An Interview with a Maker

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Limor Fried is the founder and owner of Adafruit Industries, a manufacturer of educational electronics and the leading source of educational materials for young makers. She’s also one of the honorees of The Manufacturing Institute’s 2019 STEP Ahead Awards, which recognize accomplished women in manufacturing.

Limor Fried, founder and owner of Adafruit Industries.

Here is a brief interview with Fried for the NAM’s morning newsletter, Input.

Input: How did you come to create Adafruit?

Fried: I’ve always liked to make stuff and work with my hands. I studied engineering at MIT, and as I learned about electronics in class, I’d build projects in my spare time. I made a little MP3 player, a cell phone jammer, even a gaming device like a Game Boy. Then I published these projects online. People around the world would see my blog posts, and they’d email me saying, “Wow, these projects are so cool, I want to make my own MP3 player. Can you sell me a kit of the parts needed?”

Right after I graduated, I started making kits for people. I’d order all the parts and assemble them into a kit pack on my own. That was 13 years ago. Today, we have a facility here in Manhattan, with a pick-and-place line that does all the assembly. I don’t have to cut out parts and put them in bags anymore.

For me, creating a manufacturing company tapped into that same joy of creating that I felt when I was five. I’m just doing things on a bigger scale now.

Input: How has the market for hobbyist and educational materials changed over the past 13 years?

Fried: When I was a kid, doing electronics or assembly with kits was really hard. I wasn’t very successful in building stuff because the kits were difficult to use and the documentation wasn’t very good. Now, thanks to MakeCode from Microsoft and Scratch and CircuitPython and the Circuit Playground Express, it’s so much easier to build stuff. You don’t have to have a computer science background or even a computer at home. You can even program from a mobile phone.

At Adafruit we have almost 2,000 projects and guides available on learn.adafruit.com, which is our public learning system. We provide everything from beginner projects to complicated designs that require 3D printing, soldering, electronics, coding and more.

Input: Do the kids who use your products keep in touch as they grow up?  

Fried: Absolutely. We’ve had kids appear on our show-and-tell program, which we host every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. It’s been going on for 10 years, so the eight- or nine-year-olds who appeared in the beginning will email us years later to say, “I really loved building these projects as a kid and so I became an engineer.”

The early exposure matters a lot. You get kids into manufacturing at a young age, and they realize that you need the same skills when you’re older, too. As an engineer, you’re just working with bigger schematics and more CAD drawings.

Input: Do any examples of kids’ projects come to mind?

Fried: Not too long ago we had a Girl Scout troop come on the show with their robot. Each one of the girls showed off a different part of the robot from the chassis to the drive train to the central system. They all worked together on this robot, which taught them another essential skill—collaboration. Those girls will be well prepared to go into engineering someday.

Input: On the same subject, when it comes to inspiring more young people to go into manufacturing, is there anything else we should be doing?

Fried: Manufacturers and engineers can make a tremendous difference by mentoring children in their local school or community. The school probably has a robotics, 3D printing or metalworking club that would love to have an experienced adult come in and share his or her knowledge. You can also go to local events, like Maker Faires or state fairs, to show off some of the cool stuff that your company has built. There are many ways to get involved.

Input: How do you respond to young people who say, “I’d like to start my own business just like you did”?

Fried: The best advice I have is to start with a small run. Build something and then share it with people and get their feedback. It’s okay to build the first few products by hand. If your design is popular, then you can look into adding automation. Trying to optimize your automation early on can make things difficult because you end up optimizing the wrong thing. I made my first few kits by hand, as I said. It took longer, but I learned a lot about what to look for in the equipment I purchased later.

Input: What’s on the horizon for you in future? Where would you like Adafruit to go?

Fried: Adafruit is focused on making it easier than ever for anyone to build stuff with electronics. Python is the most popular programming language in the world, used in almost everything—and in almost every sector of manufacturing. We need to introduce kids to a version called CircuitPython, so they can use all the technology that’s out there and be prepared for jobs that require programming.

