Millennials on Manufacturing
There are misperceptions about manufacturing — that it’s dark, dirty, and dangerous; an aging industry with no prestige — and these misperceptions push younger generations away from manufacturing work.
Jake Hall, AKA The Manufacturing Millennial, joins the show to talk about what the industry needs to do to challenge the status quo and attract young talent.
– The origin story of The Manufacturing Millennial
– Negative myths about manufacturing vs reality
– How new technology can attract younger generations to manufacturing
– How to identify what changes need to be made and implement them successfully
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Check out the full episode below:
[00:00:09] Josh Santo: All right, welcome to the show. Our next guest is known as “The Manufacturing Millennial,” which is a brand he started to highlight manufacturing processes in the industry to show manufacturers the benefits of industry 4.0, modernizations, and IoT and why these things are important. Through this, he believes that manufacturers will attract younger generations of the workforce because you’re adding the latest tech to your process, spelling the notion that manufacturing is a dirty, no-growth career that many misconstrue it to be.
We’re not connecting new generations to the economic staple that is manufacturing. He’s working tirelessly as a business development manager for Feyen Zylstra, please welcome Jake Hall, “The Manufacturing Millennial.” Jake, thank you so much for being on the show.
[00:01:02] Jake Hall: Absolutely, Josh, thanks for having me. It’s great conquering chaos. I’ve listened to your podcast now, all the episodes so far, so great to be the next one in line.
[00:01:12] Josh: Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I very much try to keep things engaging, but also bring that type of content that would appeal to people like yourselves, people who are thinking about, what are those things that are new? What are those changes that need to happen? How do we see around corners? I really appreciate hearing that that’s something you’ve been able to check out. Look, the first thing I want to start with is the same thing that I start with, with every the day in the life of “The Manufacturing Millennial.”
[00:01:44] Jake: Oh, man. If you were to ask me this question a year ago, it would’ve been completely different, for multiple reasons, but nowadays, I would say I’m getting woken up by my three-year-old at about 6:30 AM, we get morning snuggles in, the 11-month-old gets up a little bit later. We start our day with, of course, two cups of coffee, to really get things going, and ever since the pandemic, I’m working from home full-time. It’s hopping downstairs.
Here, my workstation, if you guys watch this slide, you got the workstation behind me. You guys can see. If not, you’re listening, I got an awesome industrial extrusion station behind me. I have the whole entire computer set-up where I get my meetings going and conversations happening with customers, checking my LinkedIn, and really just cranking through a day.
[00:02:33] Josh: It’s such a nice set-up, from what I can see there, not just the workstation, we talked about how you’re making room for a 3D printer, which is something I absolutely want to incorporate, and I have to highlight this chair that you’re sitting on is quite the spectacle to behold. It looks comfy. It also looks [crosstalk]
[00:02:56] Jake: It’s my throne. It’s a gamer’s chair. I got the full neck rest, or I want to sit back when we’re in one of those meetings, Josh, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. You’re in one of those meetings that could have been a five-minute email, so you just sit back a little bit, you kick out the leg rest, everyone’s got their webcam off already, you’re sitting back there and you’re just listening to a conversation and just relaxing.
[00:03:21] Josh: I like how you specifically got a gamer’s chair because talk about a product that was made for people to sit there and stare at a screen, and that’s exactly the route I went, I got to some glasses to block the blue light, and these are gamer glasses because you’re staring at the screen all the time, so the blue light blockers that I have are also gamer-inspired. Now, I need a [inaudible 00:03:46] my office, a Depot chair, but I need to go for the GamerGear as well.
[00:03:52] Jake: Nice, I have the blue light filter on my phone so that works the same way but never tried the glasses before.
[00:04:00] Josh: Oh, yes, it’s great. Although look, they’re not the fanciest-looking things. I really wish they were something a little more modern-looking, and it didn’t make me look so nerdy, but I have to say, I have noticed a difference staring at the screen. Previously, my eyes would just feel just drained. I wouldn’t be tired, but I would feel like I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and after doing some research, it sounded like blue light was the source of that. I got these blockers, and it’s been pretty good ever since.
The manufacturing millennial, this is one of the things I want to start with because I want to make sure that our audience and our listeners have an understanding of who you are and what you do. What I am always fascinated by is people’s stories, and I think that that’s why my path has gone the way it has, but I want to hear about your path. Every hero has an origin story. Every hero has that call to action that helps them realize that the world has a need and that they have the power to fulfill that need. Let’s hear your origin story.
[00:05:05] Jake: Yes, absolutely. Let’s step back nine years in time wrapping up college with my manufacturing engineering degree, and I’m entering the workforce as a degreed engineer. I started working in the industrial distribution world, an automation distributor selling light curtains, PLCs, robots, safety equipment, and really, it’s an awesome experience for me. I get to go to all these machine builders, all these end-users, and we’ll get knowledge.
I had a really rapid basis of not just working at one company or with one company but 50 of them, 60 of them here in Michigan. As I’m growing and becoming more knowledgeable in the area, eventually, I started going to these events that my distributor was a part of called AHTD, the Association of High Technology Distribution. It’s an awesome organization where there’s a bunch of different distributors that get together twice a year and are involved with that.
This happened about, I would say, two years ago, or so, Josh, where I’m really sitting in this room, and I’m listening to an awesome keynote speaker, and they’re talking about challenging yourself and looking at the status quo bets in your industry and challenging it. How are you making change within the industry? For me these events now for five years, and every time I look across the room, I’m the only millennial or young generation person in this room.
