The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 10 months ago

The Learning Factory: Closing the Skill Gap Starts with Education w/ Mike Nager


There’s no shortage of orders for most manufacturers out there —

The problem is finding the talent to help fill them.

How do we finally close the manufacturing skill gap?

Mike Nager, Founding Member of the Solution Center within Festo Didactic, which helps students learn hands-on manufacturing skills through its innovative Learning Factory, believes it all starts with education — and manufacturers need to do a better job educating.

In this episode, we discuss:

- The root of the skills gap

- The 3 paths to a career in manufacturing

- How Festo Didactic is helping to make more students aware of the what manufacturing can offer

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I think as an industry we have to promote ourselves again. WE'RE UP ADENSE healthcare, we're up a dents legal careers, we're up adense advertising. You know, things that get a lot more press. So we have to make our own press. So welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. We all know that we need to attract the next generation into manufacturing, but what are the different paths into that career and how do we communicate the possibilities to that next generation so they know what's out there? I guess today has written the book on this topic literally, and he's here to share his advice not only with manufacturing leaders, but with those who we hope will become manufacturing's future workforce. Mike Magar is the author of the Smart Students Guide to smart manufacturer and industry, four Poo, and has been the keynote speaker at several industry events and PODCASTS. He's been recognized as a top ten and one hundred influencer for industry, for no and the Industrial Internet of things, or Iot. Mike has worked for world class manufacturers of industrial controls and has been inside of over five hundred manufacturing facilities throughout the Americas and Europe. Mike attended the University of Scranton and Trinity College Dublin and is an electrical engineer. Mike Co Founded the solution center of Festo Didactic, a leading provider of advanced solutions for technical...

...and industrial training. In this role, he works with colleges and universities and collaborates with them to create smart learning factories for handson education. Mike has been a leader in the I triple e, the international society of automation or Issa, and the material handling Association of Professional Societies. Mike Volunteers with the I Tripoli Mini Engineering Academy, which gives students experience in the technical fields with engaging after school projects. Mike, Welcome to the show. Glad to be here, Joe. Thank you very much for the invitation. Very excited, awesome. Well, it's good to have you here. You, Mike. I know you've got a new book fresh off the press this year, or a few months ago at least tell our listeners what it's called, who is for and what it's all about. Yeah, thanks, Joe. So the book that I published in January of two thousand and twenty one is titled This Smart Students Guide to Smart Manufacturing and Industry for and the reason I wrote that is although I have a career and manufacturing and have work for manufacturers, there's a general perception out there in the public at large that manufacturing isn't a greatest place to start a career with, and I wanted to get the message out to students, to counselors, to parents that they need to reconsider manufacturing as a career choice. So I looked on Google to see if there was something that was written around this and I couldn't find anything. I was shocked and I was like, okay, that's a message for me to roll up my sleeves and to contribute back. So I wrote that and it's been pretty well received so far, I'm happy to say. Yeah, that's great. I mean there's I'm also surprised that nobody has filled that void with an actual, tangible book, because you hear this issue being talked about so much. Almost everybody who comes on this podcasts somehow meant winds up mentioning, you know, this issue going on with the skills gap and finding engaging young people and convincing parents that manufacturing has changed and is not what they may have perceived it, as... know, thirty years ago. So good for you for actually putting in the work to do it. I think the world needs it. So yeah, I appreciate that. You know, it was it was definitely an effort, let me put it that way. I'm an engineer by training. I'm not a writer by inclination, so it was a lot harder than I initially thought it was going to be. A Bad I've tossed around the idea of myself over the last couple of years. At some point I'm going to do it. I'm to write the the book on Industrial Marketing. But it's an intimidating thought to, you know, take all everything that's in my brain and put it down in writing in a book. So very cool. I was gonna say you're the end of your book, Chapter Nineteen. Specifically, you talk about three different career paths into manufacturing. You talk about one, the four year college, to the two year or community college and three, going right onto the planet floor out of high school. I would love you to spend some time breaking down sort of each of these three paths, if you could talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each. I think would be great for in our listeners, whether they are manufacturers or young people looking to get into manufacturing, to be able to hear sort of the way you see it. Yeah, definitely. So let's start with the four year degree first. You know, typically, if you're interested in manufacturing at an early age, you would be signing up for an industrial engineering class or course, maybe mechanical engineering. Those are the two big pathways into manufacturing and of course, over the last several decades there's been a big push for parents to say, okay, you know, everyone needs a four year degree to be successful in society and four year degree is great. I have one myself. However, you know it. There's a significant cost associated, you know, with getting that and you're also making a decision at a relatively young age, let's say eighteen, that this is the path that you want to take, and you know, once you sink the costs associated with that degree into it, it's hard to kind of go back and be like, oh no, I I changed my mind. So that would be one of the drawbacks. The great advantages.

