Why is Manufacturing Day Important and how can you REALLY do it well?
Manufacturing Day 2022 is here.
If you understand the extreme importance of this day, you should only skim this blog and rush to section 3 in the outline. If you don’t take Manufacturing Day as seriously as a heart attack then you need to read this whole thing… because by the end you’ll see that the movement that OUGHT to exist, and is very much beginning, truly begins with YOU.
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince were Prophets: Why “Parents Just Don’t Understand”
- A Design Thinking Approach to Understanding Manufacturing Day
- DEFINE THE PROBLEM
- Protoype, Test & Implement
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince were Prophets:
The year was 1988. George Bush was about to be elected into office and Rain Man was the highest-grossing film of the year. It also happens to be the year that DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince declared, in hip-hop prose, that “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. There were a lot of great things in the 80’s but Jazzy and Will truly had something right… Parents did NOT understand… Manufacturing.
We’ve said it on this blog before. There was a time when parents actively steered their kids away from work in manufacturing. It was seen as beneath – low wage, dirty and dead end. Sad. It wasn’t true then, and it is really not true now!
Fast forward that VHS and now the very “kids” who knew every lyric Will Smith spit out, and also might have taken on their parent’s perceptions about manufacturing, are adults in their 40s who are parents themselves and about to guide their children toward a goal. It is critical that we reframe what was once a mantra of “don’t go into manufacturing” to become “careers in manufacturing mean freedom”.
If you’re in the manufacturing world you know that an HR crisis exists. The workforce largely has grey hair and eyes on a fishin’ hole or golf course. The crop of candidates for replacing the exiting workforce is small. It’s small due in large part to the old ways people thought of our industry. And this is where the famous “skills gap” we keep hearing about comes in. We manufacturers have need for skilled labor termed “middle skills” and seemingly nobody to fill that role. Why you might ask?
Well, if you look back in time you’ll see that the negative impressions parents had of manufacturing back in the 1980’s to current days resulted in steering of youth towards white-collar work. This is where many kids were pushed into college careers which netted a future disconnect from their student loan costs and the payoff they’d get in their future careers. You see, parents didn’t understand. They didn’t see how their dreams for their kids were pointing them towards financial hardship when they thought that “blue collar” work was the path to the same. Parents, the Rappers were kinda right – we had it backward. We as parents also needed clarity that our kids want something different than we did. While the older amongst us held a spouse, house, and 2.5 kids as a goal, the younger generation wants to do work that has social value or “meaning”.
Further irony reveals how manufacturing has ALWAYS had great meaning. The social value and transformative nature of manufacturing is remarkable. We’ve just failed to say it loud enough and often enough to move the proverbial needle.
With this understanding at hand, a sense that we have a problem to solve…let’s apply the rudiments of the IDEO Design Thinking model which is articulated as an iterative process of the following steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test & Implement. Arguably, this Parents Just Don’t Understand section was “Empathize”, so let’s spend a moment defining our problem.
DEFINE THE PROBLEM
Ok, so we know a problem exists. At the simplest, the problem for manufacturers is that “There are too many open jobs for not enough laborers”. The problem for laborers in the current job market is that they are not yet aware of the jobs and/or they are currently unqualified. The problem for future laborers – youth – is that they too are unaware and likely uninspired to take action to become the future workforce that manufacturers need. And, the problem as a society is that we’re all in desperate need of an economically strong country that can sustain our way of life.
The multifaceted nature of a problem like this requires some deep work to find a path to address each layer, but notice that there’s a common problem proposed across current and future workforce candidates. They are unaware and under skilled. This is something that is broken that can be fixed.
Thankfully, manufacturers are really good at fixing things.
For the sake of blog length (yes, this is a self-aware blog) let’s articulate what is broken as the following:
- Perceptions: Old perceptions of manufacturing are dying off but they are not gone.
- Finances: Clarity about the personal gains of working in manufacturing must be made clear. There are both time costs and potential schooling costs that are likely misunderstood by candidates both young and old.
- Cache: We need to bring the “cool” back to manufacturing if it was even ever seen as cool in the first place.
- Heart: We need to connect youth’s desire to do good for the world to the work they can do in a manufacturing career.
Quick… what’s manufacturing look like? You saw Henry Ford’s assembly line in your head, didn’t you? Yes… line work with dirt and grime. It was in a sepia-toned image in your mind, too, right? I almost guarantee I’m right if you’re 40+ years of age. And, we’ve passed some semblance of that perception down to our kids, too. Now, to the credit of the whole manufacturing industry, these perceptions are absolutely changing. Leading organizations such as NAM (National Association of Manufacturers), NIMS (National Institute of Metal Working Standards), NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), and celebrities like Mike Row of Dirty Jobs and Titan Gilroy of Titans of CNC are doing great work to change the perceptions of both young and old about manufacturing. Unfortunately, we know it’s a long road before the popular perception of manufacturing fits what we manufacturers would consider an ideal. It remains the case that terms such as “dirty”, “boring”, “nerdy” or “geeky” get applied to this amazing world of manufacturing. (Mike Rowe has totally helped lift the perception of Dirty Jobs.)