I said, “This is ridiculous. Why is this industry so underrepresented and not only at this organization but manufacturing and the younger Gen Zs, in general? The name of the Manufacturer Millennial came out with, okay, I’m a millennial, I’m super-passionate about manufacturing, all different types of manufacturing processes, and what they’re evolved. I’m going to title myself the how the name started. Now, I really started to jump on that actually when the pandemic happened.
In automation sales, I’m going around. Most of my day-to-day business is handshakes with customers, going to different end-users, going to different machine-builders, talking and looking at their processes and their problems, and coming up with solutions. When the pandemic happened, I couldn’t get into these places anymore. They were shut down, the engineers or the designers, they’re all working from home, they brought their workstations home, and I couldn’t get that face-to-face interaction before.
I said I need to find a way to do what I call a soft touch. Webinars and emails were great for the first month. Everyone wanted to be a part of them and participate in them, but after that, people got sick of it. I said, “How do I stay in front of my customers’ faces without being aggressive about it?” I turned to LinkedIn as the solution. “I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to start just making noise, where they get to see my name. They’re going to see what I’m involved with.”
I started posting and talking about manufacturing processes and highlighting videos, and from that, it’s really grown where it wasn’t just my customers watching anymore. I started to pick up more and more followers, and right around a year timeline, Josh, I’ve grown to about 18,000 followers, again, and just capped over 4 million views within all my content in a year’s period of time.
It’s super exciting to see how what I thought was going to be just a niche thing has grown to really a representation of the passion about automation and manufacturing across the entire industry and the world, not just my little corner of Michigan that I was in before.
[00:08:38] Josh: The videos that you show, what I love about them is, one, they’re short, and they’re to the point, but they’re also highlighting behind the scenes of very popular products that you might find somewhere in your house. I love that, I love seeing, where did this snack that I’m about to hear come from? Where did this box of matches that I have to use, especially being here in Texas? We recently got really shut down by the winter storm that came through.
We were completely unprepared. One of the things that I had to rely on was a box of matches and then I saw, I think you posted a video about matches being made. I was like, “Oh, wow, it’s good to see where that came from and how that has somehow come in and started to impact my life and came to me in a time of need,” and that’s one of the things that I’m sure we’ll get to in a little bit.
I do want to follow up on two themes in your origin story that stood out to me, it was that idea of challenging the status quo and then that idea of making sure that the younger generation millennials and now Gen Z as they’re entering the workforce, that they were represented as well, and I want to dig into those two topics. Why is it important to have a conversation about challenging the status quo?
[00:10:00] Jake: I think it goes into manufacturing for so long, like what you said in the introduction, it has always been viewed as a dark, and dangerous environment, the three Ds, and it’s not that case anymore. When we go back to those videos, Josh, the reason why I shared those videos is I would say, “Listen, there’s so much more to manufacturing than what you think is out there.”
When people think of manufacturing, they say, “Oh, I’m working in the super-dirty, loud factory where there’s just cars going down assembly lines. That’s all they’re doing every day, and there’s minimal lighting, and the lights are flickering, and there’s smoke.” That’s not what manufacturing is. That’s a portion of it. Then you see a lot of that in the automotive or heavy manufacturing industries, but there’s manufacturing that comes into making a screwdriver or matchbox lighters or packaging your sweet peppers that are going into your container at your grocery store, there’s so much more to manufacturing we see.
If you look at challenging the status quo, it’s bringing awareness to our generation, Josh, right, you and I being millennials and the next generation and saying, “No, listen, manufacturing is so much more in terms of industry capability and diversity but also the products and solutions within manufacturing.” It’s not just robots and welding that’s happening in manufacturing. There’s IoT, there’s additive manufacturing, a 3D printer.
There’s data monitoring, there’s blockchain. There’s so much ARV more to manufacturing and solutions than just what we think of as manufacturing. By bringing awareness to that on not only our viewer level of millennials but also manufacturers, who have not necessarily implemented these solutions, it’s going to create more awareness and conversation.
When we look at manufacturers, who’ve been around for a long time, 40, 50 years, a lot of these same processes have been in the same place. I think there’s a number out there. I have to find the exact one. I think it’s 22 years of the average age for industrial equipment on the floor, for manufacturing facilities, 22 years.
[00:12:23] Josh: 22 years? Wow.
[00:12:25] Jake: A machine built, that’s still running now, was built in the 20th century, in the 1900-something. That just talks about how old that product is. We don’t have a car that old, we don’t have a cell phone that old. Most of us might not even live in a house or an apartment that is that old, yet these manufacturing equipments are still making a product that’s that old.
How can companies take that process and begin to put new technology onto it? That’s what I love to share with them. How can you take an old product and modernize it or change the way the process is happening to make it more attractive to the next generation?
[00:13:07] Josh: Understood. It sounds like challenging the status quo and bringing in that representation or just bringing it into youth, in general, those two are really tightly connected because you have to change the way that you’re doing things. Then you got to bring the people in and then, to what you’re doing and not bringing it up, you have to share what’s happening.
I know that we’re going to get into this, but there’s a bit of a marketing problem when it comes to the image and the brand of manufacturing as an industry. I think that’s a great topic for you and I to dig into, being millennials because we’ve had two different career paths. When I got started, I got out of college. I was lacking direction. It wasn’t because I didn’t have people providing suggestions or providing some sort of influence.
I think that there were a number of things that factored into me not really having any idea about what I want to do or more importantly, at the time, what I was meant to do. There was some cosmic-driven purpose in meaning that I could find with the work. I just stumbled around. I worked as a valet, and I met a medic customer there who was on his way to welcome the newly elected state’s House of Representatives here in Texas.
