It’s Not the Kids Who Need Convincing

The president of the shop that won this year’s Leadtime Leader: Honorable Mention award says parents are more likely to hold outdated perceptions of the industry than their children.

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The kid in this stock photo looks like he might be more enthused by hands-on work than pure academics, but he might never act on that interest if his parents aren’t supportive of a career in manufacturing.

Dynamic Tool & Design, winner of this year’s Leadtime Leader: Honorable Mention award, has intensified its focus on workforce development during the past few years. Although the shop has operated a state-certified apprenticeship program for decades, it’s now making a concerted effort to get more exposure for that program, as well as the broader merits of a career in manufacturing. During the past year or so, the shop has sent delegations to a number of career fairs. It’s also leveraging a dual-enrollment program, operated by Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC), that has students split time between school and the shop before formally enrolling as apprentices. Finally, the shop has been reaching out directly to high schools and even middle schools to get the word out.

Dave Miller, company president, says talking to students is only half the battle in this latter effort. It’s just as important to engage with their elders—the parents, teachers, guidance counselors and others with a significant influence on their futures. One particular story illustrates his point: “One day I was at Menomonee Falls High School, I met a girl who said she wanted to take shop classes, but her grandmother had shot her down,” he recalls. “She’s there today—her parents are on board with her—but this story came as kind of a shock.”

The girl’s grandmother, he explains, had a perception of manufacturing as dark, dirty, dangerous, low-paying—most readers of this blog likely understand all too well what laypeople often think about their profession. These perceptions didn’t spring from thin air. More importantly, they aren’t necessarily shared by the younger generations, who didn’t live through the hollowing out of the industry, the onset of globalization, the turmoil surrounding NAFTA and other trade agreements, and so on. However understandable outdated perceptions may be, the best way to keep them from jumping generations is to show people like the aforementioned grandmother what manufacturing is really all about, Miller says. He adds that their influence extends beyond just shaping the kids’ perceptions. “However enthused the students may be, it’s typically the parents who wind up footing the bill.” 

Miller isn’t the only mold manufacturing professional with this view. Last year’s Leadtime Leader award winner told me essentially the same thing, as did another shop owner who, at one point, even discouraged his own son from entering the trade. This blog post details their comments.  

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