Skip to content

Press Release

Panel to Examine Promise of Inclusion in Manufacturing’s Future

Smart Manufacturing magazine examines DE&I issues regarding hiring, retention, competitiveness 

America’s deep, sometimes societal and political divisions, along with U.S. manufacturers’ lack of significant numbers of non-white middle and upper management positions, are holding the sector back in global markets, according to five business leaders Smart Manufacturing magazine gathered recently to discuss race and ethnicity in manufacturing management. An August 2021 Smart Manufacturing article summarizing the panel discussion is available on the magazine’s landing page, at The magazine will also present the roundtable on Sept. 8 (register here:—with a live Q&A session. 

This underrepresentation of people of color in upper management contrasts, according to the panel, with countries such as China, Vietnam, India and others that have developed diverse, well-organized, expert-level manufacturing teams. These competitors are able to investigate business opportunities objectively, solve complex problems efficiently and build new and better products. By contrast, U.S. manufacturing is fielding a team that is short staffed and partially divided as it goes up against some of the world’s best. Compounded by a U.S. worker shortage and a skills gap, this situation is sobering. 

“Manufacturing in the U.S. is at a crossroads of technological convergence and post-pandemic shift,” said Robert Willig, executive director and CEO of SME. “Opportunities in the industry have never been better, with significant numbers of good, high-paying jobs abounding; but at the same time, we face a significant skills gap and shortage of workers. We must appeal to a broader pool of workers from all communities, including diverse ones, and they must see viable, realistic career opportunities and feel appreciated and fully included to be a part of them.” 

Willig cited a 2015 McKinsey study that shows the value in investing in greater diversity and inclusion. Companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, he said, which is big for any industry, not to mention that’s it’s simply the right thing to do. Plus, manufacturing offers a pathway to economic progress and success to millions of people, providing good paying jobs and helping communities across the nation. 

The panel members, who bring diverse backgrounds of manufacturing experience and technical focus, included: 

  • Invent the Change CEO Jay Flores
  • Montez King, executive director, National Institute for Metalworking Skills
  • Allen Reid, chief human resources officer, Materion
  • Dauod Thompson, managing director, Process Intel
  • Electro Soft CEO Karla Trotman 

The panel specified several areas for improvement regarding recruiting and retaining the diverse workforce they felt were needed to up the competitiveness of American manufacturing, including: 

Identifying and Ridding the Workplace of Unconscious Cultural Bias – Unconscious cultural bias can come in the form of a slight, an offhand remark or a blind spot that keeps a supervisor from seeing an employee’s management potential, which can frustrate people of color and limit development opportunities. Identifying and eliminating the many forms of unconscious cultural bias can be difficult, said Trotman, because these assumptions, values, and beliefs can be submerged and hidden beneath the surface. She suggests manufacturers consider bringing in an outside party to audit their organization and identify unconscious bias and other issues that may affect their workforce. 

Workers need some degree of cultural competence – the ability to communicate with, understand and work effectively with people across cultures – to understand how cultures, assumptions and experiences differ, said Reid. This enables them to communicate, respond and work more seamlessly as a team. 

Developing a Career Path with Mentorship and Apprenticeship for Manufacturing Workers – New employees should be integrated into mentorship programs that pair them with experienced workers to share information about the job, tasks, and culture, said Reid. He stressed that mentorships are especially important for employees who may not have had much experience in the workplace. As a worker’s tenure matures, he recommends other opportunities, such as apprenticeships, which he said are great at fostering connection. 

Establishing a Connection to the Community Through Communication and Outreach – You can create a corporate culture that has diverse talent lining up at the door and diverse customers ready to do business if you simply reach out into the community and educate it and its student base about what your workforce does and what types of workers you need to secure your future, said Flores. If it wasn’t for a little bit of outreach and communication with the community surrounding Rockwell Automation, the company for which he first worked, he would have had no idea what was going on in their building, which he passed every day going to school. Even if your outreach doesn’t result in those students joining your organization, they could become a customer or future client with a good understanding or what you do and what you stand for. 

Creating a Training Pathway that Leads to Manufacturing – With recruitment of skilled production workers currently averaging 70 days and with six out of 10 positions going unfilled, increasing hiring efforts among people of color is a positive way to narrow manufacturing’s skills gap, according to the panel. One way that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturing Alliance (of which Trotman is a co-chair) addressed this is through creation of a boot camp. The 70-member alliance created its own pathway to readiness for workers by investing in a training provider to infuse workers with a foundation in manufacturing upon completion. The result: about 80 percent of the five groups that have completed the boot camp have become employed. 

Individuals who have fulfilling careers in manufacturing can also take it upon themselves to reach out to young people to demystify manufacturing, Reid said, “There is this old saying, ‘Each one, reach one.’ You really can change the course of someone’s life.” 

Click the link, The Promise of Inclusion, to view the panel discussion in its entirety; click “How to include more people of color in management” to read the Smart Manufacturing article.