I welcomed that representative, and I mentioned I was trying to get an internship because I studied political science, and he gave that representative my information. That led to an internship at the Capitol. Once I got into politics, I realized I didn’t want anything to do with politics. The chief of staff there introduced me to his brother, who worked at Apple at the time, and that’s how I got into the tech world.
I started in technical customer support, and through a series of jobs, promotions, career changes, I ended up at Parsable, where I did find a passion for serving manufacturers, something that I’d never expected to actually find. That’s some of the things I want to talk about is, as a millennial who didn’t grow up around the manufacturing industry but still had a perception based off, largely, popular culture at the time, what was represented in the media, or what was reported on, or just the events that happened during the time that we were grown up, that’s what led to a lot of these perceptions that I, much like other millennials and, to a degree, even Gen Z, have as well.
Some of those we’ve already touched on, which is the factory environment, right, the factories being dirty, the three Ds, I already forgot the three Ds that you had said but also behind-the-times. That was absolutely something that I had in my mind. It’s almost further supported by the statistic that you just brought up of, on average, the machines being almost 22 years old, which I’m going to have to check you as a millennial, almost 22 years ago, that’s almost 2000. That’s just barely 1999, no longer in the 1900s, but I’m sure you, like myself, when you think 22 years ago, you’re thinking like the ’80s or something like that. That’s certainly where my mind goes.
[00:16:20] Jake: Exactly, right. You say, “Man, I am really old.”
[00:16:24] Josh: Yes. We’ll say that for the end-of-call wrap. Another perception that I had about manufacturing was the stability of the career. I feel like if I were to bring that up, it would be countered with, “Well, look at this, that” because you can have a really great career in manufacturing, but at the time, what I recall seeing a lot of portrayals of and a lot of reports on where layoffs, specifically, plant closures and how that would impact the community.
Then not just that, it was the offshoring of jobs and the offshoring of manufacturing, in general. I saw that as like, “Look, it’s just a matter of time before I find myself without a job.” That’s not something I wanted to put myself into. I also had these perceptions that the pay was going to be lower, especially in comparison to the other opportunities that were really discussed in the trajectory of like, “Okay, you’re in high school. You can go to college, you can study these things.”
One of the things that I was balancing is, “What do I want to do? What am I good at? How much am I going to get paid?” Manufacturing didn’t make it onto the list in that type of exploration. Prestige, something that’s very important to our generation and Gen Z with the rise of social media, I hate to say it, but it’s the attention that you get. It’s the recognition, it’s the acknowledgment.
I had this perception, a lot of times based off of the depictions that I would see in pop culture, of, “Yes, this job is important, but you’re not getting the same type of accolades that you see with, let’s say, celebrities,” which is an unfair comparison, admittedly. Our generation grew up with closer access to these figures that influenced, way more than in previous generations, what we looked for and what we tried to pursue.
When I looked at the education options, trade school was never presented as something that I should pursue. In fact, my parents were determined to get me into college because they struggled without the college degree. They saw how they encountered obstacles. They were overlooked for promotions. They weren’t qualified for certain opportunities because they didn’t have that education. It was always, “You have to go to college.”
Manufacturing and college didn’t register with me at that time. Then the final point I’ll make and then I’ll stop talking because you’re the guests on the show but I’m running my mouth a lot right now is a social responsibility. That was a concern that I had seen. To break that down a little bit more, it was the reports about slave labor, for example. Just the fact that unions have to exist to protect the rights of employees was always something that was concerning to me.
Those were some of the perceptions that I, as a millennial, had. You had a totally different career path. I think it’d be great if we could dig into those and dispel the topics that we can and really just make sure that we get that message out there, of, what is the negative perception, and what is the reality?
[00:19:42] Jake: Let’s jump into prestige right away. I like this topic a lot because I think it goes hand in hand with what I do in the world of manufacturing. I would say a majority of people have no idea, everyday products they use in real life, how are they manufactured? Everything from their phone to the Amazon Alexa that sits inside of their house, to the computer they use, to the chair they sit on, to the fork they bite and eat from, they have no idea.
I think what’s happening right now is social media is really pushing manufacturing as a– There’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes that was never shared before. When you look at some of the most prestigious companies to work for, maybe this is me because I’m a big SpaceX nerd, but SpaceX is manufacturing and building rockets. Everyone talks about it. They love it.
I haven’t met a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I don’t like talking about that subject. That’s not cool at all.” It’s fantastic because it’s leading-edge in the technology they’re pushing. I see more companies as well in the manufacturing world beginning to do that for a process that was very mundane or repetitive or dirty, they’re now taking robotics, and they’re implementing in those solutions.
They’re now taking high-speed manufacturing and sorting processes that were very labor-intensive to the operator and caused long-term health stuff to them picking and moving product all the time. Prestige is something I think is having a lot more in the manufacturing industry on products that are out there. We’re in the middle of the pandemic, you look at places like Pfizer.
Pfizer was a company that was never brought up before, Johnson&Johnson was tough. All of a sudden, more manufacturing processes are becoming relevant to our industry. I think more people can name manufacturers now than what they did 5 or 10 years ago. That’s because I think manufacturing is becoming more into the everyday discussion, not necessarily around the controversial companies going overseas and reshoring and resourcing.
I think manufacturers, as a whole, are doing a lot better job in a social reach of “This is a story that we’re doing.” That’s the big thing I’m doing on LinkedIn, working with other companies and saying, “Listen, you need to make that social and community reach that maybe was only services companies that they did before, from a B2C perspective.” That’s really cool.
