Larry Hovish: October has folks thinking about careers in manufacturing, and you should too

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Whether it is farmers in fields, hills afire with fall foliage or families picking out the perfect pumpkin, most of us do not struggle to imagine our favorite autumn scene. For many who work at companies like Mack Molding, K&E Plastics, NSK, Kaman Composites and Abacus Automation, October also is a time to reflect on how we are able to live in and enjoy this beautiful area — careers in manufacturing.

Through that reflection we have also become ambassadors for an industry that adds trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy while offering significant career opportunities. According to the Manufacturing Institute and National Association of Manufacturers, 8.5 percent of the U.S. workforce is in manufacturing - that's 12.82 million people - and we're not done yet! Some 4.6 million manufacturing jobs are expected to be added in the next decade.

This is not happening in some faraway place or large metropolitan area, it is happening right here in Southern Vermont. From talented laborers to skilled workers and professionals Mack has hired 100 people during the past year, and we are looking to fill another 40 positions across the organization in the year ahead. We are growing thanks to an uptick in electromechanical assemblies fueled by corporate tax rate reductions that encouraged our customers to invest in bringing new technologies to market.

While there is tremendous opportunity there also has been a tremendous challenge. Remember those 4.6 million jobs? The Manufacturing Institute and National Association of Manufacturers say more than half will go unfilled due to a skills gap. This is a real issue faced by Mack and other local manufacturers. Created by fears of offshoring and automation, and the lure of making it big on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley, this gap has become ever more noticeable as our Baby Boomers age out of the workforce.

That is why we embraced Manufacturing Day - MFG Day for short - and the month of October as an opportunity to show the reality of modern manufacturing careers. When you imagine manufacturing, what comes to mind? Maybe dark, dirty spaces filled with low-skilled workers. The reality could not be farther from the truth. Modern manufacturing is a bright, vibrant and growing sector of the American economy that offers well-paying jobs and a chance to work on exciting technologies. In fact, the Manufacturing Institute and National Association of Manufacturers report U.S. manufacturers make up 64 percent of all private-sector research and development in the nation. Here at Mack alone our customers have tasked us with making cutting-edge 3D printers, state-of-the-art robots and life-saving medical devices on a daily basis.

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To celebrate MFG Day, Mack hosts its biennial Made in Vermont Days. Our last event in October 2018 brought seven schools and home-schoolers from the surrounding areas of Vermont and New York state. It was a record year for the program with approximately 70 students, faculty and parents having the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the processes, people and opportunities inside our walls. They came from schools like Arlington Memorial High, Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, Mount Anthony Union High School, Burr & Burton Academy, the Long Trail School, Green Mount Union High School and Hoosick Falls.

Visitors learned about manufacturing and engineering careers through tours, workshops and presentations. The program is designed to reach students looking to go to a four year school, as well as certification and technical programs, and those who may wish to enter the workforce directly. Students toured the Company's HQ with a focus on Mack's entire vertical integration of services, including sheet metal, machining, molding and assembly. Additionally, Mack has benefited from its relationship with the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC), whose team trained some of the Company's up and coming employees to conduct a manufacturing flow exercise that uses friendly competition to put context behind what they witnessed on the manufacturing floor. They also learn about careers available to them with the Company's director of human resources, hear business insights from plant manager of Mack Headquarters and have an open Q&A with these key staff members.

Filling jobs and attracting people back to manufacturing, however is not only an October activity. It deserves year-round focus. Outside of the Made in VT Program, Mack also has had visits from Salem Central School, a STEM class from Arlington Memorial High School, an economics class from Mount Anthony, middle school students from Long Trail and primary school age students taking part in the summer program at Happy Days Playschool in Arlington. These visits represented another 80 students and faculty members, bringing the total to some 150 school aged children and educators who came through Mack's doors in the last 12 months.

Of course, we would be remiss not to mention our intern program. To date, Mack has hosted more than 100 interns from schools like UVM, WPI, RPI and RIT. The program is specifically designed to attract the interns to careers at Mack, with each intern assigned key projects to complete by the end of the summer. They then present their experience to the other interns and Mack senior management. On completion, the students leave with a tangible project in hand that they completed from start to finish, and can show to prospective employers. Additionally, the interns also take part in lunch and learn sessions, in which senior staff members present various aspects of the business, including tours of headquarters and other Mack plants. More recently Mack began offering free summer memberships at local golf clubs and gyms to not only encourage healthy lifestyles, but to build relationships with other interns, Mack employees and community members. The program has been a huge success, and a significant source of recruitment for the Company. Nineteen former interns have accepted full-time positons in engineering, finance, sales and manufacturing roles in recent years.

Welcoming these young professionals into manufacturing has been a great pleasure. Today, if you look around Mack you will see a wave of passionate, young engineers, technicians and manufacturing leaders who have rediscovered the opportunities presented by manufacturing. This did not happen by accident. It happened because Mack and other local manufacturers, along with our brethren across the country, have made a concerted effort to build a sustainable workforce. We have made sure the jobs, the training and the opportunities are here. We now encourage you to rediscover all the promise of manufacturing by checking for events in your area by visiting www.mfgday.com, or even better, by exploring a career with one of the outstanding manufacturers available to you right here in Southern Vermont.

Larry Hovish is director of communications for Mack Molding Company.


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