We’re also excited about assistive technology, which helps people with disabilities use the technology all around us. A lot of people need custom designs to suit their individual needs. We sell off-the-shelf components and electronics that can be used to build those solutions. That way, people who aren’t necessarily engineers by training can get plug-and-play parts, then customize and code everything they need. It’s a form of a small-scale manufacturing.

MasterCraft CEO Joins New SEC Advisory Committee

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This week, the SEC launched a new Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee to ensure that emerging companies have a voice in SEC decision-making. One of the founding members of the Advisory Committee, as announced this week, will be Terry McNew, President & CEO of MasterCraft Boat Holdings. MasterCraft is an 882-employee boat manufacturer based in Vonore, Tennessee.

Established pursuant to the SEC Small Business Advocate Act of 2016, the Advisory Committee will work with the SEC’s Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation (a position also created by the Act) to advise the SEC on problems that small businesses have in securing access to capital, identify areas in which small businesses and their investors would benefit from changes to existing rules and regulations, and propose appropriate reforms to the SEC and Congress.

Mr. McNew will bring a strong manufacturing voice to the Advisory Committee, building on his 31 years of experience in the marine manufacturing industry. Prior to joining MasterCraft in 2012, he was the Executive Vice President of Product Development & Engineering, Manufacturing, and Quality for the Brunswick Recreation Boat Group.

The NAM congratulates Mr. McNew on his exciting new role, and manufacturers look forward to the SEC taking steps to incorporate the Advisory Committee’s expertise into future decisions that impact capital formation and job creation at small businesses across the country.

Colorado’s Paid Leave Proposal is Well-Intentioned but Bad for Workers and Business

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Manufacturers know that paid leave is a powerful tool for attracting and retaining talented employees. That is why the National Association of Manufacturers supports paid leave programs created by employers and employees that fit the needs of the workplace—rather than broadly imposed programs that do more to create compliance burdens than provide workers with more generous leave. Manufacturers differ widely in terms of the benefits they can offer their workforce, and one-size-fits-all paid leave mandates are often more harmful than helpful to small businesses seeking cost effective ways to provide better benefits. One bill in Colorado, SB 188, is a perfect example of how a state mandated paid leave program can miss the mark.

Colorado’s legislature is currently debating a proposal that sounds like a paid version of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—the federal statute that provides 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for eligible employees for specified family and medical purposes—but is not. If enacted, it would create extreme new compliance burdens and confusion for Colorado manufacturers. Other states have debated and even adopted legislation that ties paid leave to FMLA—albeit far less than the 12 paid weeks contemplated in Colorado. Those states, however, tied their paid leave funds to pre-existing disability leave or other programs. SB 188, in comparison, creates a brand-new system that not only levies a new tax on employers and employees, but also differs vastly from FMLA requirements in important ways. For example, SB 188 would apply to a business with as few as one to four employees—the size of a majority of manufacturing establishments—when Congress recognized that even providing unpaid leave for such a business through FMLA might be unduly burdensome. SB 188 imposes a financial and practical burden that hits small manufacturers the hardest.

Despite Colorado lawmakers’ good intentions, a blanket mandate that does not fit with existing workplace paid leave policies, that clashes with federal law and that creates heavy financial burdens on workers and small manufacturers is not the answer. Manufacturers already face an increasingly confusing patchwork of state and local workplace regulations. States should focus on eliminating obstacles that stand in the way of employers that want to provide more generous paid leave policies. SB 188, and other bills like it across the country, simply make the problem worse.

How McCormick Is Committing to Sustainability

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At McCormick, we are committed to the long-term vitality of people, communities, and the planet while delivering top-tier financial results. In other words, we’re focused on Purpose-led Performance. This guiding principle marries our commitment to high performance with its responsible and conscious stewardship of the environment. It is an underlying principle of everything we do at McCormick.

In October 2017, we outlined our sustainability goals through 2025 in our Purpose-led Performance report, which are all aimed at working to improve the health and well-being of all people, building resilience in communities around the world, and positively impacting the planet. These goals include sourcing 100 percent of branded iconic ingredients sustainably, improving the livelihoods of 90 percent of smallholder farmers who grow McCormick’s iconic herbs and spices, and championing equality for women and people of color, and they demonstrate McCormick’s commitment to embedding sustainable practices throughout our globally-enabled workstreams.