Pay, lower pay compared to other jobs, I know so many places right now, and this is the time that we’re in, but long-term as well, I have not met a starting wage at any other place that has now been as competitive as manufacturing, where you’re talking about a non-four-year degree, non-two-year degree associate. If you want to get going and making money right away, I know places here in West Michigan right now that are paying $24 an hour starting pay to work in a manufacturing plant right now.
Granted, yes. Is it a long-term saying people can live off of $24 an hour? That’s another social topic, in general. What I am saying, though, is manufacturing as a career and stability, I believe, offers more opportunity to move up within the organization than any other profession. If you’re out there as a line worker, you have the ability to move up to a line supervisor, to move up to a cell area, to move up to a plant person, and move up within a company.
I truly believe that manufacturing offers, more than any other industry, the ability to move up within a career rapidly by doing the work. I think that’s a disbelief where people are like, “I don’t know if that exists or all that.” I really believe that manufacturing offers those abilities. When you talk about factory environment, it was another topic that you brought up right away. We’ve already discussed about that dirty, behind-the-times.
I see manufacturers right now beginning to implement solutions, like we talked about, with Industry 4.0 and IoT solutions than ever before. Industry 4.0 is not a new idea or topic. It’s been around for 20 years, but what’s happening right now is all of their resources are becoming available to manufacturers to actually implement these on a cost justification level and a resource level.
The cloud wasn’t really a thing 5 or 10 years ago; now it is. Now, I can take all of my machine data and all that stuff, and be able to bring those up to a cloud where we couldn’t before. I can now take additive manufacturing, before which was a hobby thing that cost $5,000 to print a really rough half-millimeter step on plastic parts. Now, I am watching videos of automotive manufacturers, 3D-print titanium for brake caliper housings, or literally, rockets that are going to go to space are being 3D-printed instead of having subtractive manufacturing done to it.
These technologies are now finally catching up to the point where manufacturers can begin to implement solutions. Let’s talk about prescriptions. COVID, everyone’s talking about right there. How do you verify, after this process has been manufactured, that it has been shipped under temperature and reached all of these different facilities, part of that manufacturing process?
Blockchain, the same blockchain that’s used in cryptocurrency for data credibility, for Bitcoin, and all these places, these same solutions are now being implemented within Pfizer vaccinations to verify that the data going through a process being shipped to a vaccination clinic is true. All these technologies that have always been elsewhere in different industries are now coming to manufacturing.
When you look at those solutions and technology, the same thing with Parsable. Now, you have the ability to, instead of having paper, and I’m holding paper in front of me for those of you watching live, instead of having instructions when you go up to a bulletin board, pull off your job and your work instructions for that day to go on that cell, it’s now sent to you on a phone or a tablet.
That’s the stuff that is changing, and it’s really making manufacturing exciting. I have such a passion for talking about the manufacturer millennial is bringing awareness to people who have always had this idea that manufacturing is this old, aging industry. It’s a leading industry now across the board. Another topic you had, I think it was going to education. Was that one, Josh?
[00:26:45] Josh: It was.
[00:26:48] Jake: Education, right? I went and got a four-year engineering degree. People in my position don’t need that anymore. You can go to a two-year trade school even a college. There’s a great organization down in Eastern Kentucky called eKAMI where they’re taking coal miners and training them how to program robots and use CNC coding and fabrication.
They’re taking people from a completely different industry, and solutions now are allowed to take a person who has been in the industry for 40 years, and now they’re a robot programmer. Education can now be done on a super-simplified level. You don’t need a four-year electrical engineering degree to program a PLC. You can hop on YouTube and learn how to program a PLC now.
You can go to a class and learn how to program a robot. You can go to a school for a week and learn how to write G-code for a CNC machine. That’s what’s awesome about manufacturing now is the resources available through the internet and web and all these other foundations and organizations are making manufacturing skillsets a lot more readily available that isn’t “behind a four-year degree.” You don’t need that anymore. That’s what I like about the whole manufacturing is the educational system has evolved to meet the demand for labor.
[00:28:15] Josh: I want to break into each of those topics as well, but you ended that with–This is what I like about the manufacturing industry. I think that that’s probably one of the most important topics because I think each of those can tie into someone’s, “Here’s what I like,” or “Here’s why it appeals to me.” For me, what I uncovered that I love besides– If you ever watched some of these machines run, I’m just fascinated mankind built these machines and the hypnotic effect that they have.
I’ve been to some of our customer sites, and I’ve just watched some of these machines. I’m telling you, I could just awe at how this machine delicately picks up six products in the span of two seconds and precisely places. It’s not like it goes in the same spot every time, the machine itself reacting to whatever, it’s sensing, and it’s reacting. It’s just fascinating to me that.
My ultimate why of what I found that really resonates with me about manufacturing is this culture and this spirit of continuous improvement. That’s something that’s very important to me on a personal level, which is, “How can I improve? What didn’t go the way that I expected it to? I develop myself and become better, or who do I need to work with to develop that?”
That spirit out of any of the industries that I’ve worked with because I’ve been able to work with manufacturing, oil and gas, tech as well, manufacturing really brought that spirit to life, of like, “How do we improve, and how do we make the improvements that are going to be the most impactful for our operation as a whole, for our people who are adding the value to the operation, for our customers who are receiving the impact of all of these efforts?” and that’s something that really ended up appealing to me.
You brought up really how COVID has put a renewed focused on manufacturing, specifically because it showed how important the supply chain was, how important the people who are working within that plant is. When we’re talking about prestige, this past year, think the frontline workers, and it’s not just the nurses and doctors, but it’s the people who are producing the protective equipment that those nurses and doctors are relying on in order to stay safe.
