079. Hero – Jason Simon, Director at AMTEC Transcript

Jason: 00:00

I personally believe that the biggest difference I can make in this world is within my four walls. So if I can raise my children in a way that they go out and make the world a better place, then I feel like I’ve left my Mark. 

Chris: 00:16

Welcome to EECO Ask Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger, and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features of benefits on products that come to market. Instead, we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.

Welcome EECO Ask Why. Today we have a hero conversation. I’m excited to have Jason Simon. Who’s a director of AMTEC joining us. Welcome Jason. 

Jason: 00:54

Good morning. How are you, sir? 

Chris: 00:55

I’m doing good. Looking forward to talking to you, man.

Jason: 00:58

Yes, sir. 

Chris: 00:59

So if I remember, you’re in Kentucky.

Jason: 01:02

Yes. We’re in the Owensboro, Kentucky area.

Chris: 01:05

Okay. So I’m not that familiar with the state. We’re trying to plan a trip out there. We want to go out to Churchill downs and, check out some things, go to the arc that’s out there. So where exactly is the Owensboro at?

Jason: 01:17

So we’re in Western Kentucky. We’re on the Ohio river right there, butted up against Southern Indiana. So as far as Churchill downs, I don’t get a Louisville very often, but we’re about an hour and a half West of Louisville. 

Chris: 01:29

Okay, very cool. And I just found out I got a buddy from college who lives in Louisville now, so that’s how I got to make a stop there for sure.

But I digress, but to get us going, man, we love to start these hero conversations with just learning more about your personal journey. So what would you share with our listeners? 

 Jason: 01:48

As far as the journey to where I’m at now, I started my, I guess you’d say my career in the United States Marine Corps. Many years ago I was a combat camera man for the first Marine division combat camera. And from there when I came back to the civilian world, I got a job at Owensboro community and technical college and Owensboro as a camera man. In their public educational access station in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I have been at OCTC for right at 20 years now. 

Over the course of my work in the television department I became more and more involved in online training, both developing online training and learning management platforms. So when the opportunity came up in late 2017 for our division to assume the leadership of AMTEC, it was a natural fit for me to move over onto that project. And the rest is history. 

Chris: 02:50

Wow. That’s awesome. First of all, thank you for your service as a Marine to our country. Yeah. That’s awesome. Love to talk to…

Jason: 02:57

You’re welcome. Yes. 

Chris: 02:57

To vet, to veterans. Pretty excited. We had a military to manufacturing focus on EECO Asks Why. So you may enjoy that one. So just good stuff there. And you’re definitely in a role there where you’re impacting so many people’s lives and you’re seeing a lot of stuff too. Jason, I know we talked a little bit offline. So what are you seeing as some of the biggest challenges industry has out there in the future? 

Jason: 03:20

Man, Chris, if you’d asked me this at the beginning of 2020, I would have had a completely different answer.

But with COVID right now, there are challenges out there that don’t even think have been identified yet. From my point of view, working in education and trying to help bridge the gaps between education and industry, we’re going to keep bringing up time and time again, that massive skill shortage of skilled workers.

So there are not enough workers with the needed skills. To be efficient in manufacturing, replacing the people who are walking out the door. And something, I know you asked what the challenge is in an industry over the next five years are going to be. Well, I’m going to move over also a little bit and answer that from education point of view, from a career and technical education aspect also because it directly impacts industry is there’s also a crisis shortage of skilled instructors in career and technical education right now. 

And frankly, if we don’t have skilled instructors in our schools teaching the workforce of tomorrow, then industry is not going to have the workforce of tomorrow. And what has happened is it’s a catch 22. When industry has this massive shortage, supply and demand kicks in and maintenance workers start making more money.

And of course, everybody knows how much, how many millions of dollars education teachers make that sarcasm by the way I picked it. Yeah. So when, when you have an instructor and in a career and technical education program that sees those dollars signs again from industry the temptation is very real to go back into industry. When they go back into industry and nobody can fault them for that, because again, you have to do what’s best for your family. In education, we’re left with a gap. Now we don’t have anyone to teach the workforce of tomorrow.

So those are the two biggest challenges I see. And they’re obviously very connected. So one of the things that I’m working on is trying to, again, we talked about in a previous recording about bridging that gap and getting industry and education to recognize the unique challenges we are both facing and coming up with solutions.

So I’m really focusing on the solution of the CTE instructor shortage and how can industry help play a part in helping their partners in education find those instructors. 

Chris: 05:47

Yeah. And that’s something Jason, I hadn’t even considered. I’m always thinking from the manufacturing end. The workforce attrition there, but that’s a perspective that may be new to a lot of our listeners. On the education standpoint, you got to have somebody to teach this stuff and knows what they’re doing. Right ?