You have that certificate, so the diploma from that institution is really like a fancy certificate to your employer saying Yep, you know, I can buckle down, I can work hard for four years. Here's the certificate to prove it. A very attractive option right now is the two year college route. The cost associated with it is a fraction of what the four year degrees costs. In some areas it's free. We're almost next to free, and that takes a lot of the pressure off a young person who's just starting out and, you know, doesn't saddle that person with with the debt load. And interestingly enough, you know, I work with organizations all over the country there are two year degrees that pay as much or more than you know, certain four year degrees pay. In fact, in some areas, once a student has finished one year, local industry tries to pull them in like, okay, you don't need your your associates degree will train you. For the rest, you know just enough. You had robotics, one hundred and one PLC one hundred and one censors, on hundred and one perfect. Come to us and we got a job for forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollars waiting for you. So that's a really attractive option from the debt standpoint and then also quickly being able to make an income and then finally, right out of school, if you're really unsure if it's for you, you know there's no better experience than just getting right out there on to the plant floor. Or drawback is you'll start at a relativity lower wage and might be a little bit harder to get in if you don't have the skill set. But eager, enthusiastic person that displays a lot of soft skill capability often can land that very first position and now you can see what the job entails and in the advantage of that is you're seeing what the enterprise is doing and you can see the holistic view of the enterprise even before studying it. So I would say those are the breakdown. There's not one right answer, you know, there's three right...

...answers depending on the person that's considering it. But but those are the three main pathways into manufacturing. How well do you find that community colleges or two year schools that maybe you know could cater to this are actually preparing people, are preparing students to, you know, be able to go into a career in manufacturing? They're doing a great job, I have to say. You know, I travel all over the country. There's many, many hundreds of technical and to your schools in the United States. Typically they work very closely with local industry. So if any of your manufacturers that are listening, you know, to the podcast, have a local technical college, it's a great resource for many, many reasons to really in act with them support them. They're begging for manufacturers to give them feedback and input. They want to know exactly what to teach the students to be of the most value to the local manufacturing base. So all you have to do is make contact and participate, and I would certainly encourage any manufactures to do so. You know, in my career, I focused a lot on sales and marketing and, as such, you know, we think of manufacture and if you look at the competitive landscape, you know you're thinking about getting more sales, getting more customers, but there's another war that's going on to and it's a war for talent. You got to bring people in to sit behind that desk, to sit behind the wheel of the car and go a visit customers and manufacturers are competing against every other industry that's out there. So healthcare, legal system, you know, you name it, they're all looking for the same professional people to do the job. So just be aware, you know, of that is what what I would recommend. The community colleges can introduce you to the you know, really great young people, people that are being reskilled, you know that had other positions, and you can get the talent that you need through that... system. Like, I've heard you use the term of learning factories. Can you tell us what this refers to? All right, job, yeah, yeah, thanks for that. So that the company I work for is called Festo Didactic. We develop equip mint and curriculum for technical schools to teach manufacturing, and the way that we do it is we create a holistic system where we replicate an entire manufacturing facility in a scale down version that can fit inside the classroom. So anything starting from order entry customer places in order for a customized product into our equipment set. We have the conveyors that then move that product and track it. It's using all industry standard industrial controls, you know, from Siemens, from Rockwell, from sick fannock, from universal robots, and it's performing an entire assembly application. So we call it a learning factory because now technicians and students don't have to learn on production equipment. As you're aware of, I'm sure, Joe, that the downtime associated with the manufacturing line going down is measured in the tens of thousands of dollars per minute to start and goes up from there. So we provide the learning factory for training and education. Provides a very safe environment. Nothing can break on it, no production time is lost. But when those students get out into the real world they're going to have hands on experience with all those leading technology companies that I just mentioned. That's really great. For how long has Tesso, that Actul have been doing that and and just do you see this being a common thing? Yeah, so Festo didactics has a sister company, festal automation, which produces pneumatic valves and cylinders and latronic sensors. FESTODIDACTIC this is the education and Learning Company and that was founded in one thousand nine hundred and sixty five. So it's been, you know, over fifty years now that we have to formed this function. We work with manufacturers, we understand manufacturing because...