It’s the same stuff that was built or that was produced to keep us safe during this, and if you have people who are going there every day, who are making that, and there was some of the prestige that was discovered with that but I think it also opened–
[00:30:58] Jake: I can’t tell you how many. Really quickly, up in West Michigan, we have a ton of microbreweries. One of the most fun things was seeing all those microbreweries change from making beer to hand sanitizer. I worked probably the June-July time frame or maybe even before that, going to all these different facilities and seeing these workers who were literally master brewers now making hand sanitizer and bottling them.
That’s what I love about manufacturing because brewing is manufacturing, you’re still making a product. I don’t think people realize that I was actually on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about interviewing how the brewing and beverage industry is changing with automation but just to see how people begin to recognize stuff more, as you were just saying with empowering workers and all that stuff, where manufacturing when the pandemic came, of making PPE, making face masks, making shields.
I knew every single machine-builder who had a 3D printer was making face guards and face shields and stuff like that for frontline workers where there was local machine-builders that were literally laser-cutting out plexiglass or whatever the plastic in front of the thing, and making hand shields were literally shipping out thousands and thousands of face shields to hospitals that a manufacturer did, who never did that in their life before but in a one-week period of time, they completely made a new manufacturing process and adapted to it, and that’s what I love about manufacturing, in fact.
[00:32:42] Josh: Which is not easy to do. There’s so many different pieces and components to that, it’s not just, “What do we have to build? but it’s “Okay, how do we actually run this successfully? What is the equipment that we have? Do the people know how to run the equipment in this way? How do we make sure that people have that understanding they need to safely and efficiently do this?”
You mentioned the example of blockchain and tracking the Pfizer doses, for example, and the vaccines, but it also brings up that idea of just how, more and more, everything is becoming connected and how everything needs to be followed down to “It ended up here. This particular product ended up in this store, and it was purchased by this individual information, but you can track it from the raw material all the way to the purchase at the end of the day and how important that that becomes.
To do that, and this is back to some of the ideas that you’re bringing up, you do have to challenge some of the status quos. People are very resistant to, one, share data, which makes sense, data does need to be protected, but you brought up blockchain and the protections that come with that by default, but it’s also just, are you thinking about how to leverage these improvements in technology to improve the operations, to not just have this impact but, to the point that you also brought up, to appeal to the next generation of manufacturing, because it has to be both? This is what the next generation of manufacturing looks like, and all of these tasks and processes are going to be performed by the next generation of manufacturers.
[00:34:27] Jake: Yes, 100%.
[00:34:32] Josh: In that regard, let’s talk about some of that technology, let’s talk about some specific areas of focus that need to be revisited or examined, explored that you typically see with regards to how technology can not just help your operation but serve you in this connected supply chain, as well as serve you to help make an environment that’s going to be more appealing to that next generation of manufacturers.
[00:35:08] Jake: Yes, absolutely, and I think it’s a twofold thing. When we talk about, and I think we really mentioned this so far is there’s a massive labor shortage right now in the manufacturing industry. Companies, right now, are trying to find new ways to attract employees to come work for them, but they also are trying to focus on labor retention.
I think that’s the one thing that I always see companies look at and say, “Okay, how can we get more and more people to come work for us?”
An honest question you should be asking, how do we ensure that people who are already working for us are staying there? How can you make your current employee’s life, man, I’m asking this to the manufacturers who are listening to this podcast right now, what can you do to make your line workers, your people who are running your facilities’ lives easier and less stressful?
How can you begin to automate their process or certain tasks where they begin to enjoy that working environment more? I think implementing technology does that, using data traceability, I would say Parsable for instructions that way. What that allows us to do is an operator who walks into their job and there’s a task or a company that has a lot of different skews that’s constantly changing over product lines and manufacturing processes, how do you reduce the stress that they have on their line, where they’re not going out there and spending 45 minutes, how to run a machine 45 minutes, how to get product going, where they can look at instructions to get going right away so they’re less stressed about trying to figure stuff out?
They become more independent within their facility. Automation solves those needs, Parsable and work instructions and stuff like that, or augmented reality and virtual reality, or taking a collaborative robot that was doing the stacking and palletizing instead of an operator lifting up this box and doing it, they put the product in the box, and they pass it down to a robot that does that.
That’s I think what we can look at addressing is how automation or we could almost say flexible automation is working alongside an operator, not independently from it. That’s where I see success happening within the industry. You look at the example like DHL logistics company, instead of having operators go out there and pick all this product off from different facilities to go out from a distribution center and then hold a route, they grab it, they put it on a robot and then the robot drives away.
You don’t have an operator pushing around a heavy cart all the time. That task still has to be done by an operator. The technology is not out there to go out, grab a screwdriver from a bin that someone ordered into a box, and then package up, automation can’t do that. You still need an operator, but what you did is you just made the operator’s life a lot easier, not having to drive or pusher a cart or have a cart around the entire day.
How automation and operators can interact with each other in automation is where a lot of success happens within employee retention. You’re putting less stress, less work on them, but then you’re making that job to the next employee a lot more attractive. They don’t have to push that cart around. They just have to place that product and put it in a robot, and that’s what attracts a lot of people, too.
If you say, “What do you do all day?” “Oh, I work with robots.” That’s pretty exciting rather than saying, “I push around the cart all day.” That goes back to the whole perception thing about manufacturing and warehouse and distribution.