What if we manufacturers created entertaining content that busted myths and crushed negative perceptions of manufacturing, making room for positive perceptions?
What if we hosted events (live content) that immersed the unaware masses in truly invigorating experiences that have the power to sway people’s emotions about manufacturing careers?
What if we integrated into schools to catch students in high school? Middle school? Grade school? And train them as you to love manufacturing?
Once again, misperceptions about finances abound. Kids and adults alike fail to connect how many people in middle-skilled work find pathways to debt-free living. We in the biz know that some quality hard work in the early years can yield paid-off homes and vehicles as well as progressively filling retirement accounts.
What if we manufacturers created content that explained clear career pathways that led to a good life with low financial stress?
What if we made the road map to careers so easy to follow, and the maps so pervasive and available that everyone came to know how to build a thriving career in manufacturing?
Due in part to the rampant NDA culture in manufacturing, we struggle to brag about our work without risk of damaging work relationships. It also seems true that the traditional profile of a manufacturing worker – from mechanics to engineers and more – includes an element of being introverted. Rare is there a showboat in our ranks. And while that’s pretty amazing for employee comradery, it doesn’t help share the good news that we manufacturers work on seriously cool stuff. Space shuttles and satellites. Race cars and roller coasters. Appliances and furniture can be seen in every home in the USA. The list is never-ending and the creators, the makers that we are ought to take some credit so that others would want to join us on our journeys.
What if we told the true stories of what we really do as manufacturers?
What if we were a bit less humble about our brands and showed off more of what our work does for the world?
What if we erred a little bit closer to the side of calling our work heroic?
We know we put our heart into our work. We know that we care about our products and that many of the products we help bring to life can literally change people’s worlds. We make medical devices. We make critical transportation. We make communication technology. We help make food, for cryin’ out loud. Our work helps people… but, our work is often conflated with a negative image of corporate greed. The stereotypical, movie-style villain in an Armani suit flying in his jet is the mythical leader of manufacturing concerns in the eye of too many people. While the next generation wants to do work that has meaning, many of them cannot see how anything corporate could do that work.
What if we directly connect the work of our hands to the idea that we’re being the change we wish to see in the world?
What if our message of hope was so clear that even Gandhi himself would be proud of us?
PROTOTYPE, TEST & IMPLEMENT:
This is where applying the IDEO model kinda falls apart in a blog format. On paper, there’s no way to prototype, test, and implement in regards to problems such as this. Even so, we know that solutions are being used today and we ought to evaluate and likely embrace those solutions. Chief among them is… MFG Day!!!
MFG Day, or Manufacturing Day, annually is the first Friday of October in the USA. In 2022 that makes it October 7th. This is the kickoff to “Manufacturing Week”, which to be honest is just an extension of the official “day” so that more manufacturers can pull off doing an event in concert with the national campaign. The idea behind this campaign is that careers in manufacturing be celebrated by showing candidates for employment now and future candidates what they could get into. Tours are encouraged. Hands-on experiences are encouraged. And, if you’re watching the trends, it has also become a trend to focus on bringing awareness to younger audiences – as young as middle school.
If manufacturing day is our prototype we can say with confidence it has been tested and iterated upon. After all, 2022 is MFG Day’s 10 years old. That’s quite an accomplishment. This event has grown to a point of mass adoption with events officially registered as happening in EVERY US state for a total of hundreds of events during the week we call Manufacturing Week 2022. Anecdotally we can know that the popularity of this event and it’s longevity is some kind of evidence that there is success with this campaign. But, if we’re being honest, and we must be truthful in all things, it’s not enough. In fact, it may be helpful to look at Manufacturing Day as truly a prototype or, if you will, a pilot, for a larger way of being.
Consider how marketers discuss the act of getting an idea to take root. They talk about an advertisement’s REACH and that message’s FREQUENCY. A broad reach gets the message out to many. A high frequency gets a message out often enough to set an idea in the minds of an audience like setting the hook in a bass. If students experience MFG Day once a year from fifth grade to senior year that’s 8 exposures across 2,920 days (8 years). This means that 99.9972% of a student’s life from middle school to college is unoccupied by manufacturing content – IF we allow MFG Day to be our only outreach.
Now, do NOT let this be mistaken for a slight against MFG Day. No! It’s a call for us to LIVE it as a LIFESTYLE and take MFG Day as our prototype for how to take an idea and make it a movement.
Friends, MFG Day is so very onto something good. You MUST celebrate it for the good of our businesses, the good of our children, and the future of our society. And, thanks to NAM we have an excellent north star with which to guide our DAILY efforts.
Again, sticking with the IDEO model of Design Thinking we should be testing, learning from the test, and ideating based on what we’ve learned. Credit is due to the Manufacturing Institute (Mi) for their hard work and years of growing the Manufacturing Day event and model. Their resources and guidance for the success of your manufacturing day are outstanding. You can find the main resource page here https://www.mfgday.com/resources/ .