Jason: 06:05

Oh, absolutely. And when a CTE instructor leaves career and technical education, it goes back into industry, that’s a short term solution for industry with long term problems, because yes, you’ve got someone to fill that need that immediate need, but you don’t have anyone filling your needs for the feature now. 

So we’re going to have to get creative. And when I say we a lot, when I say we, industry and education together as a collaborative, we’re gonna have to get creative and figure out how we can work together as a team. There’s a ton of reasons out there it’s not gonna work, but the fact that it has to work, I feel is a big enough reason that it’s going to. 

So whether that looks like sharing subject matter experts in the classroom air quotes, no poaching, whatever that looks like, we’re going to have to come together and figure that out so that education can keep putting out those skilled workers.

Chris: 06:59

Yeah, I was going to ask you, what are some of the areas that you’re trying to focus on to address that? You mentioned the no poaching and things like that, is that kind of areas that you feel like you’ll try to get to at some point?

Jason: 07:13

I think so. And it’s something that, AMTEC, on the national scale, our industry partners, they’ve always had that ” we’re not looking to steal from the CTE.” They’ve always had that and it’s not so much that they’re poaching. It’s again, it comes down to if you’re working in education and you can turn around and two weeks from now be making $40,000 more in industry.

That’s a massive difference. That’s huge. So again, there’s a solution out there. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I know as a whole, that CTE is working tirelessly to try to figure that out. And just like AMTEC came from looking at a problem around a corner and trying to look around a problem at a solution.

We’re going to have to do the same thing with this. It’s not going to be a traditional well, if you just advertise on LinkedIn, we’ll get more people. It’s not going to be a traditional solution like that. It’s going to have to be a unique collaboration between industry and education. And we’ve seen those collaborations work before. So I have no doubt that they’ll work there. 

Chris: 08:17

Oh, no doubt mean with brilliant people like yourself and your partners the collaborators, the solutions coming for sure. So thank you. 

Jason: 08:25

Brilliant. Might be a stretch, but thank you for the kind words. 

Chris: 08:29

Absolutely, man. Absolutely. So how about the person listening out there and they want to get into a career in industry. What advice would you give them? 

Jason: 08:38

Go and see your local community and technical college. Go and talk to the instructors, talk to the administration at those facilities. But also find someone who’s working in manufacturing right now and talk with them. There’s this perception out there that manufacturing is dirty work.

And the types of careers we’re talking about, you’re getting to program robots. You’re getting to play with robots for goodness sake. That’s not dirty work. That is extremely technical, extremely advanced work. You’re getting to play with robots.

You’re getting to program PLCs. You’re getting to work in cybersecurity. So find someone that’s in the field now and talk to them about the environment that they work in. How rewarding it is. And frankly, talk to them about how much money they make, because when you’re looking at a career change or when you’re coming out of high school, looking at what career you’re going to go into, that’s a huge factor. And sometimes I don’t think people realize how much earning potential is there in manufacturing careers. 

Chris: 09:42

Yeah, it’s huge. It really is. And I was just thinking, Jason too, an opportunity could be working with people like yourself is, high school or the next generation, show them the industry. If the manufacturing plant will open up for a few hours and maybe do a tour, just something to give that exposure to what manufacturing really is versus the perception out there could be a way to address it. I don’t know. Just something to think about. 

Jason: 10:08

Yeah. And every year now there’s a manufacturing day where facilities across the country, they do open the doors and they let people come in. Something that I’ve seen a lot of schools do over the last couple of years is when a student decides to go into a program, I mean, when a student in high school senior decides to go to a four year school and play tennis, let’s say. They get put in front of a big banner for that school and they get to put a hat on and they get to do a signing day and everybody, makes a really big deal of it picked that college.

I have seen a lot of schools doing the same thing with manufacturing and with skilled labor in general, skilled workers in general. So when a high school senior decides to come out and enter into whether it be a FAME program or skills USA or something along that lines, we need to make a big deal about that because that’s important. That’s important in that student’s life, and also it’s important that other students recognize that’s something to be celebrated. Entering into these high skill jobs into these high school careers that’s something to be celebrated. 

So finding unique ways, creative ways like that. To change the image of one’s career and technical education and to the types of careers we’re talking about in manufacturing, that’s going to be crucial to figure this out and to get more kids involved.

Chris: 11:30

Yeah, no, no doubt. And I’ve even noticed a couple of times lately where I’ve seen high school students with a hard hat and a pitch in the paper. I think it’s just so cool. So to jump on what you’re saying there. Definitely giving him the recognition that his due. Hey, I’m taking this path and it’s just as cool as to your analogy, the tennis path. It’s just a different path, but it’s still hats off for recognizing that. It is so important and I want to shift a little bit on you. 