Putting Packaging in Perspective

We can’t deliver our products to our consumers without safe packaging, and our approach to packaging is an important piece of McCormick’s commitment to sustainability. It plays a crucial role in food safety and ensures consistently high-quality products. That’s why we’ve aligned our sustainability goals as they relate to packaging with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it’s why we’re working with external suppliers to improve processes to reduce packaging waste across our supply chain.

In October 2018, McCormick built on its original goals and announced that 100 percent of the company’s plastic packaging would be reusable, recyclable or able to be repurposed by 2025. The move is part of McCormick’s continuous focus on advancing sustainability and reducing the company’s carbon footprint by working to eliminate single-use plastics, adopting renewable materials, and encouraging composting.

This new commitment strengthened McCormick’s existing 2025 packaging goals, which included reducing the company’s packaging carbon footprint by 25 percent and eliminating BPA and PVC from all primary and secondary packaging materials.

Another example of McCormick’s dedication to green packaging is the reinvention of two of our most iconic products: Black Pepper and Old Bay Seasoning. Until now, the well-known products were sold in metal cans with plastic tops. Moving forward, the products will be sold in a fully recyclable PET container, and this move alone will equate to a 16 percent reduction in associated carbon emissions. These types of smart innovations are why McCormick’s packaging designers and engineers are always searching for new ways to improve packaging and boost sustainability.

New Plastics Economy Global Commitment

Additionally, McCormick recently signed onto The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which works to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics. As part of the Global Commitment, McCormick has committed to a series of targets and actions, including:

  • Achieving 100 percent of plastic packaging that can be reused, recycled or repurposed by 2025
  • Further increasing recycled content in plastic packaging
  • Developing packaging design innovations that further reduce the use of plastic materials
  • Adopting renewable packaging materials  

McCormick’s commitment to sustainability is not going unnoticed, either. We were recently ranked as the #1 most sustainable food company in the 2019 Corporate Knights Top 100 Most Sustainable Corporations Index, which was released earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. We were also recognized as the world’s #22 most sustainable company on the 2019 Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies list, released by Barron’s Magazine.

McCormick is proud to be one of the food industry’s most sustainable companies. We promise to continue delivering the flavors that have been loved for generations, while delivering on our larger plan to not just do well, but to do good.

As Tax Day Arrives, Evidence Shows Tax Reform Is Still Jet Fuel for U.S. Manufacturing Growth

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As millions of Americans face the first tax day filing deadline completely covered under the new tax reform law, U.S. manufacturers are continuing to see sustained growth due to the overhauled tax code nearly a year and a half after its passage. 

Economic data since tax reform was signed into law points to a stunning and quick turnaround. The U.S. economy grew 3.1% from the fourth quarter of 2017, when tax reform was signed into law, to the fourth quarter of 2018, the fastest year-over-year growth in nearly fifteen years. Moreover, business investment spiked 6.9% in 2018, the strongest reading in five years.

The enactment of tax reform, which replaced an outdated system with a more competitive tax code, served as rocket fuel for the U.S. manufacturing industry in particular. U.S. manufacturers created more than a quarter million jobs in 2018, the best year for job creation since 1997, and manufacturing production skyrocketed to the highest level in a decade. A National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) industry-wide survey from April 2018 found that 86% of manufacturers were already planning to increase investments due to the changes and more than two thirds reported plans to increase wages and benefits. 

According to an NAM Outlook survey released in December, last year was the most optimistic year for manufacturers on record. A similar survey from March found the industry has enjoyed nine consecutive quarters of record optimism, largely due to the tax law. 

“Tax reform sparked the robust manufacturing job growth manufacturers predicted,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said.

Through its “Keeping Our Promise” campaign, the NAM has reported on dozens of stories of small and large manufacturers across America who have raised wages, increased hiring, and invested in new production due to the tax law.

