Why We All Need to Champion Manufacturing

Finding America's Greatest Champion by Terry Iverson

Terry Iverson is the author of Finding America’s Greatest Champion: Building Prosperity through Manufacturing, Mentoring and the Awesome Responsibility of Parenting. In his book, he examines the changing perceptions of manufacturing and American-made products. He's also the founder of ChampionNow!, a non-profit organization that introduces young people to manufacturing careers. He recently sat down to discuss some of these topics in greater detail.

Jeff Reinke: Tell us a little about your background, the new book, and why you felt it was important to put your message out there.

Terry Iverson: I have been in the machine tool distribution world calling on manufacturing companies in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana for 38 years. I have had customers telling me for all 38 years that they simply cannot find enough skilled workers to run the machines and make their products. I feel it is important to address this situation because I do not see change occurring fast enough, or to a level that will make a difference. My family (grandfather, father, uncles, etc.) have enjoyed great and rewarding careers in manufacturing and I feel compelled to make a difference and "give back.”

JR: When do you think the realization sunk in with key stakeholders that manufacturing had an image problem?

TI: It hit me when the comments came out that the United States was going to be a service-based economy. That really hit me hard when you realize how unbelievably damaging that could be to our country. When the media reinforced this by saying "ALL MANUFACTURING" was being moved to China and India, the idea just reinforced that image. Too often people measure manufacturing only by employment numbers. We need to look deeper than that. NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) and The Manufacturing Institute state that if you look at the U.S. manufacturing economy by itself and compare it to entire countries around the world, it would measure as the eighth or ninth largest economy in the world. Does that sound like manufacturing is dead in the US? 

JR: Where do we start addressing these issues?

TI: Well, we need to change our culture first and foremost. People should not be looked down upon for choosing careers in manufacturing. In Europe, these career choices are looked at as being honorable. Those that have chosen manufacturing careers are held in high regard and looked at as artisans and craftsmen.

I think we need to start earlier in our country identifying what ignites a passion in our young people. We need to educate guidance counselors as to the possibilities that are out there. They are at a tremendous disadvantage since they have multiple responsibilities and aren't given the data and the information that could help so many of the students.  

JR: What types of partnerships do you feel can play the biggest role in helping to educate the public about the positive dynamics of a career in manufacturing or industrial engineering? 

TI: Industry needs to take an active role in educating and informing the public of what the realities are in manufacturing. The media needs to also take a more active role in dismissing some of the reporting and images that they have both propagated and reinforced. I wrote my book to try to get much of the facts and issues out so that people can understand reality and change their perceptions. I am only one person, but I interviewed over 40 professionals from all walks of life to bring different perspectives and reinforce my message from all different vantage points.

JR: Right now manufacturing is facing a significant skills gap. How do you think this is going to look in 5 years? 15 years? 

TI: We got into this mess by decades of neglect and short-term thinking. Too many people and too many companies have looked at the short-term gains instead of looking long-term. More of us need to look at the “pass it forward” concept of mentoring young people and investing in their future because it is the right thing to do, not because it pays off for any of us immediately.

I do think there is a start of a trend. I think it will take a very broad-brush approach to our entire culture and not just a narrow focus. My hope is that in five years we are better off, but I doubt we will be where we need to be. Maybe if we keep working hard and expanding those who are trying to change the perceptions, we might have made a significant impact and moved the needle dramatically in 15 years.

It will not be easy though. Once again the only way that I thought I could help personally is spread the message by writing it down and making it easy for those to get that message. We all need to be a manufacturing Champion Now!

Image Credit: Terry Iverson/https://championnow.org/

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