...our sister company is a world class manufacturer in itself, and we incorporate that know how into our curriculum for students. So it's been quite the run. We're active all over the world, so every continent and be a hundred different companies all get learning factories to train future employees. That's great, Mike. There are so many technological advancements happening right now in the manufacturing sector. I've had guests come on who are experts in robotics and AI and connected factories and various elements of industry. For Point no technology. As a guy who's been right in the middle of all of this, what are a few things that you could tell our listeners right now, like a few things that are that have you really excited that? Maybe people don't realize or know a whole lot about that. Have you excited about manufacturings future on the Technology Front? Yeah, that's a great question. Thanks, Joe. So an exciting technology. Will let me back up a little bit and and say, you know, one core thing that we try to do is we try to eliminate as much on the job training as possible. So with our learning factory we try to expose the students to these breaking edge technologies very early. So one such system is cybersecurity. So cybersecurity is often talked about in the IT world. Protect the front office, protect the bank account. Every device that's on the plant floor now has an Ethernet connection and once you have an Ethernet connection it's very easy to connect it to the Internet and now you've opened up a whole new attack vector that plant floor to hackers, bad guys and people with malicious intent. So we developed a curriculum in a hardware package that teaches you how to predict the network on the plant floor, how to protect those PLC's, how they make the subnets and we bring that into the classroom. So it's not...

...on the job training, it's in the classroom training. Another very interesting technology, and you mentioned it, is artificial intelligence. So that's kind of cutting edge and new and we've developed a program that allows students in a manufacturing environment, in this learning factory, to use AI for image recognition. So we have a couple simple examples where we're counting parts and we're using a cloud AI and now they're learning all the nuances of machine learning, supervised versus unsupervised learning, and again in the classroom, not on the plant floor. So those two, biber security and artificial intelligence. I'd say those are kind of the most the newest, most exciting things that we've been involved in. Very cool. Yeah, I think there's just so so many interesting innovations that I think a lot of people outside of manufacturing probably just don't realize what's happening right now and needs to be a part of almost rebranding what manufacturing is to the outside world. Yeah, definitely. I think manufacturing is like best kept secret in the US. I would certainly encourage manufactures to open their doors during manufacturing week, so October is is manufacturing month in the US, and encourage them to open the doors to the public. Let that fourteen year old and fifteen year old in to see, especially if you have robots moving around, if you have a high tech environment, let them see that. It could plan a seat in that. Fourteen year old, Hey, I want to work here some day. And, by the way, you know fourteen year olds and eighteen year old you know like that, and you know they could be knocking on your door. In general, the general public has no idea the sophistication and the opportunities and manufacturing. I think as an industry we have to promote ourselves again. WE'RE UP ADENSE healthcare, we're up adainst legal careers, we're up a DNS advertising, you know, things that get a lot more pressed. So we have to make our own press. So open up your doors, show the public all the great things you're doing and that'll help in many,...

...many ways. Good Advice. What other advice can you leave for manufacturing leaders who are listening about how to get the attention of the next generation? Yeah, so, you know, try to adopt the the platforms that young people use. So if you're you know, there's a graying generation of workers right now, as you can see, you have to attract young workers in if that means going on to new social platforms. I would encourage you to do it. You know, if you don't have a youtube channel, okay, it's time to have a youtube channel. Maybe you need a tick tock channel. I would say you have to go where the target audiences. So I would almost consider like a marketing effort. Joe, you're experienced and professional marketing company. You have to do a marketing effort to attract people just as you would to attract customers. It's probably an equal amount of effort for both and it should have equal weight in both, because you need people in the back office where it's going to be a long time before we have a lights out factory, you know, where you have dressed robots and automation. We're going to need people for the next few decades at least, I'm sure, to be running it. So make it a priority, Joe. That's that's what I would recommend. I think you bring up a really good point, and that's that more companies, more manufacturers, are having trouble right now attracting people than they are generating business. I mean not say that everybody's just cruising right now, but you know, we're recording this in late two thousand and twenty one. And there's no doubt in my mind, from all the manufacturing people I talked to, that the problem they're having is the people problem right now, much more so than generating new business. I mean, I've talked to a number of companies that they can't fulfill orders, they can't they can't get the work done in time, their lead times are extending because they can't get somebody on the machine, and so I think it's just just sort of sit back and and hope that the workforce starts, just starts showing up. Is is a pretty big mistake. You need to go out there and, just as you would try to proactively generate business, VI a marketing and sales,... got to think about what's how we're going to do the same thing on the people's side. Yeah, exactly right. I mean, as an industry, we have a duty to promote ourselves, to work with our local education system to let them know what skill sets we're looking for, to engage directly on the social media platforms. Very well said. I agree one hundred percent. So on the other side of the coin, Mike, what advice can you offer to America's youth or what message would you like to send to America's youth about considering a career in manufacturing? Yeah, so, you know, a manufacturing is an exciting place. You know, sometimes it's called it information technology meeting physics, because things are moving, things are being produced and made. I believe that we're going to see more of a reassoring of US manufacturers coming back from places where, you know, they might have set up twenty or thirty years ago. There's a lot of technical and financial forces behind and political forces behind shoring US manufacturing, and that's just going to be more and more highly skilled workers are going to be needed. So whether or not you have interest in robotics, if you have interest in data analytics or it, they're all incorporated in the modern manufacturing a plan. If you're interested industrial mechanical engineering, again, you know that's a classic pathway into manufacturing. But almost every other sub skill or subset is employed. You know, manufacturers have attorneys, you know, on their staff doing patents and trademarks and things like that. So I would say don't overlook it. Read a copy of the book. A lot of it I have published online and linkedin articles and other people like you, Joe, I know that you've been promoting it on your podcast. So you said that something about the skill gap. You know, what we also have to address is the awareness gap. So we just have to make people aware. Hey, you know, there's good opportunities here and... could fit in very nicely and have a rewarding career doing something very beneficial for society. So give it a consideration. Well said, Mike. Anything else you'd like to add to the conversation that I didn't ask you about? No, Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time to interview me and talk about manufacturing, skills and employment, and keep up all the great work work that you're doing with your podcast. You always had very interesting guests and I learn a lot from each one. I appreciate that, Mike. How can our listeners get in touch with you learn more about what Festo didactics doing, and also find a copy of your book? The easiest place I'm pretty active on Linkedin, so if you hear this, just shoot me over a request and then we can start that conversation. My Book is available in paperback, any book, primarily on Amazon. The books located everywhere. It's a wide distribution, is what they call it, but if you're if you're interested in contact me and now I'll be able to hook you up with something fantastic. Well, Mike, I appreciate you doing this. I know you're busy guy, so thanks for taking the time out. And Yeah, I think this was a really, really great conversation on a topic that I know for a fact is pressing issue that's got to be addressed out there. Sure is. Yeah, thanks for all your efforts in this area, Joe. We appreciate it. You Bet this for the rest of you. I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for B Tob Manufacturers at gorilla seventy sixcom learn. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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