“Tax reform has provided a tremendous boost to the men and women who make things in America,” NAM Vice President of Tax and Domestic Economic Policy Chris Netram said. “Manufacturers are enjoying historic levels of business optimism and have created jobs at the fastest pace in decades.”

However, while tax reform has sparked a surge in U.S. manufacturing, Netram also warned that efforts by politicians in Washington to roll back the law would directly threaten the past year and a half of record growth. 

Indeed, the March 2019 NAM survey found that, when asked about the impact of Congress potentially repealing pro-growth provisions in the tax law, two-thirds of respondents would consider reducing capital investments in the United States, and 54% and 62% said it might force them to have to scale back employment and wages and bonuses, respectively.

“It’s clear that adopting a more competitive tax system has boosted the industry,” Netram said. “It’s also clear that rolling back the benefits of tax reform would make it more difficult to further grow our thriving American manufacturing sector.”

Keeping Our Promise: Tax Reform Has More Winners – H.B. Fuller Employees Get Bonuses, Ownership Stake and Better Health Coverage

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Minnesota-based adhesives manufacturer H.B. Fuller is investing its tax reform savings in the most important part of its company: its employees.

“Our business is a business of people,” said Kimberlee Sinclair, H.B. Fuller’s Director of Global Communications. “So we made a decision to invest our tax savings two ways: by investing in our employees and by accelerating our debt paydown to benefit our investors.”

“The employee-focused investment is particularly important because it demonstrates our commitment to creating a great place to work. When we figured out what our 2019 tax savings would be, we decided that, rather than give people a one-time cash bonus, we would do something that could permanently improve people’s lives,” Sinclair said. “And, the biggest impact would be improving the benefits our employees receive.”

As of January 2019, H.B. Fuller will reimburse 100 percent of individual health insurance premiums for every employee making under $50,000 a year and 50 percent of premiums for those making between $50,000 and $60,000—many of them the men and women on H.B. Fuller’s shop floors.

In addition, more H.B. Fuller employees than ever before will have a chance to gain an ownership stake in the company through the employee stock ownership program.

“We expanded our stock program to a significant number of employees at a more junior level,” said Sinclair. “This allows our employees to have a personal stake in our success.”

But the expanded benefits don’t stop there: H.B. Fuller also enhanced its incentive bonus program to enable more employees to take home more money in their paychecks.

“Now, more employees are eligible for the company’s performance-based bonuses,” said Sinclair. “A segment of our plant workers, for example, will now be eligible to receive quarterly performance bonuses, and tax reform helped us make it a reality.”

Promoting Cybersecurity Necessary for Manufacturing 4.0

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This week in Chicago, the National Association of Manufacturers hosted more than 100 cybersecurity leaders from manufacturing organizations small and large at a Leading Edge-sponsored Cybersecurity Executive Forum. The event provided an opportunity for CISOs, CIOs, CTOs and technical experts to share experiences and discuss best practices for boosting manufacturers’ cybersecurity posture. Through deep dives on the cyber-threat landscape in 2019 and the changes in the industry brought by Manufacturing 4.0, including automation and rapid technological innovation, it is clear that cybersecurity remains a top priority for operational experts across our sector. As such, getting cybersecurity policy right should remain a priority for policymakers committed to ensuring the success of manufacturing in the digital age.

We need to be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead in order to properly address them, and manufacturers are ready to lead. According to a recent survey by the Manufacturing Leadership Council, a division of the NAM, more than 60 percent of manufacturers expect cyber-attacks to increase in 2019. As manufacturers incorporate new, connected technologies into their processes, operations and products, these cybersecurity experts know the entry points for bad actors multiply. These challenges are heightened for manufacturers in particular given the lengthy lifecycles of manufacturing equipment and products. To remain competitive, manufacturers are incorporating big data into their operations, and to do so successfully, they must connect legacy equipment securely.

Awareness of the cybersecurity challenge has increased across the industry, and manufacturers are committed to progress and thinking about security at the outset as the industry transitions to Manufacturing 4.0. Manufacturers know safety—just step onto a shop floor and you’ll see hard hats, hazard warnings and processes engineered with employee and client wellbeing in mind. We must now ensure the same posture for the digital side of shop floors. At this week’s event, the VP of IT Security for Schneider Electric, a leader in this space, highlighted that cybersecurity is progressing across manufacturing because companies are working to expand this well-established culture of safety to create a culture of security.

