A Hero Finds a Quality Career

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Nicole Reyna’s professional journey—from college student to Army sergeant to senior quality assurance technologist at Smithfield Foods—wasn’t one she had planned. But thanks to The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program, it’s one that has brought her where she wants to be. Initially, Reyna was interested in medicine and went to college to become a medical assistant. Shortly before graduation, however, she had an experience that changed her mind.

“I was two months from graduating that program, and I was working on removing stitches—and that’s when I realized I was not what you would call a ‘medically inclined person,’” Reyna said.

Instead, she spoke to recruiters at her local mall and ended up joining the U.S. Army, where she served for 12 years in logistics and quality assurance. When she left the military in 2019, she had only 90 days to find a job. And while she was enrolled in Department of Defense program that teaches veterans about resume building and job searching, she ran into a Heroes MAKE America program manager sitting outside the door, giving feedback on job candidates’ LinkedIn profiles and talking about a certified manufacturing program.

“It was a chance thing,” said Reyna. “But the Heroes program was fantastic. They walked through your resume; they help you write your resume; we’d do mock interviews. You go through The Manufacturing Institute’s certification process. And every week, we would go to manufacturing facilities and see what they look like—how robotics work, how generators are built, how food is manufactured. It was very comprehensive.”

The program managers were also highly engaged in ensuring Reyna found a role. When she was initially passed over for a position at a Smithfield distribution center, Reyna’s program manager called the company’s talent acquisition executive to make sure Reyna could receive an interview. After a conversation, Smithfield decided to find Reyna a role—and today, Reyna is one of three senior quality assurance technologists for one of Smithfield’s large distribution centers.

After her experience, Reyna has one piece of advice for people considering the Heroes program: Do it.

“The opportunities afforded to you are insane,” said Reyna. “When you don’t do these programs, you’re thrown to the wolves. At the Heroes program, you have resume assistance, you see facilities, you get to meet with people and speak with hiring managers. And if we put in a resume somewhere, we’d tell our program managers we applied and they’d call to follow up. It’s invaluable.”


Workers Without BAs Could Be Earning Much More

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About 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills necessary for jobs that pay 70% more than their current roles, according to a new study cited by The New York Times (subscription).

The opportunity: “The findings point to the potential of upward mobility for millions of Americans, who might be able to climb from low-wage jobs to middle-income occupations or higher.”

  • “Our research shows the same thing,” said Manufacturing Institute Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Gardner Carrick. “We know that less than half the people that earn a manufacturing certification go to work in manufacturing. Those people have the skills to work in manufacturing, but are not doing so. And we know that is costing them between $10K–$15K in earnings every year.”

The challenge: These workers may not know they have the skills for more lucrative careers, and potential employers may be on the lookout for particular certifications or degrees. Today, two-thirds of jobs require some postsecondary education or training—whether that involves a four-year college degree, or a specialized technical or nontechnical course that prepares a potential employee for their role.

A way forward: The Manufacturing Institute’s FAME program offers students the opportunity to earn a two-year associate degree while working in their sponsor’s manufacturing facility as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT).

The pitch: “The FAME program enables people to maximize their earnings, because we don’t just build skills—we teach individuals to be world-class manufacturing employees,” said Carrick. “A recent study by Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution showed that FAME students are more than twice as likely to complete school as students in other similar technical programs and will earn almost twice as much as those students in the five years after school.”


A Manufacturing Leader Shares What She’s Learned

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As more women enter the manufacturing industry every day, they need guidance from those who have already succeeded. Luckily, BASF Corporation Senior Vice President of Chemical Intermediates North America Erika Peterman is happy and proud to show the way.

Peterman is the 2020 chair of The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Awards, which recognize accomplished women in manufacturing from the shop floor to the C-suite. She also works with BASF to increase the number of female leaders within the company, recognizing that strong female leadership brings value to corporations, as a study from MSCI shows. BASF is also a proud sponsor of the STEP Ahead Awards and participates in many programs that encourage women and girls to enter this rewarding field.

So what does Peterman have to say to women who are just starting out? Here is her advice, courtesy of a recent email interview.

1. Don’t underestimate your abilities.

As a young engineer, I was once called in to solve a problem affecting distillation operations. After chatting with the control room technician, I asked her to run a little test, opening and closing various valves while also recording process flows and temperatures. It took only 20 minutes (enough time for a pleasant conversation about weekend plans), after which I shared the solution with my boss.

That 20-minute test had a big impact on my career. Later that afternoon, my boss told me that the team had struggled with this problem since before I took the job. Had I worried about how my solution measured up to previous ideas, I may never have solved it at all.