[00:39:02] Josh: There’s a couple of key points in there that I think are really powerful. First is the theme that you’re describing is this person-first approach because everything you described had a focus on, how is this technology going to empower the individual that you need operating in the lines or performing the tasks within the factory? I think that that’s one key point that I want to highlight.
You mentioned several different types of technology, but they all shared the common goal of serving that individual. I think that that’s a key piece because I’ve had to have this conversation with a lot of different people who were interested in exploring digital solutions, and you have to focus, the person has to be the first priority there and their relationship with all the different solutions because you are going to need multiple different solutions when we’re talking about evolving the factory or bringing that
into next generation of manufacturing, but that mindset of how do we put the people first is going to be critical. On —
[00:40:08] Jake: To add onto that real quickly, Josh. I’m going to tie a little bit about what I do within the business development side. We can go into a manufacturer and we can implement a million dollar machine upgrade system that has all this OEE data traceability, IoT solutions. Unless the company as a whole culturally wise adapts that technology, it won’t be successful. We can give them all the data in the world. So when companies are out there looking at implementing automation, you need to ask yourself, how am I making this as friendly to the user as possible? How am I creating a solution around your worker now for your worker to adapt to?
If you can create a solution around making it flexible, that’s where you can find the most productivity and success, but also customer you know your current employee happiness, right? Automation should make workers’ lives easier, not harder. The bottom line is if you’re trying to implement automation for the bottom line and you’re making your workers’ tasks more difficult, those workers aren’t going to be your workers for long, you’re going to battle the same exact problem that you’re trying to solve by implementing more technology.
[00:41:31] Josh: Yes. You can’t implement tech just for the sake of tech, right?
[00:41:35] Jake: Absolutely.
[00:41:36] Josh: If people don’t want to use the tech or they don’t want to use the solution, they’re not going to. However, it may seem like they’re using it, right, but that comes down to that idea of, what’s just being checked off, what are people saying that they’re doing because they know that it’s important to someone else and they don’t want to get in trouble, they don’t want to have any problems. I can just say, okay, yes, it’s going fine, but ultimately you’re not going to see the value that you thought you were going to get from that tech itself. One of the points that you had brought up earlier is along the ideas of this goes a long way with retaining people.
Look, our generation, there’s a lot of studies that show that we are some of the least likely to stick in a position for long or stick with a particular company for long. I think the average is two to five years, we’re looking for a change. I think that’s just something that manufacturers and really just all companies are going to have to accept that, that’s just what’s going to happen. You have to be able to prepare for that. You do have to be prepared for that turnover and you have to do what’s with to provide that environment that people are going to want to stick around and stay.
Some of the things that this brings to mind for me, especially with regards to technology and keeping people engaged but modernizing, one of the biggest resistances I’ve encountered just with change, something that is counter to the spirit of continuous improvement is this idea of, well, this is how we do it, or this is how it’s been done. Now we’re entering a time in technology where you can really ask yourself, what is the ideal way to do this, right?
Because like you said, there’s machines– I’ve been to a factory and they had forklifts that would bring the product, but no one was in the forklift and to bring it right where it needed to go or the raw material, I should say, not the product. It would put there right in front of the line, but there’s this opportunity to really explore, how do we change that status quo back to way that it’s both beneficial to our operations, as well as the people that were looking to take over and help us out? How do we leverage the current people in the workforce to do that?
Because you mentioned upscaling initiatives and there’s studies that show that most employees welcome that upscaling, right? Whether it is that example that you provide of learning G-code quickly and being able to program, studies show that there’s a disconnect between the employees who are looking for that type of that upscaling, versus management and their perception of whether or not employees are looking for that. What are your thoughts as far as that changing some of those perceptions to both with the employees to make it more easy to implement change as well as management and how they look at what changes should be made?
[00:44:47] Jake: So how to implement those, so I’m actually understanding your question. How to implement those changes more successfully?
[00:44:56] Josh: How to identify what changes need to be made and then implement those changes more successfully.
[00:45:08] Jake: Oh man. It goes back to– It’s hard, right? Because there’s not one answer. It all depends on your current circumstances, where you’re at. What I like to do when I’m going into a manufacturer, is I like to do an automation roadmap. Before you can even begin to create suggestions or solutions, you need to understand the process that’s happening. You need to look at where, and I can’t remember, Josh, you might know, what is the Japanese terminology or word for when you walk on the floor and you will look at a process and identify– [crosstalk]
[00:45:47] Josh: The Gemba Walk?
[00:45:52] Jake: Yes, thank you. It’s that. It’s you need to go out and do the Gemba Walk. You will go out there and unless you’re out there engaging with that employee and you’re asking, what you’re doing, watching their process, and saying what is holding you back, you will not make change. Because let’s face it, high-level guys, they can think they know the solution, but if they’re not doing that Gemba Walk or asking those conversations, or working with the operator who’s building that product and say, where are your struggles, where are your downfalls? Or where your downfalls are, but what are you struggling with in your process and where are you getting the most resistance or difficulty, you can implement the solution.
I can’t say there’s one answer to it, but what I can say is you need to take personal responsibility and engage with the people who are directly looking at those processes and get feedback that way. Because either you’re going to find out really quickly, the person who’s the most knowledgeable about a solution is the one that has hands-on all day, not the manager who’s running that line.
[00:46:57] Josh: Well, I’m going to say that you did, in a sense, provide that one thing that you need to do. That’s that idea of a roadmap, right? You started with that build that automation roadmap. I think that that’s, what’s going to be true for anyone looking to “digitally transform”. I put that in quotes because it’s such a buzzword right now, but the idea ultimately becoming, you need to put together your own roadmap for your organization, for your factory, that has these people and their skillsets. It will always be tailored to you. While there might be overlap with similar strategies, there does have to be that focus of what’s unique to you. You’ll never get past that.