As manufacturers do their part, policymakers can help by continuing to recognize the leadership across industry in cybersecurity and the benefit of public-private collaboration in the face of common cyber threats. They should also work to increase the cost on cyber criminals, improve the sharing of cyber threat information to industry and take steps to develop a cybersecurity workforce for the future. Continued industry-led advances in cybersecurity also depend on having the right policies in place on data privacy and security, including replacing the regulatory burden that comes from a patchwork of regulations on IoT, privacy and security at the international and state level with appropriate federal policies. The NAM will continue to work with policymakers to pursue policies that allow manufacturers large and small to realize the wealth of benefits from Manufacturing 4.0.

Colorado Drug Importation Proposal is Misleading

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As states continue down a path to address rising health care costs, not all solutions for consideration have proven track records and the public should know that pharmaceutical drug importation is not only unproven, its legality is very unclear. To elected leaders, drug importation is a seemingly simple solution, but it comes without a full understanding of the value of innovation led by pharmaceutical manufacturers in America and the required federal role in this proposal. To date, no Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been willing to make a certification to permit drug importation. Why? Ultimately, the federal government is responsible for safeguarding Americans access to quality, safe prescription drugs
 
Canada does not have the same standards or long-established systems in place to protect patients to the same level we do here in the United States. The U.S. FDA recently issued a warning to one online operation for selling “unapproved, misbranded and unsafe imported drugs to unsuspecting Americans.” Counterfeiting is an issue that cannot be ignored. As Colorado continues the process to seek authorization to import Canadian prescription drugs, it undercuts health safety at the most basic levels. Colorado’s SB 5, like other state-led proposals, is a false promise to lower drug prices.
 
Manufacturers realize that rising health care costs are disruptive to families and businesses, and support efforts to increase access to affordable medicine. However, it cannot be at the expense of safety, quality or hard-fought intellectual property protections. The National Association of Manufacturers has and continues to oppose the importation of prescription drugs to ensure the protection of patients from lesser quality or counterfeit drugs.
 

President Trump Just Signed Two Executive Orders To Speed Up Energy Infrastructure Projects

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In a big win for U.S. manufacturing workers, President Trump signed two long-anticipated executive orders in Houston on Wednesday intended to cut red tape and speed up the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects. 

The first order takes aim at oft-overlooked laws and regulations that have plagued the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects. Chief among them are Clean Water Act water quality determinations known as “401 certifications” which have become political flash points for states and opposition groups in recent years. The order will also update regulations for the export of liquified natural gas (LNG), which have not been updated to keep pace with modern, state-of-the-art LNG export facilities. 

“Section 401 has been abused by states and project opponents, turning it into a tool of obstruction,” Ross Eisenberg, NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources, said. “This Executive Order will clarify the responsibilities of federal and state governments in administering Section 401 so that the statute is applied in a fair, uniform fashion.

The second order would clarify permitting for cross-border energy infrastructure and is intended to prevent future projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline from getting caught up in years of litigation, reviews, and delays. 

Together, these two executive orders will promote badly-needed development of infrastructure to meet U.S. energy demand, create and support jobs for U.S. manufacturing workers, and provide reliable and affordable energy to U.S. consumers.

“The NAM has consistently called for measures to accelerate the permitting process for new energy infrastructure for several years, and has actively called on the Trump Administration to improve the way federal and state agencies authorize these projects,” Eisenberg said. “Manufacturers need predictable permitting laws that tell us the rules of the road and how we can meet them.”

Modernizing and investing in America’s infrastructure is a top priority for manufacturers in the United States, who rely on critical infrastructure projects to connect with employees, work with suppliers, transport goods to market and increase productivity. When infrastructure fails to meet those needs, it negatively impacts growth.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) continues to rally support for broad-based, jobs-creating investment in expansion and modernization, including advocating increased public and private infrastructure funding, developing an interstate system focused on moving goods to market, investing in ports and inland waterways, supporting efforts to reduce traffic congestion and modernizing drinking water and wastewater systems as well as modernizing information and telecommunications infrastructure. Learn more about the NAM’s plan at NAM.org/BuildingToWin.

