Julia Asoni came to The Manufacturing Institute (MI) after Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) 2019, an annual event aimed at exciting America’s youth and manufacturing and introducing them to potential career paths. Each year, manufacturers traditionally open their doors and facilities so kids can get a more accurate sense of potential jobs in the industry. Though in-person events can make a great impact, Asoni was interested in exploring virtual and digital activities for future MFG Days. But the onset and spread of COVID-19 in early 2020 expedited that process before she could implement her ideas.

Going into MFG Day 2021, on Oct. 1, Asoni has several ideas for how facilities can still participate and host virtual events to create a meaningful impact for students.

Responding to Workforce Development Crisis

One goal of MFG Day is to excite students about manufacturing and show them potential for positions in the industry. Like the recycling industry, manufacturing is experiencing a workforce development crisis. “There are nearly 900,000 open manufacturing jobs right now and we have 4 million jobs to fill by the end of this decade—and most do not require a bachelor’s degree,” Asoni notes. “That’s an important message for kids considering apprenticeship programs or two-year degree programs. It’s also a time of unemployment and kids are trying to figure out what to do next.”

Asoni recommends changing the general perception of the industry will get kids interested in manufacturing. “People tend to think of manufacturing as dark, dirty and dangerous, and that’s just not the case,” she says. Although Asoni is not in the recycling industry, she imagines kids may have a similar lack of information or misinformation about recycling—the first link in the manufacturing supply chain.

“When asked about recycling, kids may talk about it in terms of their kitchen recycling rather than about all the things we’re able to build by recycling or the energy that’s conserved by recycling,” she says. She recommends recyclers consider how they contextualize and discuss the value of recycling with students. “Talk about the challenges of what would happen if we didn’t recycle, and the cost of not recycling,” she says. “This is an opportunity to take a subject that kids may think is mundane and ordinary and discuss it from the perspective of what things they may not have without recycling.”

The way to stop misperception about the industry is to directly reach out to youth in compelling ways. “Research shows that one of the best ways to shift perception is through personal experience, that’s specifically for youth, but I think it could be true for everyone,” Asoni says. In previous years for MFG Day, personal experiences typically involved manufacturers going out to schools or hosting in-person facility tours. But personal experiences can be effective even through virtual spaces.

Digital Content for Manufacturing Day

Though planning a virtual event or digital content may seem complicated at first, it’s much easier than it appears. Asoni recommends thinking critically about your existing digital content. “If you’ve ever created a video, like a welcome video, such as a welcome video for kids, or even if your HR department has a ‘first day of work’ video, some of that footage can be used and repurposed to create a MFG Day video,” she says. To get at the personal experiences, consider the tools at your disposal to create digital content. “It can be as simple as asking five employees to use their iPhones to record answers to questions such as how they got into manufacturing or their favorite thing about working in the industry,” Asoni adds. Once employees have recorded their responses and sent them in, the clips can easily be compiled into one video.

The welcome or employee video could serve as a base for a landing page to populate all types of digital content. “The landing page can include ways you engage with manufacturing and pledge to engage with students, including schools you’ll be attending for career days,” Asoni says. “The page can be registered as an MFG Day event, and you can use it for digital content.” These types of digital videos can be helpful for kids to understand more about the industry.

A Resource for Schools

If you don’t have the capacity or opportunity to create digital content for MFG Day, there are other ways to participate in the event. MI has created various types of resources for manufacturers on CreatorsWanted.org. “There are videos about what it’s like to be in manufacturing and information about upcoming events,” Asoni notes. If you can’t host an event but have a relationship with a local school, consider serving as a liaison between digital content and student networks.

Asoni has curated student-facing information about manufacturing on a website she developed, which she hopes manufacturers will use and share with student groups. “If teachers share that content with students, that will help move the needle,” she explains. “If each manufacturer shared content with a local school, it would have a huge impact.” Beyond this student-facing content, manufacturers and the public can visit CreatorsWanted.org to learn more about the complete year-round campaign by the National Association of Manufacturers and MI to raise awareness of the industry and attract the creators of tomorrow.

Though COVID-19 related safety concerns may mean less MFG Day activities this year, there is clear interest for virtual events from both manufacturers and schools. The tricky part is bridging those connections. “It could be a chicken and egg situation,” Asoni says. She’s heard from manufacturers that want to host virtual events but don’t know how to connect with schools. Schools have told her they’re looking for these events in their areas. With MI unable to make those connections at the national level, “It’s so valuable to reach out to your local school and ask if they have interest and capacity,” Asoni says. She hopes industry members feel a sense of responsibility to reach out to their respective communities and engage with students.

“If they’re willing to accept the workforce problem, and that the solution lies in showing kids what the industry is really like, who better to show that to kids than people in the industry? The sum of the parts is much bigger than the flashy, high-profile events, especially the small facilities that connect with local schools and students in their areas.”

When considering MFG Day in the future, while there may be no replacement for a facility tour, there’s still incredible value in digital content. For example, students who don’t live near a facility or whose school budgets can’t include those kind of field trips would benefit from virtual experiences. Asoni sees a combination of both in-person events and digital activities as an effective path forward. “Reaching the scale that we really need to make a difference and showing kids the incredible career opportunities in the industry can only be achieved if we leverage digital and virtual engagement moving forward,” she says.

Photo courtesy of the National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute. Caption: MFG Day 2020 virtual event.



Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah is a Writer & Editor for ISRI's Scrap News. She's interested in a wide range of topics in the recycling industry and is always eager to learn more. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in History and a minored in Creative Writing. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband.