043. Military to Manufacturing – Academy of Advanced Manufacturing
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have an idea that we’re looking forward to exploring together, and it’s the military to manufacturing – closing the skills gap, and to help us walk through that, we have Mary Burgoon, who is the Business Development Manager with the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing at Rockwell Automation.
So welcome Mary.
Hi. Thanks. Thanks for having me today.
Thank you, Mary. Look forward to walking with you through this conversation and to get us started, what do you see as some of the major items in manufacturing with the skills gap?
So, there’s a couple things that every manufacturer is facing today. And that is one that people are retiring, right?
So, you know, people are reaching retirement age and they’re, and they’re taking their experience and their knowledge and they’re going to go lay on a beach or they’re going to go play golf and good for them. the other thing that we’re seeing is that there is a huge perception issue around manufacturing. People don’t wake up every day, especially people that are graduating from high school, I graduated from college and think, wow, I’m going to go work in manufacturing. You know, they want to go take their advanced degree or their technical degree or technical experience and go work for Google or Amazon or develop video games or something like that. And that perception that it’s dangerous and it’s dark and it’s dirty, we have to overcome that. Everybody does. So that’s one big hurdle.
not recognizing that manufacturing is really a high tech enterprise right now. and to that end, as automation becomes more prevalent, especially now during the pandemic, we’re seeing people rapidly moving their operations to a more digital focus.
We’re seeing that the people that are working there now might not have the right skills that can help lead them to the future. So those are a lot of things that we’re seeing right now in that, in a skills gap.
No doubt. I mean, definitely with the retiring workforce and just that I’m so glad you mentioned the perception because that’s oftentimes what we hear as well.
But speaking on the retirement standpoint, what are you seeing from the future of, with manufacturing workforce from that retirement? And as that people are, are slowly phasing out.
There’s been a lot of research around that. I know Deloitte has done some research and our partners in the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing Manpower Group has done some research and it looks like that, you know, the challenge is ongoing, right?
About 25% of the workforce in manufacturing is over 55. So that leaves a big pool that we’re, a big gap that we’re going to need to fill. And in generally, you know, the population is not replenishing fast enough, to, to replace those retirees. And then the other big challenge too is, so a lot of the retirees are working in manufacturing and a lot of manufacturing is located in places that may not be tourist areas.
So there’s a geographic mismatch. So a lot of younger workers, they don’t want to work in places that are not close to let’s say, urban centers or places with things to do. So that’s another challenge we have. So not only does it become challenging to recruit for those knowledgeable retirees that sometimes are the manufacturing locations are in a place to. It’s hard to recruit people to. So it’s sort of a, it’s a double whammy there.
Yeah, no doubt. I mean, we, we see that in North Carolina in some pockets that we serve, I hear it from several manufacturers where it’s just hard. I don’t know any other way to put it. It’s hard to get people to move to that area. Right. So is that what you’re referring to?
Yeah. That’s exactly. I mean, if you’re not in an area with things to do, I mean, everybody, I mean, there’s some people that would love to live in a place that is more rural, maybe hunting and fishing and so on, but some people prefer to live in an area that might be, or more of a larger or close to a larger metropolis.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So to your, your metric around 25% over 55, you know that that’s alarming. Sorry. Are there any cost metrics that you’re seeing that you could share around what this impact could potentially have on industry?
I, you know, I don’t, I did some research. I was, I could not find any potential cost impact. You know, I think there are some impacts in the sense that maybe people will start investing in technology. Right. So if you don’t, if some of your more knowledgeable workers are leaving, do you replace them in some, in some cases with technology, there’s a lot more technology that comes out that you could help capture that knowledge.
And maybe that’s easier to transfer because that’s, that’s the thing, right? How do you say 40 years of information and experience and skills from walking out the door without being able to train the next one? So I don’t really have numbers around what the financial impact is. We know that it gets really expensive, to try to find somebody cause sometimes those roles will stay open for a long time. We know that as those people retire, there might be some challenges with uptime or reliability or maintenance, but I don’t have some hard costs.
Everything I’m hearing is more anecdotal. So the other thing that might be impacted is over time. There’s a lot of, sort of knock on effects when you’re knowledgeable workers leave.