You’re in a really good role as director there at AMTEC to mentor a lot of people and to really speak into their lives and to help guide them in their career paths. How is that working for you? And have you had any mentors that really impacted you? 

 Jason: 12:16

I really have. I’ve been extremely blessed to have multiple mentors in my life. One of my very first mentors was a gentleman by the name of John Hall. And he was my supervisor when I first became an employee at Owensboro community and technical college.

And he really helped me. He helped me understand the importance of work-life balance. And he really, he, he was a family man and he really helped drive that home with me to see what that type of balance is. I had the director of the department that I’m in right now, the vice-president Cindy Fiorella is another mentor that I have.

That is just an amazing individual. She’s helped me come a long way in my career development and she’s been in CTE for many years. I’m currently in a fellowship program with The ACTE and I had the honor of having Jane Oates right now as a mentor as well. So I understand the importance of mentoring. And I think any chance you get it’s important to do that for young people as well. 

Chris: 13:24

No doubt. Absolutely. And how about have you had a chance to be a mentor to people who are going through the AMTEC program or just to guide them along their way? 

Jason: 13:34

Yeah, I have an in one situation that really sticks out to me. It was not someone that was going through the AMTEC program. It was someone who was coming into CTE career and technical education from manufacturing. They made that move and I had a chance to mentor that individual and really help him make that transition from industry into education to get in front of a classroom. To look at the challenges that you’re not used to coming from a different environment and, honestly, any time getting to mentor that individual I feel like I got more out of it than he did. Because you learn so much from those that you’re mentoring. 

Chris: 14:17

No doubt. Just that opportunity to give to others and to support them and build them up. So hats off. You’re doing phenomenal work there. And speaking of the work that you’re doing, when do you get that moment of joy?

What brings you that happiness in your role where you’re, you may be doing a particular thing. Just curious what you’re doing in those moments? 

Jason: 14:38

It varies. When I hear the stories from our partners about the lives that are being changed. The single mother who graduates now and is making $70,000 a year and changes her family tree.

But also, when I’m on the phone with an instructor, who’s having a problem in their classroom and I get to help them walk through that and figure out how to integrate the AMTEC curriculum into their program to solve that problem. I mean that, that gives me warm, fuzzy too.

I like to provide solutions to people. And AMTEC is not the solution to everything, but I like to be able to have those conversations. That when someone comes to me with an issue I can first listen to that problem, work through it with the person and either direct them to the solution or provide them that solution.

So that by the time we’re done with our conversation, I’ve made their day a little bit better. That’s what I mean. That’s what gives me my warm and fuzzies. 

Chris: 15:31

No doubt. It sounds like it I’m all over it there, man. How about any highlights? Anything that stands out when you look back on, you was like, man I was a part of that and that was really cool. 

Jason: 15:41

Right now, I’d have to say it’s with this fellowship program that I’m working on. I’m getting to work with 19 other career and technical education professionals. Leaders across the country. And it’s a diverse group of people. It’s an amazing program that I’m a part of. And I’m learning so much from the other fellows around me. I’m definitely gonna call that a highlight. 

Chris: 16:04

Very cool. That’s awesome. You’re dealing a lot with the industry and this maybe be our last industry question, then we’ll get a little bit talking about you, but there’s so many perceptions out there about the industry and you hear it across the board. Anything you’d like to debunk at this point? 

Jason: 16:20

Manufacturing is not always a dirty job. I can’t say it enough. If you’re going into one of these skilled jobs, you’re not going into a dirty job. Now granted, there are facilities out there. If you’re working in an aluminum smelter, it’s hot and it’s dirty, there’s no getting around that.

But the majority of these manufacturing jobs that you’re going into, you’re working on computers, you’re working on robots, you’re working with PLCs. You’re working around preventative and predictive maintenance. It’s highly skilled. You’re dealing with industry 4.0 and very seldomly is it an, a dirty job. Nothing against dirty jobs, but manufacturing has come so far since my dad worked in manufacturing that I really do feel like that’s a a perception that we’ve got to change. 

Chris: 17:11

No doubt. Absolutely. You’re all over it. And I’ve been in manufacturing and playing all over the Southeast and it’s definitely not the perception that’s out there. So thank you for sharing that. And we love to take these episodes and get a little bit off the career path and just talk about you outside of work. How about any hobbies, Jason? What do you enjoy doing for fun? 