2. Be prepared to be tested, but stay calm and trust you belong.

Women have earned a seat at the table, but unfortunately, some people will challenge you anyway. Later in my career, when I worked in product management, my boss’s boss told me my salary was “much higher” than my counterparts’. I was thrown, but I knew my response would matter not only to me, but to other women who looked up to me as a role model.

I told myself to stay calm and responded that he should consider placing me in a higher-level role commensurate with my compensation. Of course, I’d done the market research and knew I wasn’t overpaid. I also knew this boss had a reputation for trying to catch people off guard—but this time, he was the one who didn’t know what to say! To this day, I’m proud of how I managed that conversation. I knew I had to defend myself, because if I didn’t, no one else would.

3. Learn to listen and become comfortable with not being the expert in the room.

I have so many examples for this that it’s hard to choose just one. Everyone has points in their career when they do not know all the answers, and that is okay. The key is to be confident in what you do know and comfortable going to others to ask for assistance.

Considering multiple perspectives and forging strong alliances within your organization are the keys to driving progress and innovation. Let go of your ego to allow for clarity of thought and action, and it will set you apart from others.

Check out the STEP Women’s Initiative and the STEP Ahead Awards here.


Merck CEO Ken Frazier Talks Diversity in Manufacturing

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Merck Chairman and CEO Ken Frazier is one of the few African American CEOs of a Fortune 100 company and a passionate advocate of manufacturing’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Recently, Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee asked him a few questions by email about Merck’s approach. The condensed interview is below.

What advice do you have for CEOs looking to improve their organizations’ diversity and culture of inclusion? 

Well, first things first—you must understand your own environment. What does the data tell you about the diversity of your organization? Do your employees believe they can bring their most authentic selves to work each day? What are people telling you? You should be having courageous conversations with them.

Once you figure out what your employees think, you can work on changing that environment. You should also plan on integrating your solutions into all your internal and external policies.

From there, you need to monitor progress and make sure your leadership is modeling the changes for all employees. Those leaders must be held accountable for your D&I goals.

How have you implemented such an approach at Merck?

We work hard to make our culture as inclusive as possible, so that all our workers feel empowered to fulfill our mission of saving and improving lives. We’ve made sure that our talent processes take unconscious bias into account, from hiring to reviews to succession planning. We’ve also created employee business resource groups, which not only support people at work, but have a meaningful say in our business practices.

Meanwhile, we weave D&I efforts into our day-to-day business activities. We work to get diverse patients into clinical trials, ensure our business strategies are relevant to patients all around the world and prioritize diversity among our suppliers.

Diverse employees are also a major asset for a company serving a diverse patient base around the globe. We need employees to bring their knowledge and experience to work so they can teach us how to serve our patients better.

And lastly, I strongly believe that we must learn from and be a role model to others, both in manufacturing and beyond. We have joined coalitions and organizations such as The CEO Pledge for Diversity and Inclusion, Paradigm for Parity and The Valuable 500, all of which do excellent work in the D&I sphere.

How can D&I efforts complement the industry’s work to close the “skills gap”?

We know there were around 12 million unfilled jobs in this country before the pandemic, and there are 5 million inner-city and other African American kids who want access to the economy. They want to be participants. They want to be citizens. They want to be leaders. What they lack is the education and the opportunity—and we business leaders can fix that.

Following the industry’s June “Pledge for Action,” the National Association of Manufacturers brought industry leaders together to focus on recommending bold next steps to increase equity and parity in our sector and increase opportunities for underrepresented communities in America. Click here to add your company to manufacturers’ combined efforts to make a difference—and make a Pledge for Action Commitment.

And register here for the Manufacturing Institute’s Virtual D&I Summit on December 7 and 8, where you’ll learn more about advancing diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing workforce. 


“The Superhero Generation”: Microsoft and York Exponential Collaborate on Upskilling

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Residents of York, Pennsylvania, will proudly tell you about the role it played in the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II. Today, the town is drawing on that manufacturing heritage as it adapts to the digital age. And among the leaders of the transformation is the collaborative robotics startup York Exponential, which has partnered with Microsoft’s new skills initiative to help York residents get the education they need for high-tech manufacturing jobs.

The initiative: Microsoft’s global skills initiative is designed to help 25 million people worldwide gain digital skills by the end of the year. It is intended to offer rising and mid-career professionals the skills they need to succeed in a changing economy—both during and after COVID-19. The program also includes partnerships with local companies like York Exponential that seek to upskill workers.

“If there’s maximum digital transformation in the U.S. post-COVID, we believe there is capacity in the United States for the manufacturing sector to absorb more than a million new roles in technology,” said Microsoft Philanthropies General Manager of Digital Inclusion Naria Santa Lucia.

How it works: Microsoft uses LinkedIn data to identify jobs that are in demand, projected to grow in the future and accessible to applicants without a related degree. It offers free learning content to help people develop the skills those jobs require, including soft skills like virtual collaboration. The initiative also offers certifications and job-seeking tools to connect people with applicable jobs.

In practice: York Exponential is looking to add well-rounded employees—new workers proficient in digital skills as well as experienced workers who can gain new qualifications, said CEO John McElligott. The company is combining its own community outreach—including through its training school, the Fortress Academy—with Microsoft’s tools to help students and employees gain the qualifications they need to be successful.

Why partnerships matter: Partnerships like this one offer exponential benefits by joining large-scale training efforts and resources with local talent.

  • From Microsoft: “The most important consideration is locally-based entities that are trusted by the community,” said Santa Lucia. “If we’re going to change this economy and who has access to it, it’s about the networks you’re introduced to and who is going to connect you where you need to go. The content is important, but it’s really about that personal connectivity. That’s how we get to jobs.”
  • From York Exponential: “Communities like us are often overlooked,” said McElligott. “People go to major metropolitan areas and big cities. So the fact that we’re having these discussions with Microsoft means a lot—an initiative of this size could have an outsized impact on a community as small as us.”

The last word: “This generation growing up today is the superhero generation,” said McElligott. “They grew up watching the Avengers, in a world where everything is robotics and superpowers. They are primed to do amazing things with technology—and to build things for their families, their communities and their country.”

October is Manufacturing Month and a perfect time to check out the exciting careers and training opportunities available from companies like Microsoft and York Exponential. There are still many events left, including an October 28 capstone event presented by Microsoft and called “Creators Wanted: Empowering a Diverse and Sustainable Manufacturing Workforce.” You can find the list of events at  


FAME Is All It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Would you believe that one apprenticeship program could add $45,000 to its graduates’ salaries? It sounds incredible, but that figure is from a new study by Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution. And the program in question is Kentucky FAME, part of the wider FAME program that was originally founded by Toyota before its stewardship was transitioned to The Manufacturing Institute. FAME is now operating in 14 states.

As regular Input readers know, FAME students earn a two-year associate degree while working in their sponsor’s manufacturing facility as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT). This new study shows how much the students—and by extension their employers—get out of the deal.

Here are some highlights:

  • The need for apprenticeships: “Today, two-thirds of jobs require some postsecondary education or training—not necessarily a four-year college degree, but some more specialized technical or nontechnical preparation for the world of work.”
  • FAME’s effectiveness: “FAME participants were significantly more likely than non-FAME participants to complete their program of study—roughly 80 percent of FAME students graduated, compared with 29 percent of non-FAME students.”
  • The results: “Five years after completion, FAME graduates were earning nearly $98,000, compared to roughly $52,783 for non-FAME participants—a difference of more than $45,000 a year.”
  • The seal of approval: “Graduates’ reviews of the FAME experience were overwhelmingly positive. A total of 97 percent said they felt that enrolling in FAME was the right decision for them, and all but 3 percent said they would recommend it to a close friend or relative.”

The MI says: MI Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Gardner Carrick said of the study, “The results are amazing and confirm that FAME is a global-best program. We hope manufacturers will join us in expanding FAME to their community and offering people across the country the chance to see similar success.”

Publicity alert: Check out a story about the report in The Wall Street Journal (subscription). Meanwhile, Opportunity America hosted a webinar about the study yesterday, featuring Carrick among other speakers.

. . . and more: The MI and FAME are hosting a “FAME Live!” virtual event tomorrow, Oct. 21. Manufacturers with open skilled maintenance positions are invited to tune in here.


Manufacturing Job Openings Rise, Total Openings Fall

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August saw a reduction in the number of available jobs for the first time in four months, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, Reuters reports. However, manufacturing job openings rose that month, NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray tells us.

Manufacturing: According to Moutray, “Manufacturing job openings in August reached 460,000, up from 430,000 in July and the best reading since July 2019 (477,000). This improvement suggests that firms are once again increasing their interest in adding new workers, even as the sector attempts to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and the overall labor market has changed dramatically.”

Overall economy: The picture for the overall economy isn’t as strong:

  • Job openings fell to 6.49 million—a decrease of 204,000.
  • The job openings rate fell to 4.4% from 4.6% in the prior month.
  • The number of people leaving their jobs voluntarily was 2.79 million in August—down 139,000 from the month before.

About half of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic have not yet been recovered.