That’s a great point, you know, back in, we had services within EECO and I manage that team. You know, you would see the OT being impacted by, you know, if, if he didn’t have, you know, someone that’s familiar on the job, you, you could just see those metrics and there, you kind of have to be really close to him to see the impact, but they’re there and I’m sure people in manufacturing, they’re monitoring these types of KPIs and they’re jumping out at them as they see that knowledge walking out the door.
So, yeah, you’re pretty passionate with this Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and it has a really great tie to the military. So walk us through, how does a military training line up with this closing this skills gap?
Well, that’s a great question. Many people in the military, they perform these roles that require a high level of skill, a high level of competency. They’re very technically challenging roles. So oftentimes the people that we recruit for the Academy, you know, they’ve gone through years of training to be proficient.
I mean, the military, the government prepares them to be able to, to spring into action immediately. So the individuals that we recruit, you know, they’ve got backgrounds in electronics, I’ve got backgrounds in computer systems, and they’ve got backgrounds in working on nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, missile systems specialists, you know, we are recruiting people with a really high skillset, technical skillset, but then they also bring a lot of other positive characteristics as well.
The challenge has been as they leave the military, it may not be clear to them what they can do with these great skills. How could they deploy these skills in another environment? And that’s where the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing plays a key role in helping them transfer those skills to be used into manufacturing.
Very good. And you mentioned something. I like to dig a little bit into the character traits. You know, we’ve hired several people within just the organization that I work with straight from military and they, they always stand out. They accelerate, they do great things. And a lot of that just comes back to that basic training that you referred to.
Are there any character traits that stand out to you? You know, you’ve worked with a lot of people that have gone through the program that would be really important or that someone should consider taking a road like this?
A couple of things come to mind. One, they have a fantastic, reliable work ethic, right? They’re going to stay on it until the job is done and they’re going to support people on the team. So that whole loyalty to the team and loyalty to make sure that they all are successful, and to the last man, or the last woman gets the job done. Highly motivated. They also go in with a mission first mindset.
So they need understand the mission, right? Why are we doing this? What is the bigger picture? You know, not just turning the screw, what is the bigger picture? So they, for them, there’s a lot of mission involved. So there’s a lot of pride in their work. I think one of that, one of the most obvious ones is they perform well under pressure, right?
The whole key tenant of work that they did in the military is the repetition doing it over and over. So when a pressure situation arises, they just perform it. It’s like muscle memory. And that works really well when a line is down and the maintenance supervisor or the maintenance manager, or the plant manager is standing at your shoulder asking, “when is this going to be up and running? Do you know how much we’re losing?” On and on. So that kind of a skillset will come definitely in handy, handy for them.
I know there are just a few that I see. I see the, the candidates and they come in to our program. It’s, they don’t know each other, but at the end there’s a tremendous sense of loyalty and cohesion and a support for each other and they all stay in touch. And, it’s just a great, it’s just a great feeling that, that they have the technical abilities already, but those other aspects are what really make an impact on a manufacturer.
No doubt. I mean, all the, all the areas you just spoke about from work ethic to that team player, I love how you said the mission first mindset. And we have to share that with everyone. I think it really helps. So we all know what we’re trying to accomplish, right? Yeah, no, but the pressure situation and ability to handle that, the military really does a great job of building that into, you know, through the training. And I think that’s something that I’m so glad you brought that point up.
And you know what the Academy, there, I’m sure there are technical areas of training that you see as most important are any of those you’d like to share?
Yeah, absolutely. So when they come in, you know, we do quite a bit of, of screening and assessing before they come into the program as well. That’s part of, part of our commitment to make sure that not only are they going to be successful in this 12 weeks of high pressure training, we want to make sure that they’re going to be successful when they land next.
Right? Where do they go to their employer next? And so that’s why we do quite a bit of assessing on the front end of that. But we also seek out those individuals first, those recruit those that have those strong technical skills that, I mean, this program isn’t two years long. It is high pressure, 40 hours a week for 12 weeks.
So they have to come in with a really strong technical background. And, and experience and technical ability that we know will translate pretty, pretty quickly to a manufacturing environment. So we spend, as I mentioned, we spend 40 hours a week and it’s a mix of 40% instructor led classroom training and then, the remainder of the time is in the lab where they’re doing a lot of troubleshooting, hands on work. You know, we train them, probably not, not that far off from the training that they got in the military in the sense of a couple hours on a topic in the classroom and then they go right in the lab and start applying it.