Then to your point, being out there on the floor and observing. It’s almost like you’re observing with the eyes in the mindset of a child or a beginner. You don’t want to take things for granted and questioning, why are we doing things that way, you can get to that understanding because blank, blank, blank. It’s almost like you’re doing five why’s. Even if the product’s running well, there’s always something that can be done better or some way to challenge that again, the status quo and coming down to why do we do it this way, why do we do it this way? Why do we do it this way?
Okay. That was the solution we implemented at the time because we had these constraints in place at the time. Do we still have these constraints? Is it time to now look at how we can leverage something new like automation, right? That then comes into how do you build that automation roadmap, but it’s going to be the same for all of the technological pursuits is we have to get rid of paper as a base starting point. Because paper was always a workaround for a lack of something else, especially now that we’re moving into that more connected experience, we have to provide a way for the experienced people to share their knowledge.
Previously, the generations would stick around for 30 years. It’s in here. In some cases, people are afraid to share that information because if I share that information, do I no longer bring value? I no longer bring value, do I no longer have a job, right? Why do people think that way? How do we make sure that people recognize that they are very much appreciated and valued and needed, and their impacts can be seen? It’s not just a Gemba Walk of what’s going on with our current production, but it’s really what things did we have to make compromise on before because the technology just wasn’t there.
[00:49:24] Jake: Yes. Absolutely. If there’s one thing that I could say coming out of this conversation as well is the five whys is a great resource. I’m so glad you brought that up, Josh, where if you guys are not familiar with the five why process, listening to this conversation right now, please look it up. It will change how you guys look at your manufacturing process and handle solutions. For me, that is absolutely phenomenal.
Then, same exact thing, Josh, I love how you mentioned the idea of paper on a manufacturing floor. Paper is a means to hold down information when it could be communicated or it’s not able to be stored in the knowledge base. I think paper on a manufacturing floor is one of the biggest ways because it gets dirty, it gets lost. You never know what the most recent updated–
Here’s a funny story I have for you. I was at a manufacturing places that was doing injection molding, and they completely ran through an updated process of how to run through a critical set-up on a machine. They ran through, implemented all out, changed all the workbooks out and all that stuff, but what was happening was is they found out that each operator had their own book and they were still using their own paper copy of a machine startup process and that’s why things kept breaking. It took them almost two-and-a-half weeks to realize that they had an old revision of a machine set-up that the person brought to work back and forth every day.
Because it’s a paper, whatever version or firmware or speaking firmware as if it’s a paper product, but whatever revision you have is what you’re going to be held to where that’s where software’s really beginning to develop within processes as well, is that you as a manufacturer have control over that so you can make sure that standards are always kept up to date. That’s why that paper process just destroyed that company’s, not destroyed, but it really hurt the manufacturing in downtime because they didn’t have revision and set-up control across all their different workers and shifts.
[00:51:40] Josh: Absolutely. It comes down to the fact that it’s a workaround. The employee that’s carrying that outdated version, they’re not doing it because of any malintent, it’s because well, that’s what’s easier at this point. It’s easier for me to just keep this as opposed to go and get that. Well, why is it easier? It’s easier because now I have to go and log into the system that I hate using and try to find it and then find out if that’s the right version and then print it out. Okay, well, why is that that way? Well, because I don’t have anything that I can take with me that does blank, blank.
You could just keep going and really examine how much of your current day operation is a workaround for not having the technology at the time that could provide that ideal scenario. It’s an interesting– [crosstalk]
[00:52:24] Jake: You walk into a machine builder who’s making custom large automation equipment. Why is it the machine builder who’s putting that machine together is on a computer at a workstation, watching a live revision download and they’re not printing off all of these drawings? It’s because of revision control. Things are constantly changing and being upgraded. If I’m designing something in solid works, my machine guy in the floor is using, I forgot what solid works viewer something, 3D assembly or something like that. They’re looking at the live revision and control over that.
As things updated, it automatically happens to the operator and 20 years ago that wasn’t the case, but that shows how automation and technology solutions are being implemented, the processes to improve the overall quality, and streamline. That’s the exact same thing with paper-based instructions, paper-based set-up, it’s all old control that you have no portfolio, it’s all old processes that you have no revision or control over.
[00:53:34] Josh: Absolutely. Sometimes it can be hard to break down and really see through those beginner’s eyes, but I would recommend for anyone listening to this that take inspiration from your own personal life. How do you interact with the world these days? How do you get those updates? Well, for me, it’s the iPhone that I use or it’s the Alexa that I have. I can turn on my lights here in the house, I can open my garage door, I can lock my front door, I can turn the oven on and I don’t even have to be at the house.
What I’m really emphasizing is that connected experience there, the automation that we see as far as information shared between different programs that I use in my life to manage whether it’s my bills or the pay that I’m coming in, or managing my grocery budget or whatever, there’s just so many opportunities for taking inspiration in our everyday lives.
[00:54:33] Jake: Josh, here’s a great question for you, and you might know the answer. If I’m a manufacturer and I’m implementing an automation change or I’m looking at buying something, what are the only two reasons people would take a new product or buy a new solution?
[00:54:56] Josh: You’re saying from the perspective of a manufacturing, considering the solution?
[00:55:00] Jake: Yes, why would operations or a plant manager, whoever, want to implement a new solution? There’s two reasons.