It’s truly remarkable that they’ve created toolkits for hosts (businesses and schools), marketing toolkits to bring people to your events, and even help partners such as government and schools participate.
Their Creators Wanted campaign continues to bring a sense of MFG Day to the world year-round but, for small and medium-sized manufacturers we realize that year-round engagement can feel daunting. You have work to do and this doesn’t seem like work – and it’s certainly not billable work though it’s time-consuming.
So here are 11 ways that you can begin to live Manufacturing Day.
Guest Science Teacher: Call your local middle school and high school. Ask to meet the Science & Math teachers. Find out if you can send someone from your company to help with a lesson and do a show & tell about the work you do. – GOAL: Try to make this something that you can repeat in a few classes across the year across a few grades. Work towards making this a tradition.
Video Pen Pals: How hard is it to take a selfie video? It’s not. What if you commit to being a video pen pal with a local homeroom class? What would you talk about? What would they talk about. – They may tell you about sports, music, etc. Your part is to tell them about something interesting you are working on andwhy it matters AND also be a normal human and talk about your kids, sports, music, etc, too.
Build Curiosity: Many manufacturing businesses are able to work in large metal. What could you build to put on your company’s front lawn that would get attention? A sculpture? A found-parts “robot”? Now, can you put a QR code and a custom URL together that is irresistible to passersby?
Invention Contest: Start an area-wide “invention contest” and let EVERY school know. Pick a topic for students to focus on, and ask them to submit drawings and/or videos of their invention – encourage details. Your company can review them as “judges” and host an awards program at your facility. The winners might have their invention formalized in a CAD drawing or maybe even fabricated. And of course… make sure there’s cake. Kids love cake. (PRESS RELEASE THE HECK OUT OF THIS IDEA!!)
Start a Creator’s Club: Ever hear of a “maker space”? It’s a location where people who tinker and create things as a hobby have access to tools, tech, and mentors. They crop up in hip cities and villages here and there. What if your company were to take a similar idea and start a “Creator’s Club” where one weekend a month your staff leads a group of kids and parents through a group project? True story: we’ve seen an industrial designer lead a group of 8 students through building a 12’ rowboat. They named it E-Z because they wanted the world to know that making real things was easy and people shouldn’t be afraid to do it. (Here’s a makerspace in Rochester NY for you to check out… they’re doing it BIG there. You don’t have to take this idea that far 😉
Look what I Made News Letter: Find a full-color photo that represents a recent success and write a micro-story about it. Write it for kids to read and consume. Then, use SendOutCards.com to create it as a large greeting card. Mail it to local STEM teachers to read to their classes. Remember to put your email contact info on the card so they can send you questions. HOT TIP: QR codes within the card effectively hyper link it to webpages of your choosing, too.
Rube Goldberg Fun: You know those machines that are made just to do stuff that doesn’t really do anything? If you don’t, watch this music video by OKGO. Get a group of students together to help you make a ridiculous machine and video every bit of it. Add a dimension to it by inviting local news personalities to get slimed and have them put it on the news.
- Popcorn Assembly: Build a popcorn machine at work. Make it so that the parts are easy to assemble and disassemble. Then… take it to schools and walk kids through assembling the machine and then testing it. They’ll learn to follow instructions. How to build things. About electricity. About airflow. You can add lessons about food production and food safety. The science of why corn kernels pop and more. (Here are 2 Youtube videos that might help you get this project started:
Brag Tips: Most kids want to be proud of what their parents do for work. It’s natural… but some of our jobs are difficult to relay to kids. Help your employees share their work with their kids by creating project recaps for families. As you complete a project or a critical benchmark, find a way to write a compelling description of what was done and why it’s important to the world. Explain a bit about the challenges that the business had to overcome and describe how you overcame it. Make the story relatable and remember to connect it to how your work helps people. Then… make sure you share this with every employee. Add pictures if you can – kids love pictures. Try to do this at least quarterly. Maybe even more often!
Stickers on Cars: Have you ever seen people get paid to make their car a driving billboard? That’s a new trend that you can leverage in a very unique way… Pay your employees $50/year each to put a sticker on their rear window with a QR code. Consider using the GetSeen.Pro business card platform to host a video about the people of your business. Or, grab a unique URL like iMakeYourThings.com and pair it with a QR code that leads to a page that really gets people excited about your business.
Don’t forget the basics: Put it in your schedule for May of 2023 to register as an MFG Day site and get the current toolkits. That gives you a few months to work with the theming for the year and prepare for an event.
About the Author:
Josh Pies is a multi-awarded Film, TV & Advertising Producer/Director. In 2016 he wrote and produced the Elevate Iowa documentary series on Advanced Manufacturing and in 2017 he co-created the manufacturing reality show Reality Redesigned. Josh is the Executive Producer & “Chief Attention Getter” at C47 Film Associates (www.C47Films.com). C47 Films produces visual content and creates branding solutions for businesses across the United States. Read more from Josh at https://c47films.com/blog/.