Right. That’s the kind of thing that we do. We want to really reinforce the skills that they have already and just help shift it from equipment that they worked on in the military to equipment that they’re going to see, not only in our, in our lab environment, but in a manufacturing environment as well. Really wanting to help them understand that what they did is not that isolated, right.
That it can be applied to an industrial environment. So that’s sort of the technical thing they’re exposed to really the foundation that is all in most manufacturing facilities around the infrastructure of automation and controls, PLCs, networks, HMIs, drives, instrumentation. You know, they get exposed to a lot of different areas and, you know, and we have some of the best trainers, the instructors that teach them.
No doubt. I mean, it just sounds like a fun program, so make sure I get this right for our listeners so that, well, that was a 40%. instructor led so that the remaining 60 would be in the lab environment. Correct?
Correct. The Lab, it’s heavily emphasis on that hands on work, you know, it’s not just, we had to shift a little bit when COVID came, so we had to do some of that online training, but nothing can replace the hands on piece.
Right. So, so we really view that as the key piece of it is that hands on aspect. Being able to install a PLC or replace a drive or hook up their laptop and be able to troubleshoot, that is really the key part of it. You know, of course the classroom piece is good too, cause they’re learning concepts, but it’s really key to be able to take those concepts and apply it immediately.
No doubt. I mean, just, it connects the dots for so many people. When we think about just going through any types of training, anytime you can get your hands on it, you know, and see it come to work and how things fit together. Usually that’s gonna lead to pretty good results. So, and I, I checked your lab out online that looks like a phenomenal place to go with the cutting edge technology out there. So hats off to you guys for the wonderful environment.
Yeah, thank you. We made quite a significant investment. We have the training in two locations in the Milwaukee, Rockland, Milwaukee, and Rockwell and Cleveland, you know, and the organization and the leadership made a commitment to do that and to bring the people in.
And so while they’re at Rockwell, and their training, we hold them accountable, like they’re Rockwell employees, you know, show up, do the best work you can get along with everybody. But also then you also get the benefits of being a Rockwell employee too. So, you know, you get to see what it’s like to work in an industrial setting and you’re, you’re treated with respect. And so you get to, it’s a really a win win for everybody.
No doubt, no doubt. So from a technical standpoint, you guys wonderful. You know how you’re covering that with the lab. Now there’s an area when you come from the military and you’re going into the work environment, that there can be some transition there from a professional standpoint, do you guys help address that?
Yeah. As a matter of fact, Chris we do, you know, it’s interesting. So our program, in many cases, people went right from high school, right into the military and then they come out and they’re not sure what to do next. So they come to our program, but they may not have had a lot of life experience in between. But where we’ve got people that have retired from the military, you know, so we we’ve got people at different stages and different age groups. But it’s, we want to make sure they’re going to be successful because it’s one thing to be successful technically, but in a modern workforce, you have to have the other aspects as well.
So we do offer some professional skill building as part of the curriculum, you know, helping them with communication skills. Conflict resolution. We also help them with not that they need much teamwork, but some team building activities help them with their resume, help them with interviewing preparations.
But the other things that we do is that we offer them some other access to life skills. So perhaps some financial planning, if they’ve never had to do that before, because you know, in the military everything’s covered right. So now we’re offering some of those, some of those things as well, we connect them with the local vet organizations who can help answer any questions that they may have, but we also provide for them some professional coaches so that they, I know they probably have a little bit of anxiety about what, you know, what is it going to be like?
These coaches also meet with them on a weekly basis to answer questions and so on as well. And it’s interesting because. Even though they’ve accomplished so much in the military, so much to be proud of, so many credentials and metals and recognitions and honor, they come in sometimes and they really lack a lot of confidence in themselves.
So during the course of 12 weeks, it’s really an honor to see how far they travel sometimes: from day one to week 12. Right. So it’s the, all of that. It just adds to helping them be successful in their organizations. Now we try to work with the employers as well, you know, to help them know that folks are coming in and they have a responsibility also to help make sure that they’re going to be successful and not just throw them in the deep end and then walk away.