Jason: 17:30

I’ve got a few hobbies. I’ve been an outdoorsman my whole life, so I really enjoy hunting and fishing. Deer season is coming in here in Western Kentucky. So that’s got me excited. I’m starting to prepare for that a little bit. I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’ve been a crossfitter since for right at 10 years now. And I started just in the last six months, dipping my toes into ultra marathon type events.

I’ve got a 50 mile race coming up in December that got me nervous butterflies, but so yeah, I would say being outdoors and fitness would be my main hobbies. 

Chris: 18:06

Okay. So now you got my interest here on several things. And I don’t know where to go, so let’s just stick with the fitness stuff.

So I started running by a persuasion of our executive producer sitting over here, looking at me. He pushed me into starting running. So we’re training for a half marathon, but you just said 50 miles. 

Jason: 18:26

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. 

Chris: 18:27

All right, so you just left us in the dust. Okay. So 

Jason: 18:30

I’m sure my 50 miles time will not compare to your half marathon time. When would you know a lot of people think when someone does these ultra marathon types events, that they’re just running eight minute miles the entire time there’s as much walking that goes on as there is jogging.

Okay. So yeah. Yeah. I am a very, I even hesitate to call myself to what I’m doing as an ultra marathon because I walk as much as I do, but we did my brother and I did a 50 mile ruck back at the beginning of August. And it was intense. It was a whole new experience. We both were in the Marine Corps, so it was it was just a way to experience that type of event again. And it led me to where I could barely walk for three days and on day number four, I found a actual sanctioned event and signed up. 

Chris: 19:19

Wow. Wow. Are you, I’m guessing you’re obviously hydrating throughout it, your eat your. It has some type of nutrition to get through a 50 mile event. Is that correct? 

Jason: 19:29

Yeah. There’s a lot of planning that has to go into it. You hydrate the entire time. The nutrition is used. I think my phone app told me at the end of the 50 mile ruck that we did that I had burned 21,000 calories. And by the end of it, I felt like I had burned 21,000 calories.

 Yeah, you, can’t just, you can’t just wake up and be like, I’m going to go do 50 miles today. There’s a lot of planning that has to go into it. Yeah. 

Chris: 19:51

Yeah. Hats off to you. That’s phenomenal. I think I’ll just let you do that on your own. I’m not gonna say I’m gonna come join you.

Jason: 19:59

Welcome to come join me, Chris. We’d love to have you there. There are still there are still spots available at that race. 

Chris: 20:05

Only, if I get to bring a four Wheeler. If I can drive, maybe 30 miles of that I may consider it. But man, that’s awesome. Having that. Hadn’t talked to an ultra marathoner yet on EECO Asks Why. So you’re the first there. We’ve had a couple that are pretty big in a CrossFit. I know that’s pretty intense training itself. Also man, I guess the military, the Marine training is that kind of just correlate directly to some of this fitness stuff that’s important to you. 

Jason: 20:33

I think so I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know why I enjoy suffering as much as I do, but I’m sure a psychiatrist somewhere would tell you that I’m trying to get back to what I had experienced in the Marine Corps. When I was a young man, I don’t know. My wife just looks at me and rolls her eyes and the day, the next day when my, my, the bottom of my feet is one big blister. She just looks at me and tells me she loves me and behind her eyes, I can just see her saying, yeah, but you did do this to yourself. So.

Chris: 21:02

That’s all right. Awesome, man. Speaking of your wife, we love to hear about family on EECO Asks Why and give a chance for our guests to share what they like about their family. So anything you’d like to talk about there? 

Jason: 21:13

Oh, absolutely. I know later on, I’m going to beat you to the punch. You asked me what is my why? You’re going to ask me that later on. And that is my why. My family is my why. My wife and I have been married, we’re coming up on 14 years. We have six children together.

We live here in Western Kentucky on a small farm. We raise a lot of our own food. We get to let our kids run around and play in the mud. Play on the farm and just enjoy their childhood. And yeah, my family is why I do what I do. 

Chris: 21:41

That is awesome. So what’s your, what’s the age range for your kids?

Jason: 21:45

So my oldest is turning 13 in December and my youngest just turned three about a week ago. 

Chris: 21:52

Okay. So, uh, so you’re doing, you’re raising a lot of your own food that’s peaked my interest. And my wife and I were starting to plan our own raised bed gardens. Cause we want to do the same thing from a vegetables and things like that. What do you got going on out there? 

Jason: 22:06

So we do about a half acre garden every summer. Initially when we, when my wife and I first got married and we didn’t have children, we planted everything that we could grow, but now we’re very efficient in what we plant only in what our family will eat and what we can and freeze for the winter.

