile products.
In what ways can manufacturers leverage this site and NAM news platforms, such as the Input morning email newsletter?
They can tell their stories. This is their platform. Manufacturers across this country are transforming their communities, innovating great new products and giving people new opportunities for high paying jobs. We want to show the world the great things our industry is doing and how we’re keeping our promises to invest in our people and our communities.
There’s no organization that knows the industry better than the NAM, the one-stop shop for manufacturers. So we’re well-positioned to be a credible and compelling platform—and outlet—for stories about our members. Just like anyone might think of CNBC, Fox Business or Bloomberg as a place to drive business news, I hope we’ll be looked at as a place where our members—and all manufacturers—want to break news because of the quality of our reporting and our proven capacity to reach audiences that matter.
Will the general public or casual reader find a home at nam.org?
Absolutely. Anyone who cares about manufacturing in America—and everyone should care!—can learn something from this site. Again, it’s America’s manufacturing news source. It might be breaking news about a new manufacturing facility coming to their community. Or it might be a helpful Q&A to understand what’s really going on in Congress.
Our Creators Wanted video series is a great example of the compelling content that is designed with the general public in mind. The series tells the stories of real modern manufacturing workers. In their own words, they describe the reason they love the industry. These are targeted to younger people (and their parents) who are making decisions about their future careers. So by inspiring that next generation, this content is supporting the mission of the NAM and our education and workforce partners, The Manufacturing Institute—and it’s changing lives.
There’s truly something for everyone…and we’d love to get feedback on how we can make it even better!
The NAM’s Makers Series is an exclusive interview series featuring creators, innovators and trailblazers in the industry sharing their insights and advice. Each month, we ask founders, executives and leaders of innovative firms what it takes to be a leader for manufacturers and makers in America. For more, visit NAM.org.
Meet Joshua Bingaman, founder of Helm Boots. In this edition of the NAM’s Makers Series, he explains what it takes to inspire the next wave of “creative working class heroes.”