Wow. Well, I know I’m not the only person that’s, that’s sitting here thinking. I mean really. Wow. I mean, that’s great. So the life skills, you’re not only are you focused on teaching the technical components and areas that are important to get the job, but you recognize “Hey, to come in and to be successful in your career there are some life skills things that you just got to master.” And the fact that you have concentrated effort in that, you know, from professional coaches, financial planning, just down to basic stuff, like you mentioned, communication training, that’s important stuff that gets overlooked, and those are things, the soft skills that will really make an impact.
I’m sure that professional and personal growth that you see from day one to graduation date, it sounds like it’s an amazing path.
It truly is. It truly is. I often say that I had the best job in the whole company because I’ve done a variety of different things in my career. And, I am really fortunate to be able to help people change their lives over the course of 12 weeks. It’s amazing.
Absolutely. So we have a lot of people listening and we’re getting some military type personalities that are checking us out. You know, sometimes people like to know headwinds, you know, if they’re getting ready to come into something. So what could be some headwinds? If somebody is coming from the military, they want to make a journey to manufacturing, to industry. What could they expect?
So there’s a couple of things. I was just on a call recently that somebody was asking you about it. You know, In the military, you’re often given orders, right? You’re told what you’re going to do. What time to do this is your job for the day. Do it in these steps. In a manufacturing environment, it’s a lot more ambiguous, right?
This is the goal you have to get to and how you get there. So it’s going to require people, creativity, and critical thinking and problem solving. And that, that is, that requires, I would say that can be uncomfortable for some people. They quickly move past that, but it has been a challenge for some people.
We, we do part of our screening and assessing on the front end is we assess for how does an individual, feel around adaptability or changeability? Can they learn new things quickly? Those are all important things, but that has been a, that has been a headwind for some people. The other thing that is probably a little bit, not a surprise either is that the military is very transparent.
You know, that if you do a certain job and you, or you get a certain level of training, you know what role you can do next and how much money you can make. And, and corporations and then some manufacturing settings, things are a bit more opaque, right? They’re not as transparent. It takes a little bit of a, a culture shift there as well.
And there’s all these unwritten rules. That, you know, after working for a place for a while, you just know it or you pick it up through osmosis. So it’s just a lot of ambiguity that some people feel uncomfortable with initially, but quickly have to learn to adapt. And we also, you know, talk to the employers and we say, “Hey, listen, these are some headwinds we’ve seen. And so you may want, you know, as you work with these folks, as you onboard these talented people, you may want to keep that in mind and maybe partner them. Have a buddy system partner them with maybe another vet or somebody else that’s more experienced to help them reduce that time to value for you, you know, help them onboard successfully so that, so that they stay.”
No doubt. Do you have any like mentorships or things like that that have helped candidates that go through this transition?
Yeah. Fortunately, we’ve had some folks that they have a lot of, you know, in manufacturing, it’s not, it’s not a surprise to see a lot of military people there already. So they may set up a buddy system, right.
Or a lot of organizations may have a employee resource group around vets. Or veterans and allies, and they may connect in that way. We have a 170 folks that have graduated. Many of the customers that come in the employers come in, have hired from our program before, so they can offer as a mentor perhaps one of the folks that have graduated.
So they feel like they’re part of something that they’re not out there alone and that they could help them with the uncomfortable first couple of days. Right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, I mean, it sounds like with 170 graduates, is there a typical career path for people that go through this program? Or is it, is it across the board? I’m just curious. Are there any commonalities in career paths for graduates?
So we kind of see a couple of things I have been repeated a few times. So for our, you know, our OEMs, those machine builders, and so on, we there is need is around field service technicians. So those road warriors that go out and commission equipment and then travel on a moment’s notice to, for repair, or just stop or to do preventative maintenance or routine maintenance. So that one is a very popular, I would say are one that we see quite prevalently.
The other one is, as that more end users will see people that are looking for controls technician, or they call them an ENI tech. Or they might call them, what else are they maintenance tech.
Right. But they all have aspects of either multi craft or they have aspects definitely of PLCs and controls and so on. And those, those skillsets are really the hardest ones to find are in the most demand. So we see that prevalently. All continue their training as they, you know, as they leave us, they’re just getting started in their training.
So we’re industry agnostic. We don’t train for a specific industry, so there’s an expectation that they’re going to be a lot of training once they get to their new place. How to make whatever that is, they’re learning how to make. Yeah, we do see folks that continue on and become really proficient and really accelerated become lead, or are they, they enter right away and become a supervisor.
So it just depends on the level of experience that they had coming in from the military, because we know some folks in the military managed large teams. And so that definitely gives them the capacity to go into supervisory roles.
Right. Well, thank you for that. I mean, that’s two really solid industries from the OEMs, as well as the end users. That field service tech, I’m thinking the military experience, people who have just used to reacting, right.
And in that field service role, you’re moving through where that next phone call comes from. It sounds like I can definitely see a clear path there. And the ENI techs that I’ve know and worked with and control engineers, control techs. I can see that too. You know, you’re getting us out of plants, multi crafts, I mean, just touching different, different types of equipment.
So you have any fun stories or success stories you’d like to share about, you know, people who’ve gone through this?
Yeah, I do. So there was my very first class when I came on board at 2018, but there was a gentleman and he was sort of but he was working at Starbucks. So what I mean, what is Starbucks, where you make $10 an hour, $15 an hour, and all the caffeine you drank.
And she just made a commitment that he wanted to improve himself. But the other thing too, he was living in his dad’s basement. And I think his dad said enough, you gotta do something. Right. So he really applied himself. And, at the end of 12 weeks, he after 12 weeks, he got a job making $60,000 as a control technician at a food manufacturer.
He’s been there about two years and he’s buying a house. I mean, those are the kinds of stories that just really makes you say, wow, I have a, I am a really lucky person. I have a great job. And then there was another gentleman, you know, the thing that is really interesting in this program is that they do have a lot of confidence, lack of confidence, some cases they’re pretty excited when I get a job, but then like many people are like, crap.
I haven’t got a job, I can’t do anything. And so they, they come in and they’re a little tentative, but there was this one gentleman, he went to work at our building supply manufacturer. They make, you know, dry wall and things like that. And he implemented this program. And that plant manager where he worked, shared it with all the other plant managers that there are other plants.
And they all adopted it and he is so respected. In that plant, they go to him, they view him as a, as a peer with a leadership. And he came back to talk to the students and he just looked like a completely different person. He came in, he was so confident. He was so proud to talk about how he was helping that organization and about how all these plant managers, there were one had adopted the program that he developed and two were trying to, hire him away from the plant that he worked at. So it was just, it was just really heartwarming for me to see that.
No doubt. I mean, that’s, that’s two great examples of how this program has impacted people. Now, Mary, we’re going to put in our show notes, information and links for listeners that are interested in, they want to learn more about it, but could you give the listeners just a brief. Information on how they can, can check it out themselves and dig more into this Academy?
Sure, absolutely. So. You know, Rockwell Automation, there is information on our website. And, I know that that information will be shared with you on the podcast, but if you are a veteran and you are interested in learning more about the program, what does it entail?
It is absolutely at no cost at all to the veteran. That is one of our commitment, our CEO and manpower group, who we have partnered with. It is absolutely no cost at all to the veterans. If you’re interested and you think you might have the right skills and you might like to be able to potentially transfer your skill that you have into a manufacturing role, then I’ll send a link over to Chris.
And he’ll have that in a, in the notes where you can do a little research and find out more about this program from a veteran’s perspective as well. So I’ll be happy to do that.
That would be great. Thank you, Mary. We’ll be sure to share those out for our listeners and hopefully drive some, some candidates to you and to make a change in the industry. And you’ve been very inspiring through this. We do call this EECO Asks Why. So I’ll have to get to the why. If you were to boil it down, if you want to talk about the purpose of the program, you know, what would that be?
So it’s two purposes. The why is we’re helping military veterans. We’re helping them change their lives. We’re helping them apply the skills that they learned. And redeploy them and in sort of another mission, right. To helping manufacturers. And then our other one is to support manufacturing in the US. Right. We all know the impact that manufacturing has on our everyday lives, from cars to phones, to food, to packaging.
So this that’s the two why’s to support veterans and to support manufacturing.
Well, I can’t think of a better two better whys to get behind personally. I know this will resonate with our listeners here at EECO. We love our veterans and, you know, obviously we love manufacturing in the US. So, Mary, this is just great, been wonderful conversation. You brought just a ton of value, and I really appreciate your time today.
Thanks a lot. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you.