Recently, Pat Lee, Director of Marketing, Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, Intl., one of the Co-Producers for Manufacturing Day, had a conversation with Todd Schnick and Todd Youngblood of Manufacturing Revival Radio. They touched upon manufacturing’s public image and efforts that can be made to correct it, particularly among students. The complete interview can be listened to here but there are some significant points that everyone involved in Manufacturing Day will want to know about.

Connecting Youth with Manufacturing

The most important topic on Lee, Schnick, and Youngblood’s minds was the question of how to connect today’s youth with manufacturing. Despite many technical and technological aspects that make it a naturally appealing career field for young people, manufacturing hasn’t yet found a way to make itself widely appealing to upcoming generations. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation:

Todd Schnick: Are we doing enough to get [our nation’s youth] prepared for a career in manufacturing? What more can we do? . . . Why is it such a struggle to get our youth excited about a potential career in manufacturing?

Pat Lee: You know, I believe that one of the big problems we have is that in the media we have come to glorify athletics and celebrities . . . [I]t used to be that if you were talented at making something or at fixing something, you were really a revered member of your community. And we’ve become very much a throwaway society where most people think, “Well, when something stops working, I’ll throw it away and get a new one.” People have stopped thinking about where their new things come from and, as a result, we don’t think much at all about the people who design, make build, and fix things. And I think that’s a real part of this problem.

The other part of the problem is—just think about the last time you saw manufacturing or somebody who works in manufacturing being portrayed in a positive light in any kind of media . . . Mostly we have tended to downgrade people who work in a manually oriented career—something where they have to work with both their head and their hands. And so as we’ve moved away from giving respect to the folks who actually know how to keep our world running, it’s become less and less appealing for kids to want to go into it . . .

[T]hat’s something that we all have to work at changing. If we’re in manufacturing, we really need to take a hard look at ourselves and say, “It’s up to us to invite people to see what manufacturing is like today.” It’s not what they may think it is. It is certainly not the manufacturing of one, two, three, or five decades ago. And I think most people, when they get that opportunity to go inside a manufacturing company and really see what happens there, for the most part, they’re shocked, they’re really, really surprised at how high-tech it is. But it’s getting that first step that is the challenge for all of us . . .

Todd Youngblood: When I think of kids, you know high school age or even younger, they’re all very enamored with technology. And I look at the technology that’s just part and parcel of the manufacturing world—robotics, 3-D printing—I mean, there’s just all kinds of really, really cool technology. I mean, why isn’t that more visible?

Pat Lee: I am at as much of a loss as you are . . . Bottom line: It is the way manufacturing runs today. There is very little in manufacturing that gets done manually. And how we have missed the chance to connect what kids seem to love in terms of what they do with their free time—play video games, play on cell phones, and that sort of thing—how we have missed that . . . I’m just really surprised that the connection has not been made more effectively. However, I’m going to say that one of the problems is that we no longer have a vital connection from manufacturing to education and back again because most industrial arts programs are gone.

Manufacturing Day Aims to Remake Manufacturing’s Image

Lee naturally discussed Manufacturing Day and its mission to familiarize non-manufacturing audiences with contemporary manufacturing, particularly students, by giving manufacturers an occasion to open their doors to the public. She noted the success of the first year’s celebration, with 240 events in 37 states, and pointed to 2013’s Manufacturing Day goals — to support 500 events in all 50 states. The response was unabashedly enthusiastic, with Schnick and Youngblood getting excited about a couple of the unique aspects of Manufacturing Day: its hands-on quality and its inclusiveness. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Todd Schnick: This is not some gathering at a convention hall where you hear a lecture or a PowerPoint presentation. This is real hands-on, kind of look under the hood, and see what’s really going on.

Pat Lee: We want people who have never set foot inside a manufacturing plant to get a chance to do that in their own communities . . .

Todd Youngblood: Why would a manufacturing company not want to be a part of this?

Pat Lee: I don’t have any answers for why people did not participate, other than . . . it takes a while for the word to get out.

If you’ve been thinking about hosting a Manufacturing Day event but haven’t already, you can start today by signing up and then filling in all the details when you’re ready. And spread the word: Manufacturing Day is October 4, 2013!