[00:55:09] Josh: Please check me on this because I hate to be wrong, but I’m going to say to either make money or save money is what it’s going to come down to.
[00:55:20] Jake: Yes, exactly. It’s make money, greed, and the other one is risk. People want to implement new processes to either reduce risk or for greed, personal growth. Greed as the idea of I’m taking a process and I’m making it better, I’m making it more profitable. I’m improving something so they’re getting recognized, or I’m reducing the risk that could happen.
People do, and like I said, going back to where I work, people do PLC upgrades and modernization and migration, not because they just want, the latest thing is because there’s risk having a 20-year-old technology or PLC on your floor that you can’t even buy parts for anymore. There’s risk to that. When people implement preventative maintenance or condition monitoring, there’s a sense of risk because if that line goes down, that machine fails, that motor goes out on that conveyor line so the production stops, you’re reducing risk.
People implement also new technology because of a sense of greed where they want to make a better process that’s going to attract more people down the road and create a higher quality of manufacturing where there’s greed. That’s the two things, people either buy on reduction of risk or personal greed.
[00:56:48] Josh: Risk is such a key factor. I think this is going to be an interesting question to you now. You talked about risk as far as, how does it motivate somebody to bring something in, to change something? What about the risk of not doing something? Any thoughts on what is the risk of not revisiting the status quo or not making your operation more appealing to the younger generation?
[00:57:13] Jake: I’m going to say I am very confident when I say this, manufacturing companies who do not automate and have the capability to automate will not be around. Automation is not so much trying, automation’s not a reduction of labor and more, it’s automation and implementing industry 4.0 technologies as a way of staying modern. Let’s step back real quick, small to medium-size manufacturers represent like 92% to 93% of all manufacturing here in the United States.
Small to medium-sized manufacturers, companies under 75 employees represent 92% of all manufacturing. How does a company who has 50 employees based out of the middle of Idaho, stay competitive with the technology giant? It’s not by they have this product that’s so much better than the other, and maybe they do, it’s they use automation to stay competitive.
Everyone can automate. If everyone can automate, automation is a common denominator across the board where you can, as a small company, be just as competitive as a company who has 20,000 employees, because automation is the common denominator. Companies who don’t automate, companies who don’t implement new technologies, one, you’re not going to stay competitive, but two, how do you, and this is I think a great segment to the webinar that we’ll talk about it just a minute, Josh, that’s coming up. How does a company stay not only competitive and relevant against other manufacturers, but other industries that are also addressing the labor force?
I think that’s a great point to talk about in the upcoming webinar, but how does a company who wants to attract the next generation of labor force who doesn’t, how can they compete against an industry who is trying to attract the same talent who’s not in manufacturing?
To answer your question, companies who don’t manufacture, companies who are not willing to implement and take new technology and evolve as a process, just won’t be relevant. They’re not going to grow. You might have the same workers there who have been working [inaudible 00:59:39] for five years. I applaud you for having that consistent and having that employee dedication but if you’re not looking at the future of your company and who will be running that company next, and who will that next workforce be of millennials or Gen Zs, and you’re not designing your systems around attracting them and having retention within your company, it’s just bottom line you won’t be around in however long it’s going to take for your existing workforce to age out, but after that, it’s just not going to be happening.
[01:00:20] Josh: This is a topic that’s come up on a couple of episodes already which is the risk of not pursuing these changes, whether it’s automation, whether it’s connected workers, whether it’s any aspect of how can technology improve our operation with the people-focused centered face risk of not being a company any further in the future, it’s becoming table stakes at this point. Like this is the way things are going to have to operate in order to even try to be competitive. That’s something that is very much on people’s minds.
You’re right we’ve got an upcoming webinar that’s going to be on April 29th. Those of you listening to the episode, that will be the upcoming April 29th which is a Thursday I believe. If you are listening to this episode after April 29th, 2021, don’t worry, we will have that on our website as well so you can check out where Jake and I continue the conversation.
Jake, I think this has been a great conversation. I could easily take up the rest of your day talking with you about these different topics. I’d like to think that eventually, we’ll be compelling enough to have a podcast somewhere like Joe Rogan where he goes for three to four hours and people are in tune the whole time. [crosstalk] I know, but in the meantime, you don’t have to let the conversation stop here. Of course, you know how to reach me firstname.lastname@example.org, but more importantly, Jake the manufacturing millennial, one of the best ways to reach Jake is going to be on LinkedIn.
Follow Jake, connect with Jake, send him a message, and let him know that you heard him, you’d like to just pick his brain a little bit more. This guy can talk about so many different topics, make each topic compelling. It’s not just manufacturing, I know for a fact you’re a baseball fan. You’ve got the Cubs hat on right now, talk baseball. In the meantime, check out his page. If you have a passion for automation in manufacturing, that’s exactly the type of content that Jake is posting. Jake anything else you wanted to leave with or make sure the listeners heard?
[01:02:29] Jake: No, I think there’s some great takeaways from this conversation and it’s so exciting to talk about how manufacturing is growing. I always like to look at life and say take the positives out of whatever’s given to us. I want to say I’m so excited all of these podcasts and conversations that have happened. The pandemic was a horrible thing but, man, having all these conversations around manufacturing and turning the manufacturing industry into a really heavy conversation-based industry has been super exciting. Josh, thanks for having me on the Conquering Chaos podcast. Great to be here. The story continues either on your next click if it’s after April, or in a couple of weeks.
[01:03:17] Josh: Absolutely. All right, Jake. Until then, take care.
[01:03:21] Jake: Thanks, everyone.
Listen to find out how some millennials today view manufacturing.