Executive Learns Early On that Manufacturing Career is not Only Lucrative, it is Fun
Carol Peters didn’t think of her first manufacturing job as the initial step of a career path in the industry; it was just a job to make some money during college. But her early experiences in the industry changed her perception and today she is the director of operations for water heater manufacturer A. O. Smith’s Johnson City, (TN), plant.
“I didn’t exactly pick a manufacturing career; it picked me and I don’t regret it for a minute,” she said. “My vision of manufacturing was not of a place to have a career, it was a place to make some money while you figured out what you really wanted to do. Six months after I started, I re-enrolled in college, changing my degree from physical education to business.”
Peters notes she learned four things from her first job in manufacturing that debunked some myths about the industry:
- Most manufacturing facilities are not dark, dirty factories; they are clean, bright and organized.
- Manufacturing pays well in comparison to other industries.
- Today’s manufacturers invest in people to prepare them for future promotional opportunities within the industry.
- Every day is different and provides interesting challenges.
In addition to the worry over manufacturing jobs being sent to other countries and the threat of automation, those same four myths continue to exist. “I believe more misconceptions exist about manufacturing careers than there used to be,” she said. “While people are concentrating on the negatives, the advancements in manufacturing are ignored.”
She believes part of the problem lies in what schools are teaching young people about manufacturing careers. “While it is great that women are embracing education, these same institutions have done little to create the vision for the types of careers available in manufacturing,” she said. “It is very difficult to select a career if you don’t know anything about it.”
To start that encouragement at a younger age, A. O. Smith’s Johnson City plant is partnering with local high schools and colleges, as well as the local chamber of commerce, to educate the community on the rewarding careers to be found in the manufacturing industry.
“I believe it's incumbent on manufacturing to partner with local schools and to bring kids inside our facilities so they can see some of the fun stuff that we're doing,” Peters said.
Throughout her career, Peters has worked in several industries including automotive, appliance, aerospace and logistics, and with a variety of products such as textiles, aircraft lighting, gas valves, transmissions, torque converters, cast aluminum wheels and water heaters. These were industries historically dominated by men. As she moved up into engineering and management roles, there were very few women in those positions.
“I was fortunate that most of my bosses just wanted the work done and done well; they didn’t care if it was done by a woman or a man,” she said.
Peters has spent a good portion of her career mentoring men and women in the manufacturing industry, but she has a particular reason for encouraging women to select careers in manufacturing—hiring talented people to keep up with the demand at her plant, which produces 6,000 residential water heaters per day. The site includes design, customer service, technical support, supply chain management, IT and finance, in addition to the manufacturing activities.
“In order to maintain these activities as well as launch new innovative products and advance technology, we need talented people,” she said. “Since women make up more than 50% of college graduates, we must do a better job of helping them to see how modern manufacturing organizations actually function.”
Research shows a clear link between diversity and profitability, she added. Companies that have attained 30% female representation in their leadership teams can add up to 6% to their margins, so having a mix of men and women makes the team stronger. “We want to attract the best people to our organization so that we maintain our competitive edge,” she notes.
The most rewarding part of Peters’ job is helping others to develop their professional selves, to come up with new ideas to solve challenges and make processes better.
“I can’t imagine another industry more fun,” she said. “New product is always being developed, new equipment is being designed and installed to improve processes, and new customers and employees with great ideas continue advancing the business. Design and manufacturing are shaping the future — you can’t be bored doing that!”