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Manufacturing Careers: Overlooked, Undervalued and Unknown

Doug Peterson
By Doug Peterson Global Vice President of Human Resources, Shape Corp.

At the age of 12, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

As children, there are an overwhelming amount of inputs that direct and encourage students to enter the traditional paths that lead to career and financial success. While the best intentions are in place and these paths are respectable, important ones, the college-bound, high-level career direction has left undiscovered territory, often referred to as the talent gap.

In the manufacturing sector, an enormity of career possibilities are overlooked, undervalued and unknown. An information gap lies within our active and future workforce, in addition to those who are already working within our organizations. As leaders, employers, community members, and more, we must unite to inform and empower the untapped talent that’s around us.

Developing Talent Within

Today, team members are brought into organizations to fill open positions with specific skill sets and experiences that meet current needs. Talent essentials forever change and evolve. Therefore, our talent should not remain stagnant, but advance with the times.

At Shape Corp., we’re continuously evaluating our development programs in order to grow our talent to meet tomorrow’s demands. But first, team members must be aware of the development and career growth opportunities.

Showcasing Clear Career Paths

We need to help people see where their careers can go. A career may begin as a basic ‘job’ to someone. But, if we can show them opportunity to move into new roles, while developing skills, a fresh level of motivation is obtained. Both the individual and the organization win because they’re growing together.

From engineering, to skilled trades and management, Shape team members have the opportunity to explore paths that tap into their interests, strengths and organizational needs. Training, education, mentoring and career discussions are all in place to ensure that team members are supported in whatever path they choose to pursue.

Building Skilled Trades Talent with Apprenticeship Programs

A philosophy of learning while doing encompasses the essence of apprenticeship programs, which are a key component in developing talent internally. Shape’s apprenticeship programs move team members throughout the organization in key areas of study, including roll forming, electrical, tool and die, and machine repair.

Mentorship from journey-level team members plays a critical role in supporting apprentices. Under their supervision, apprentices are able to apply classroom instruction directly to their daily work. To date, 87 Shape team members have completed an apprenticeship, and are now fulfilling a diverse collection of roles within the organization.

Tuition Reimbursement Adds Value

Getting into or back into the classroom is another means of sparking new insight and growth among team members. Tuition reimbursement for technical, associate, bachelor’s and advanced degrees, drives a robust development experience for our team members because they can merge real experience with new knowledge. The blended approach of working and learning, more often than not, translates to immediate application and return for both the individual and organization.

Mentoring Bridges Gaps

One of the best sources of building awareness and development lies within our team members themselves. Informal and formal relationships lead to the discovery of positions, departments and emerging opportunities that are often unknown. Person-to-person connections help leaders discover untapped talent and skills that can be developed to meet current and projected needs. The significance of these partnerships cannot be understated. This is an area where we see great impact in terms of morale, engagement and direct growth of our current team members.

Inspiring the Future Workforce

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On-site tours are one of the most eye-opening experiences in educating students about manufacturing opportunities after high school.

When we spend time with students, a common theme exists among their comments and dialogue—pure awe in realizing what the world of manufacturing has to offer. Fascination, curiosity and interest is quickly developed among the young minds once they have the opportunity to see, hear and explore a manufacturing facility. Mentoring programs, student organizations, tours and strategic partnerships open doors for students to a variety of career paths that were once unknown or misunderstood. At Shape, we continue to build relationships within our local communities to bring experiences and knowledge to our up and coming generations of talent.

Driving Student Innovation

Shape is fortunate to reside in a state and community that supports the development of STEM programming and bringing real-life education application to students. Each program or organization we engage with opens new relationships that allow Shape to introduce students to the career possibilities within manufacturing.

Programs, such as Future Prep’d, bring students into Shape’s facilities to explore our processes, products and how the business functions. After initial introductions we’re able to share challenges within varying areas of our business and empower students to develop creative solutions. Not only are the results impressive, they’re applicable and we inspire students to further explore the possibilities within our industry.

Developing Strong Community Partnerships

One company, one school, one organization, nor one policy can move the needle in the effort to close the talent gap. We must unite with the businesses, educational systems, local governments and community members around us to develop a powerful coalition. One that presents and informs students of the valuable and respectable career paths that exist within manufacturing.

In June, Shape announced its newest partnership with the SME Education Foundation’s PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) initiative, the MMA (Michigan Manufacturing Association), and Grand Haven High School in West Michigan, to generate hands-on curriculum that exposes students to the world of manufacturing. The initiative aims to introduce career opportunities and develop skills that give students an advantage and guidance in what they would like to do following high school.

Connecting with Actively Engaged Students

Students gaining “real world” application in the classroom is as valuable at the university level as it is at the secondary education level. Bringing collegiate level student insight within the organization is equally valuable to manufacturers. University partnerships create mutually beneficial experiences for employers, students and the university.

Shape supports and partners with numerous universities that offer relatable technical programs. Partnerships lead to student engagement opportunities, such as career events, mock-interviews and information sessions that further introduce the technical career paths of our organization. As we evolve these relationships, we’re generating projects within schools that encourage student innovation, develop skills and put their education to work. Following project completion, students have increased awareness of where their degrees can take them in terms of their career path and place of employment.

The list of initiatives and possibilities can go on and on. If we reflect on the common theme, it’s clear to see that people-to-people engagement uncovers the unknown needed to bring interested and valuable talent into manufacturing careers. Let’s unite, inform and develop the talent we need today and tomorrow.

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