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BY Joel Junker

5 Misperceptions About Manufacturing Dispelled

Often times when I am discussing potential career field opportunities with a Junior Military Officer (JMO), they tend to have misperceptions about manufacturing in Corporate America.  Some will oversimplify manufacturing and believe it is as simple as widget A goes into widget B to make widget C.  Others think of it as simply leading a team like they might have done in the military and nothing more.  Coming from a manufacturing background for a good portion of my business career I wanted to write this blog post to help dispel 5 misperceptions about the manufacturing career field.

  1. Its best days are behind it: When people think of manufacturing, many have this image of old factories and smoke stacks from the 1950s and 60s.  This is simply not the case.  Today, manufacturing is about incredible new technologies – 3-D printing, nanoscale chemistry, energy efficiency, satellite technology, medicines that are saving lives and changing the world.  It is using very sophisticated technical equipment to produce everything from building products to growing human cells, to producing semiconductors that power virtually every high-tech product we own and use, to very technical medical device products saving lives.
  2. The machines do the work: As I mentioned above, yes, manufacturing today uses very sophisticated technical equipment that in many cases are automated but it still doesn’t replace the need for strong leadership and people.  Manufacturing is and always will be about the team and the ability to build, coach, develop and lead a team to accomplish key strategic goals and initiatives.  It is about understanding the operation, utilizing the equipment and machines to their best use, optimizing performance, etc.  Because of this, manufacturing is a career fields that often fits very well with the JMO skill set.
  3. It is mundane and monotonous: Manufacturing has an enormous and strategic impact on a company’s business misperceptions about manufacturingperformance and is more than simply leading a team.  It also includes learning and applying Six Sigma and Lean principles, as well as leading projects and process improvement efforts to improve cycle times, increase yield, improve quality, eliminate waste, implement new efficiencies, improve safety and more.  While you will be leading a team, you will also be involved in projects and process improvement initiatives that will drive profitability for your facility.  One of the aspects I enjoyed most during my time in manufacturing was that no two days were alike.  There was always something different and dynamic happening whether it is a new product launch, new capital equipment being installed, a new vendor/raw material, new process, team development, etc.  Every day offered something unique and a new challenge.
  4. It is “industrial” and dirty: This goes back to #1 above when JMOs are imagining these old industrial buildings, smoke stacks, etc.  We do recruit industrial environments – i.e., manufacturing operations for glass, building materials, oil refining, cast parts, and more and while there are manufacturing operations that are more “industrial” than others, there is a still a misperception that they are all like this.  As a GM and VP of Operations for my building materials company, our plants were a bit more industrial because our raw materials were aggregates, sand, cement, water, etc.  But through good housekeeping, the plants were clean, efficient and good working environments.  However, there are numerous types of manufacturing environments, and we recruit for a broad range of them.  For example, we recruit for biopharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing positions which are “clean” environments highly regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Agency), in some cases the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), and other organizations.  Other “clean” manufacturing environments include semiconductor and electronics manufacturing.
  5. Manufacturing is never ending shift work: Shift work is an important part of a manufacturing operation.  Because machines have the ability to run 24×7 and people do not, shifts provide the ability to compensate for this.  It allows for the plant to run continuous operations because when plant equipment is being powered up, powered down, etc. there is no product being produced which negatively impacts the profitability of the plant.  By allowing the equipment to run through multiple shifts in a plant, it improves the profitability of the operation which in turn also directly affects the compensation of all that work there.   I have personally worked a night shift and hired those to work off-shifts in my plants.  My time on night shift was an invaluable learning experience because I essentially ran the entire operation without my boss or other leadership present so I was empowered to make decisions I never would have made working “regular hours”.  So when I came back to working those regular hours, I was much further along relative to my peers because I had a deeper understanding of how the entire operation worked.  Companies come to Cameron-Brooks to find strong leaders for their manufacturing operations, and yes, shift work may initially be a part of that, but these companies are not expecting you (nor wanting you) to be on shifts indefinitely.  Usually it will be 12-18 months and then back to “regular hours” as you continue to grow and move up within the company.  But, that period of time provides invaluable learning and development that will be the foundation for your career.

Finally, companies really value high potential JMOs for manufacturing positions because they have strong team leadership skill, as well as skills in optimizing processes, decision making, maintenance, and familiarity of working in an environment with equipment and systems.

Manufacturing is a strategic multifaceted career field.  If you make the transition from business to this career field, you will use your complete skill set, as well as impact on the bottom-line profits of your organization.

If you would like to learn more about the manufacturing career field, you can follow the links below to our website and a couple of podcasts where our alumni share their experiences working in the manufacturing career field: