Staff Sergeant To Plant-Floor General
As Bill Boyer walks down the wood-block floor of Caterpillar Inc.'s aging 600,000 sq-ft tractor and truck transmission factory in East Peoria, Ill., he seems slightly distressed by an out-of-place parts bin. He explains that the facility is still going through a manufacturing transformation and that when he first arrived in March 2005 he experienced a "culture shock" from the disorder.
It's hard to blame Boyer for being a little meticulous. During his four years in the U.S. Marine Corps order and structure were the norm. But 28-year-old Boyer isn't in the Marines anymore. Today, he's part of the manufacturing world where making the transition to a lean operation sometimes can be painful.
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The Workforce: Three Perspectives
Boyer's journey to manufacturing began in 1996 shortly after graduating from high school in Chillicothe, Ill. He joined the Marines and was trained to be a welder. He was promoted to lance corporal and then to staff sergeant before being honorably discharged in 2000. Having maintained such heavy equipment and vehicles as bulldozers, cranes and Humvees for four years, Boyer decided he had enough of manual labor. "I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and I thought coming out that the industry I was going to face was one that was going to be driven by the IT business," he says.
So when Boyer returned to his hometown in 2000, he attended a local community college and obtained A-plus certification to work on computers. Almost immediately after completing his coursework, the opportunity to join ATS arrived. Boyer heard about the job from his wife, who at the time was a recruiter for ATS. The company needed technicians because it was getting ready to take over machine maintenance at Caterpillar's Mossville, Ill., engine plant. Boyer didn't have all the skills ATS was seeking, but his welding background, leadership skills from the military and his computer certification worked in his favor.
At first, Boyer was a bit uncertain about his future with ATS. After all, he was back to wearing a welding helmet all day -- the exact type of job he was trying to get away from. But Boyer quickly discovered that ATS was a growing company and that there were more opportunities for him beyond welding.
Six months later, Boyer was promoted to shift team leader at Mossville and then to site manager. Today, Boyer is responsible for supervising machine maintenance at four Caterpillar facilities. Boyer says his next goal is to be a regional or area manager. But Boyer thinks he's destined for even more. "My overall objective is to be [CEO] Jeff Owens -- to run the company. That's obviously where I want to be. That's what I like to do. I like to be in charge."
As he leaves the transmission plant, Boyer points out the facility's new lunchroom and notes how much it's done for morale. Previously, plant workers ate meals at their grimy workstations, something past generations of workers may not have given a second thought. But Boyer is like many other young adults entering the workforce today. They want to see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. A lifetime on the production line simply isn't enough, and if manufacturers are going to attract motivated young people like Boyer, they'll have to do more.
"They have to be a growing business, first and foremost," Boyer says. "They have to be on the forefront. They have to be positioned in a way to be able to tell the candidate, 'Hey, our business is growing, and there's opportunity.' Opportunity is key, I think for any of us. If a company or manufacturer cannot show us opportunity, that would keep any of us from being interested in working for that company."
Retiring To Manufacturing
On a rare warm spring morning in Cleveland, Kenneth Paulett takes a break after finishing his day as a part-time volunteer offering free legal advice to crime victims at the city's Justice Center. It's just a short rest for the mild-mannered, 54-year-old retired police officer. That's because in a few more hours he will drive to his second-shift job as a machine operator at the industrial valve division of Swagelok Co., a privately held manufacturer of fluid system components based in Solon, Ohio.
He also had worked a stint as a security guard at General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown, Ohio, auto assembly plant. And it was there that Paulett says his interest in manufacturing took off. "It just seemed interesting. It seemed different, and it seemed less stressful than having to worry about a big department."
Not Quitting Manufacturing
Layoffs stink. Anyone who's been laid off knows the frustration. It's so unnerving that many people who lose their jobs end up switching careers. But not Michael Carr. Although he has been laid off at a welding shop and a chemical plant, Carr still believes in manufacturing. And if there's anyone who could have moved on to another occupation, it's Carr. The 32-year-old lead production technician at Nissan North America Inc.'s Canton, Miss., plant has a bachelor's degree in sociology from Mississippi Valley State University.
|Skills Shortage Continues|
|A stunning 80% of manufacturers anticipate a shortage of skilled production workers during the next three years. The supply of scientists and engineers also is likely to fall short of demand.|
|Employee category||% anticipating shortage|
|Scientists and engineers||35|
|Sales and marketing||18|
|Management and administration||16|
|Source: National Association of Manufacturers and Deloitte Consulting LLP. Total adds to more than 100% since multiple responses were allowed.|
The job with Nissan paid less than the railroad, but for Carr the decision was a no-brainer. "If you have excellent pay and no benefits, you stand to be left out on a limb, especially if you have kids," Carr says. "I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I feel like for both of us I made the right decision to leave the railroad."
Carr's main motivating factors for accepting the Nissan job were the company's no-layoffs history and an opportunity to advance his career with the automaker. Indeed, he's hoping to move forward by obtaining a master's degree, with the help of Nissan's tuition-assistance program.
Better Than Pizza
Just a couple years ago Candace Matson was wondering where her career was headed, if anywhere. She had worked the gamut of service-level jobs from retail stores to cable installation to panning pizzas at Chuck E. Cheese's. On Valentines Day 2005, Matson, a 29-year-old Whittier, Calif., resident, decided to check out a technical school that a friend of hers attended shortly after they graduated from high school in 1995.
The problem was, she couldn't remember the name of the school and had lost contact with the friend who attended the training center. But as fate would have it, Matson found the school by simply driving around the neighborhood until she recognized the building. The school was the Norwalk, Calif., campus of NTMA Training Centers of Southern California. Matson enrolled in classes that day and as she says, "Everything just seemed to fall into place like it was a meant-to-be kind of thing."
Matson seems poised to continue progressing at her job, and she says there's talk of placing her in a supervisory position.
More important, Matson, a mother of four, has a future for her children. "Everything you see has been touched by a machinist. Even something as simple as an apple -- somebody had to make the conveyor belt; somebody had to build the trucks to bring them down," she says. "So just having that knowledge that I will have a career for the rest of my life is something that I can say, 'Okay, I have this for my kids' -- that was one of my main draws to it."