Top notch

Posted on Jan 9, 2013 :: InForum
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Changing the perception about careers in manufacturing is high on the list when it comes to recruitment efforts among manufacturers, many of whom are struggling to fill open positions.

A career in manufacturing means a job with family-supporting wages and benefits, many opportunities for career advancement and the satisfaction of making high-quality, essential products. These jobs should never be positioned as a last resort for job seekers, says Mary Isbister, president of GenMet Corp., a metal fabricator in Mequon.

“The perception is that manufacturers take people with no other options. That just reinforces the negative images that are out there,” Isbister says.

In order to effectively change the way job seekers view manufacturing, industrial firms must convey that they only are interested in prospective employees that are “good enough” to work in the industry, she says.

To be good enough to work in manufacturing, applicants must:
» ?Have a technical aptitude and the commitment to learn how to work with a high degree of precision
» ?Possess “soft skills” – be able to work well in a collaborative, team  environment with people from a range of backgrounds and specialties
» ?Be self-motivated – take initiative and tackle problems
» ?Care about quality and be willing to learn from mistakes

Careers in manufacturing offer a challenging and satisfying work environment, Isbister says. These jobs are not open to or right for everyone – manufacturing jobs are right for people who use their hands and their minds. The idea that manufacturing is a place of last resort is outdated – in contrast, today’s manufacturing provides substantial, long-term rewards for the people with the talent and drive to make their mark.

Isbister will be part of a three-person panel at the Manufacturing Matters! Conference on Feb. 28 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Milwaukee that will address solutions to the manufacturing skills gap at the national, state and regional levels.

She will be joined by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation President Jim Morgan and Dawn Tabat, chief operations officer of Generac Holdings Inc., a Waukesha-based manufacturer of generators. Morgan will share his takeaways from more than 50 listening sessions with more than 300 manufacturing representatives, while Tabat will outline how fast-growing Generac finds and trains workers. The panel discussion will be moderated by Buckley Brinkman, the WMEP’s executive director.

Generac will hire 300 new employees over the next few months. As a true manufacturer, not just an assembler, Generac is planning to hire for positions that require significant aptitude and knowledge. Tabat explains that many of the jobs require a high level of skill which Tabat says may require considerable expense by the company for training new workers.

“Training dollars will be needed just to get some employees up to minimum standards for the jobs,” Tabat says. “These are technically demanding manufacturing jobs, not merely assembly.”

Generac has been a leader in employee training for years. “In 1996, I saw that we didn’t have enough workers in the pipeline to grow our business,” Tabat says. “That led me to start the Second Chance Partners for Education program in order to engage the young people who had the qualities and talent we needed but weren’t thriving in a traditional academic environment.”

Tabat brought together community and education leaders to develop an alternative work-based learning program that meets state education standards while providing relevant work experience within a manufacturing setting. Today, that program has 12 education  centers around the state with more than 135 students. (See Education & Training).

This is a time of exceptional opportunity for people to explore a career in manufacturing. Many manufacturers provide thorough training to people new to manufacturing, along with a full range of benefits. While many businesses are increasing workloads, decreasing benefits and cutting hours, manufacturers are sweetening the pot and reaching out to people who have the right qualities to succeed in a demanding, fast-paced and rewarding environment. Manufacturing is becoming known as the new career of choice for those with the “right stuff.”

Rich Rovito is an industry reporter for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Prior to joining the WMEP, Rich was a reporter for more than 12 years with The Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee, covering the manufacturing, airlines, labor unions, employment services, logistics and education beats. His 20 years of reporting experience also includes sports coverage for the Associated Press and reporting for a local Wisconsin newspaper.