Press Releases

NAM Board Leadership: Manufacturers Will Continue to Lead by Example

Washington, D.C. – The Board leadership of the National Association of Manufacturers is issuing a call to all Americans to observe COVID-19 safety protocols so manufacturers can continue to work to rebuild the economy. Trane Technologies Chairman and CEO and NAM Board Chair Mike Lamach, Dow Chairman and CEO and NAM Board Vice Chair Jim Fitterling, BTE Technologies President and NAM Small and Medium Manufacturers Chair Chuck Wetherington and Protolabs President and CEO and SMM Vice Chair Vicki Holt released the following joint statement:

“As manufacturers for America’s goods and essential products, we have a strong message for our team members and the country. All Americans must do everything in our power to keep our workers, our communities and our fellow citizens safe from COVID-19.

“Our industry will continue manufacturing personal protective equipment, medical supplies and therapeutics, racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine and keeping consumer goods and the food supply plentiful. We have been able to do this throughout the pandemic and keep our workers safe because we follow the science.

“We will continue to set the right example by practicing the guidance outlined by the CDC and other medical experts. That’s why we encourage all Americans to wear a mask, social distance, avoid large gatherings, use contact tracing and quarantine for 14 days if there is direct exposure to the virus, especially when one is tested positive. We are on the front lines of rebuilding our economy, but we cannot do so until we defeat COVID-19, and we cannot defeat COVID-19 if we fail to protect each other.

“COVID-19 has already taken more than 210,000 American lives, and each week that number grows by the thousands. The economic toll has resulted in millions of jobs lost—some permanently. Among those who survive, many will endure lifelong disabilities. It doesn’t have to be this way. We know the science, and we have the tools. We all must follow best practices and look out for each other so we can keep the country open, supply the world and defeat this invisible enemy.”


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 12.1 million men and women, contributes $2.36 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 63% 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


Virtual MFG Day Was a Success

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MFG Day 2020 looked a little different from last year, as the events celebrating modern manufacturing happened online instead of in person. But even amid the pandemic, there was a widespread outpouring of support for manufacturing, including from many policymakers. Here are some highlights, and a look at what’s next.

Bipartisan celebrations: The White House issued a proclamation on Thursday night designating Oct. 2 as National Manufacturing Day, while at least 28 governors and leading members of Congress marked the occasion by proclamation or on social media.

Virtual shop floor tours: Meanwhile, hundreds of manufacturers—in 49 states—invited students to “tour” their facilities via virtual events.

News coverage: MFG Day was also covered by traditional publications. Watch NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons on Yahoo! Finance discussing MFG Day and the need to practice safe social behaviors to combat COVID-19. And read two op-eds by Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee on the importance of MFG Day, in the Indianapolis Star and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Still more to come: Be sure to join us on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 12:00 p.m. EDT for another flagship event (presented by Walmart) on how manufacturers are stepping up in response to COVID-19. You can also find more events throughout October on

And don’t forget to share your own celebrations of manufacturing by using the hashtags #MFGDay20 and #CreatorsWanted on social media.


MFG Day Is Here!

Today is MFG Day 2020—the year’s largest day of action for modern manufacturing. But it doesn’t stop there: MFG Day launches a month full of manufacturing events, as companies and educational institutions show students, parents, teachers and community leaders the great careers that manufacturing has to offer.

A new look: Thanks to the pandemic, the annual tradition of manufacturing open houses has been transformed into a series of mostly virtual events. This year’s MFG Day will be like no other, offering opportunities for more connection and participation across the industry and country without the limitations of physical events and travel. Hundreds of events will be held throughout October.

A full schedule of national, local and regional events can be found at The Manufacturing Institute is also hosting a series of flagship virtual events, including “Creators Wanted: A Program for America’s Students” today at 12:00 p.m. EDT, presented by Salesforce, PTC and Rockwell Automation, and “Creators Wanted: A Program for America’s Teachers” on Monday, Oct. 5, at 12:00 p.m. EDT, presented by PTC. Share these programs with your networks!

A word from the MI: “As we celebrate MFG Day across the country over the next month, we are reminded of the important role that modern manufacturing plays in each of our lives. From the masks and clothes we wear to the food we eat, modern manufacturing is at the heart of our country and, as the pandemic continues, will lead the way to our recovery and renewal,” said MI Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “This year’s MFG Day, more so than ever before, is a uniquely powerful opportunity to bring awareness to the high-paying, rewarding and meaningful career opportunities in our industry and to open minds to what’s possible with a career in modern manufacturing.”

And . . . Make sure to use the right hashtags to amplify the story of MFG Day: #MFGDay2020 and #CreatorsWanted.

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