We also we raise a steer every year. That that we put up and then, every other year we’ll buy a couple of hogs and we will winter them in our garden patch so that they can really tear up the ground and help with fertilizing our garden for the next couple years, and then feed us bacon at the end of it.

It’s like little bacon seeds and who doesn’t like bacon. And then, I mentioned earlier that I’m an outdoorsman, and I also mentioned that I have six children, so that’s a lot of mouths to feed. So we put up a lot of venison every year. Yeah we’re not completely self-sufficient by any means, but we absolutely enjoy working for our food and having a hand in our substanence.

Chris: 23:02

No, no doubt. It’s so much healthier for you too. And we’re trying, we’re not in the, we don’t have a farm. My wife’s families, they have a farm, but we’re going to try the a square-foot Raised beds. We’re going to try to start doing canning and stuff and really focus on just the stuff our girls will eat. 

Jason: 23:20

That’s awesome. Yeah, there’s something about food that you raise yourself. It just tastes better. And that could be completely and utterly in my mind, but it just tastes better. 

Chris: 23:28

It’s not because it’s like, we’ll go to her family and we’ll bring back canned carrots or green beans, things like that. And it is. It’s just 10 times better than what you get at a store. Even if you buy the organic stuff and no offense, but it just tastes better.

So hats. That’s awesome, man. I have to need to make a trip to Kentucky and see what you got going on there. It sounds like a lot of fun. 

Jason: 23:49

Oh, you’re welcome to come check it out. We’d love to have you go. 

Chris: 23:51

How about, are there any podcasts, videos, books, things like that, that you enjoy, that you that you would recommend to our listeners that they should check out?

 Jason: 24:03

I listen to a lot of podcasts actually. I’m not sure how beneficial it would be for the listeners, but I guess since I’m on a podcast, I have to share a little bit. Selectively listened to Joe Rogan’s podcast from time to time.

My wife and I are big Dave Ramsey followers. We listened to the Dave Ramsey podcast quite a bit. There’s a few spiritual Catholic podcasts that I’ll listen to. One that I’ve been listening to for probably 15 years is Catholic in a small town. Our families had been raised right next to each other on that one.

So those are the ones that I listened to most regularly. As far as books, I’m constantly looking for books to to improve myself. I would say my favorite author is Ryan holiday. He wrote the obstacle is the way and that book, that was a life-changing book for me. And I’ve read every book he’s written since.

And then I just, I’ve always, since I was 13 years old, I’ve been a Stephen King fanatic. So if Stephen King says anything, I have read it. 

Chris: 24:58

Okay. Very cool. We’ll put a few links out there for our listeners for some of these resources to get. One thing you may enjoy., Jason. I am actually a financial coach master training. I went through that Ramsey training. 

Jason: 25:10


Chris: 25:11

I have a small on the side, it’s more of a ministry that I try to help with people. I just finished coordinating my first FPU class. And we, 

Jason: 25:20

That’s awesome. 

Chris: 25:21

Had a lot of fun with that. We’ll have to take that offline. That’s definitely one of my passions as well. When you were talking earlier about changing your family tree and debt-free, I was like this guy is a Ramsey fan here. I can just tell him. 

Jason: 25:33

Yeah, I used all the key words. I know I have drank the Kool-Aid for sure. 

Chris: 25:37

I drank the Kool-Aid too, man. I drink it every day. It’s one of, it’s one of my go-to podcasts that I listened to regularly and I have some other ones as well, but this is all about you.

So we love to wrap up and you’ve already mentioned it but th the why. What is your passion, what drives you? Jason? 

Jason: 25:55

My children drive me. Trying to make the world that they’re going into a better place. And that, that’s what drives me. I firmly believe I have nothing against people who are just hugely active in politics and in other areas, but I personally believe that the biggest difference I can make in this world is within my four walls. So if I can raise my children in a way that they go out and make the world a better place, then I feel like I’ve left my mark. And that’s what me and my wife try to do. So yeah, my kids they’re my why. Every day I get up. That’s what, that’s why I get up. 

Chris: 26:33

Man, that is awesome. That’s a wonderful answer. I know that you’re laying such a solid foundation for those kids. So hats off to you. It sounds like he had just a wonderful situation going in Kentucky. Best of luck to you in the future at AMTEC and wherever your career takes you. And I can’t thank you enough for being a guest on EECO Asks Why. 

Jason: 26:50

Thank you, Chris. I really appreciate it. I hope your listeners got something out of this today, and I’ve been telling her your producer all morning that if I sound stupid, just to hit that delete key. So the offer is still on the table.

Chris: 27:02

It’s all good, man. You were great. So thank you again. 

Jason: 27:05

All right. Thanks. Have a great day.