Interview with a STEP Ahead Award Winner: Elaine Thibodeau

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Elaine Thibodeau is the platform leader, manufacturing surgical vision at Johnson & Johnson. Below is an interview conducted for the NAM’s morning newsletter, Input.

Input: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you come to be interested in manufacturing?

Thibodeau: I always liked making things, building things. I used to make furniture for my Barbie Dolls with raisin boxes and pieces of wood, stuff lying around in the garage.

 I was good in math, and I had a couple of teachers that encouraged me, so I ended up in engineering. But when I graduated it wasn’t easy to find a job. After working for the Canadian government for a while I realized I wanted to work in private industry, and the same day that Johnson & Johnson offered me a job I had an offer from Continental Can. I said, “Well, I don’t know who Continental Can is, but I know who Johnson and Johnson is, so I’ll do that.”

I’ll have been with J&J for 30 years in June, which is hard to believe. I’ve made over-the-counter medications, did six years of marketing and sales, and then went back into supply chain. I’ve done orthopedics, diagnostics, cancer drug manufacturing, consumer medical devices. And when we purchased Abbott Medical Optics, I had the opportunity to become its manufacturing lead. I’ve been doing that for two years and love it.

Input: In terms of your early education, what do you think was most valuable in preparing you for a manufacturing career?

Thibodeau: My father was an electrician, and he used to take me along with him. He taught me a lot about troubleshooting and the dos and don’ts. I learned a lot from him.

And when I was a kid, I had building blocks and I liked to sew. I was always interested in putting things together. Later on, I had an excellent calculus teacher in high school—I used to ask him for extra homework. Manufacturing really brought together my crafty side and my love of science and math.

Input: At one point in your career, you had to take over a third-party plant while keeping the production of a cancer medication going. That sounds like a high-wire act. Can you tell me a little about that?

Thibodeau: The drug in question was on the shortage list, so we were under a lot of scrutiny—from the media and from the FDA. We made a deal with a supplier to take over a section of their plant because they were closing down their operations. We had to isolate it to create a clean environment, take on their employees, and negotiate with the FDA to make sure we were in the clear.  

And meanwhile, we had doctors telling us that due to the shortages we were asking them to play God with their patients. Some people would get medication, some wouldn’t. And that always stuck with me—it motivated me every day to do my job well.

Input: Let’s say you’re talking to a young person who hears this story and thinks: “I want to be able to do that someday.” How do you prepare early on in your career for challenges like that?

Thibodeau: It’s important to have opportunities to collaborate and get out of your comfort zone. I coach a lot of young people these days and say, “If the new job or the new project doesn’t scare you a little bit you’re probably going to be bored in six months.”

Input: Tell me a little about getting Puerto Rican manufacturing companies up and running after the hurricane.

Thibodeau: The personal stories of devastation are just heartbreaking—whether it’s property loss, or discovering a relative has died under terrible circumstances, or worrying about elderly parents. Plus, day-to-day life was just physically difficult—think about going five days without washing your hair. We had to take care of the people first, making sure they had what they needed to be safe, whether that was a generator or medicines or clothing or diapers.

Meanwhile, getting the plant back up and running was a great example of local collaboration. The site leader [at one J&J facility] works in an industrial park and joined forces with the other businesses there, making sure that everyone had gas and other essentials and that decisions made by one company didn’t cause problems for another. They treated each other as partners.

Input: What else can we do to inspire more young women to join the manufacturing industry?

Thibodeau: This is personal for me—I’ve got three nieces. I tried so hard, but not one of them went into engineering, though one is a scientist. I think we have to keep fighting the myth that a manufacturing career doesn’t marry well with having a family, and that it’s harder to do than some other jobs. We need to find opportunities to bring young women into our factories and give them early, positive experiences with the industry.

 

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