Manufacturing's Perception Hero

March 25, 2020
Terry Iverson wants to change the way people look at manufacturing careers. In this recent podcast episode, he talks with Amanda Del Buono about the past, present, and future of manufacturing careers.

Amanda Del Buono, host of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast, sat down with Terry Iverson, founder of ChampionNow! to talk about changing younger generations' perception of manufacturing.

To get the full scoop on the podcast you can listen to the full podcast right here:

Read a snippet of their conversation, or watch the video below. Be sure to head to our Podcast page to find this and other podcasts from our Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast series.

Amanda Del Buono: Welcome back to Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce. I'm Amanda Del Buono. For today's episode, I'm joined by Terry Iverson to discuss attracting the next generation of workers and changing the perception of manufacturing, not only in their eyes but in their parent's eyes as well. Terry founded Champion Now, a nonprofit organization with the goal of changing the image of the manufacturing industry in the eyes of the next generation of workers. He's also the author of "Finding America's Greatest Champion: Building Prosperity Through Manufacturing, Mentoring and the Awesome Responsibility of Parenting." Terry, thanks for being here today to chat with me about this important topic.

Terry: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Glad to be here.

Amanda: So, can you just, I mean, start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got into manufacturing perception and workforce? Where did this passion come from?

Terry: Well, I'm very fortunate that my family's been in manufacturing for almost, not quite 95 years now. And so, I was kind of born into the industry. At first, I didn't think I wanted to work with my father and with our family, and then I realized I was really good at math and science and I had this phenomenal opportunity to work within the family business. So, I kinda woke up, so to speak, and took advantage of that. But as far as the last, well now this is going on my 40th year, but right around year 20, I decided to get into technical education and reach out to different schools, high schools, technical colleges, and community colleges. And I took a pretty deep dive into that, and then I realized that there was a great deal needed to bridge the gap. You know, they talk about the skills gap, but the gap I'm referring to right now is between industry, parents and students, and also education.

There are these gaps that exist that there isn't a lot of connection or cohesiveness in between the three. So, for all these years I've talked to manufacturers and every year, for all 40 years now, people have said the same thing, and that is we just can't find enough skilled workers. And in the manufacturing sector, I think we've done a very poor job of marketing our companies, marketing our careers. And we've kind of been in survival mode, not necessarily economically but from a workforce development standpoint. Every waking minute manufacturers spend training new people and training their existing people, and they really don't have a lot of bandwidth to go beyond that. And that's something I've tried to do is to go beyond that. I think our family's been very fortunate, and so I feel compelled to give back. But I've pretty much mentored young people most of my, if not all, of my adult life. I started in travel soccer coaching soccer and teaching young people, men and women, about soccer, but then also about life skills. And when I finished that, after about 25 years, I decided my skills and talents in mentoring could be applied to the industry, and to young people, hopefully, considering the industry.

Amanda: So, kind of taking a passion you gained outside of work and bringing it into your career as well.

Terry: Exactly.

Amanda: And so it, like they say, makes work not work.

Terry: Exactly. Yeah, absolutely.

Amanda: You've started this nonprofit organization, you wrote a book, why? What do you see in the next generation workforce? And why is it important to you to shed the dirty, dingy stereotype of manufacturing in the eyes of the young people coming into the industry?

Terry: Well, I mean, let's face it, the youth are our future. And we have to pay attention to it and we have to do the best we can to be an advocate for our young people, at least I feel.

As far as the 501(C)(3), as I said, I was pretty deeply entrenched in the technical education. I found myself on a CT Education Foundation Board in DC, a workforce development and education board in Florida for about nine years. And so, I decided that I was going to try to change perceptions, that perception of our industry is really not the reality. And that's a big part of what's present today. So, you know, I'm on a plane on my way to Washington for a meeting, and I'm writing down C-H change, and then manufacturing and perceptions, and, as you can tell, CHMP, I'm like, oh wow, change how American manufacturing is perceived. And then the ION, in our nation, just kind of came to me. So, it actually is an acronym.

I started the 501(C)(3) in 2012. And then around 2000...late 2015 and 2016... I had started writing the book in 2013 and put it aside and then I decided to, you know, to jump back in and try to finish it. So, I realized that what I had already written was not really a book, it was more just ideas and thoughts and stories. But then I realized how many people that I knew that were really fascinating people, that were either friends or family or acquaintances. And I think, of the 50 that I interviewed in the book, I only had to really introduce myself to about 10 or less. And then, because I had done coaching and I believed in mentoring so strongly, and I also think we have a parenting situation in our country, that we could all be better parents and the way we parent in today's world is different than the way my parents parented, that we could better that. And so, consequently, I brought in people that had nothing to do with manufacturing but I felt could speak to those two components also.

Amanda: Why do you think manufacturing still has this negative connotation? Why do parents tend to not want their children in this? What has made this continue on with the technology advancements and things that we've had, what is stopping families, parents and their children from seeing that this is a viable career opportunity?

Terry: Well, one of the things I've said for a long time is that manufacturing has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and there's perceptions that have lingered for a long time. I graduated from high school in 1977. I didn't have a computer until I got to college. And even then, you know, they were teaching Fortran programming. So, you know, needless to say, technology has advanced very quickly. So, getting the word out and getting the change of what the reality is, is still pretty much a newcomer in terms of information. There's been a lot of media and a lot of press about companies closing down, which is valid. There's, of course, a lot of startups and a lot of reshoring. A good friend of mine, Harry Moser has developed the Reshoring Initiative.

However, the media and the government measures manufacturing in terms of employment numbers, and that's not the only measurement. That's the thing about numbers is you can look at numbers a lot of different ways. And it doesn't mean that each way is right or wrong, in many cases, they're all right. But, in order to really understand the impact of manufacturing in this country, it's not just about the number of employees that it employs. Because if you look at that alone, there has been a steady decline, probably from the 80s, early 80s on in a downward motion. But the reality is that this country's manufacturing economy, by itself, compared to other countries' entire economies, is the eighth largest in the world. So, it's still a huge component.

It developed our middle class, it's responsible for our middle class. And I often think about, when people start talking about our middle class and where is it and why is it suffering, they fail to realize it's suffering because manufacturing doesn't have the prominence it once had, and we need to get back to that. But I don't fault the moms and dads, and I certainly don't fault the students for not knowing. I fault us for not conveying that message. I fault the media. I fault the manufacturers, the industry members. I fault people like myself and that's why I try to make a difference.

Read the full transcript of the podcast or watch below

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