Marking a manufacturing milestone

Posted on Mar 17, 2016 :: Editors Note
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Perception is reality.

How many times have you heard that phrase uttered, particularly in a setting where the reality is far removed from an image or perception that just won’t let go. It’s a phrase often heard in politics, and one we will no doubt hear many times between now and November.

While it may be a cliché, a negative perception was the proposition sorely testing Northeast Wisconsin’s manufacturing leaders a decade ago as the wave of baby boomer retirements began building and the workforce did not have sustainable numbers to replace them.

Sure, part of it was demographic, but the sector was also battling outdated images of manufacturing as boring, dirty and not technically challenging work performed in dark, dingy and outmoded factories that were soon to be shut down and jobs shipped to China.

While those perceptions bore little resemblance to the truth of modern manufacturing, they certainly discouraged students, educators and parents from encouraging manufacturing as a career choice.

For the sector to survive and thrive with a resilient and sustainable workforce, those perceptions would need to be vanquished.

This year we celebrate a milestone in that effort — the 10th anniversary of the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance.

What began as some frank discussions about changing attitudes to help sustain the workforce has grown into a collaborative model being used as a template for similar organizations nationally and around the globe.

In this month’s cover story, Nikki Kallio writes about the genesis of NEWMA (page 8), as well as its legacies, from the successful Manufacturing First conference to increasing enrollments at technical schools to national accolades. 

You will want to circle June 6 on your calendar, which is when NEWMA will celebrate reaching 10 years with a bash at Lambeau Field.

While 10 years is a milestone, it’s not the destination. Those involved in keeping the manufacturing sector vibrant know there is still plenty of work to be done to show the technical and innovative work this region’s manufacturers perform on a daily basis. One way is to get those prospective students inside the factory to see the work that actually takes place.

In our Education and Training story, we use a recent job shadow day at Faith Technologies to highlight the value of job shadowing to the career selection process (page 13).

Not only does this help break down the negative stereotypes that may still exist about manufacturing, but it helps students start the process of selecting career tracks. We’ve all heard the stories of the time and money spent on education and training only to discover that job prospects are limited or that the student didn’t realize what the work was like and doesn’t want to work in that particular industry.

That’s frustrating for everyone involved. Companies, educators and students are using job shadows as a way to get a firsthand look at the work involved and make informed decisions earlier on to avoid those costly and frustrating mistakes.

The value of a talented and motivated workforce is reflected not only in the results NEWMA has achieved in its first 10 years, but also in the demand for innovative products that are made here. Despite some hiccups in the latter half of 2015, exports (see page 19) continue to play a vital role in our regional economy and support thousands of jobs.

We make stuff here. We make the stuff people want. With NEWMA’s mission, we should be able to say that for generations to come.