Manufacturing Day 2021 spotlighted the industry’s current and future workforce needs, as well as the challenges of attracting talent and changing the image of manufacturing careers. One recent study by Deloitte estimated 2.1 million vacant manufacturing positions could remain unfilled by 2030, costing the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion. That’s a big workforce gap.

BRPH’s Danyell Wilson, Senior Industrial Engineer, explains what attracted her to the manufacturing sector and offers suggestions for reinventing manufacturing as a cool career for young creators.

Q: What propelled you toward a career in manufacturing?

A: Initially, I majored in architectural engineering in college, and I loved being an AE student. But in my junior year, I felt more like a mechanical engineer and was having trouble finding the right internship. So, I decided to move to manufacturing systems in the technology department. To my surprise, I loved being so hands on and understanding how things are made. I then decided to double major and added an industrial technology degree that would go with the manufacturing degree. Fast forward to my graduation year: a recruiter at a college career fair told me that an industrial engineering degree, combined the two degrees I was about to graduate with, would create a powerhouse of expertise. So, I pursued a master’s in industrial and systems engineering, and I have not looked back since!

Q: After college, you worked in a series of progressively more responsible positions for several major aviation companies and manufacturers, then as a Production/Planning Manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Tell us about the misperceptions of manufacturing careers that you’ve observed.

A: The new generation of young creators lacks awareness of manufacturing jobs, have a perception of only low-wage jobs, and are misinformed about the available financial and intellectual rewards in manufacturing. The thought of a life of repetitive and sometimes hazardous work along tedious assembly lines impedes any consideration for a manufacturing career.

Q: What would you most want students and other potential job candidates to know about manufacturing to make it more interesting?

A: Manufacturing jobs are becoming technology jobs, so I encourage students and candidates to keep technology in mind. Smart factories are becoming more popular and are needed to keep up with production demand. The smart factory concept combines physical production processes and operations with digital technology, smart computing, and big data to create a more opportunistic system for companies to focus on manufacturing and supply chain management.

Young creators are ahead of the curve when it comes to developing and adopting innovative technology. Advancing the use of modern technologies in manufacturing is what will engage and attract younger talent to the unfamiliar opportunities a career in manufacturing can provide. When manufacturers stay on track with advanced technology advancements, they are not only attracting young creators but also improving processes for greater efficiency and performance. This is where young creators want to play a part in effective, positive changes by incorporating their skills with technology.

Another major tech change in manufacturing is how companies exchange information within the company, with vendors and with their customers. These systems are called ERPs. ERP – short for enterprise resource planning – refers to a type of software organizations use to manage day-to-day business activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management and compliance, manufacturing, and supply chain operations. Also, companies are using more automation, robotics and 3D printing in manufacturing to improve production speed and quality, and to help employees perform daily tasks.

Q: Any suggestions for changing perceptions?

A: The best way to combat negative stereotypes and drive awareness about manufacturing career opportunities is by partnering with local community colleges or trade schools. Have monthly or quarterly tours for students interested in learning about the organization. Set up internship programs and/or job shadowing opportunities. Update your culture to be an employer of choice by offering social activities, supporting charities, and creating good work-life balance. Make career paths clear and implement education and development programs that not only introduce young creators to manufacturing but also give them the hands-on, day-to-day experience that develops their skills and exposes them to all a manufacturing career has to offer. Young talent will be more attracted to the job if they know that it will be intellectually stimulating and innovative.

As an undergrad student, I had the opportunity to work with a company that made plastic bottles for the medical community. I was assigned to a cleanroom blow mold operation where the problem was a decrease in production. I asked to work as a production employee so I could fully understand all the processes of making and labeling the bottles. So, I started working on third shift and rotated through all positions to learn the processes. One eye opener from that experience was this: replacing tasks once solely done by people with automation can increase production rates with fewer mistakes, but eliminating people from a process can be a humbling experience. I also learned to get to know people and their work history, because you’ll find strengths you can use to relocate them to other tasks more suitable for their skill sets, rather than reducing the workforce.

One of the best ways to change perceptions is to demonstrate the real demand and extent of opportunities for highly experienced workers like technicians, machinists, fabricators, toolmakers and electricians. Hosting trade demonstrations or informative lectures at your facility can intrigue young industrial and computer engineers, while also attracting individuals interested in a career change. I am starting to see educational programs do a better job at asserting STEM curriculums, and I hope part of that curriculum will introduce the broad spectrum of manufacturing career opportunities. Partnering with local schools can also help bridge the gap by providing internships and mentorships that shape ideas and broaden optimism about manufacturing careers.

Danyell has 15 years of experience and guides leading aviation, aerospace and other industrial companies through facility planning and analyzing their manufacturing process and operations. Her expertise encompasses assessing automation needs, designing facility layouts for production material flow, developing manufacturing time standards, creating detailed build sequences/schedules, line balancing, creating production manufacturing rates, developing staffing plans and forecasting according to master/revised schedules, schedule/sequence job plans to support effective workflows. Prior to joining BRPH, Danyell served as production/planning manager in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where she spent six years overseeing satellite production related to civil space, national security and other hardware design and assembly subjects.