October is Manufacturing Month in Kohler’s home state of Wisconsin, and current and aspiring manufacturing professionals are celebrating the important work that is the heartbeat of our state.
The intricate, sophisticated, carefully orchestrated heartbeat that keeps industry humming along, giving life to our state, national and world economies.
That heartbeat is my happy place. Why I come to work each day. Why I love what I do. Why I’m never satisfied with status quo.
But despite its monumental importance, many myths around the manufacturing profession persist. Myths about lackluster facilities, slow progress or robots taking over our jobs. Luckily, they are just not true … at least not anymore. The new world of manufacturing is technology-driven, innovative and evolving. Just look at my title … Director of Smart Factory. My job is literally dedicated to giving associates the tools they need to work smarter doing more of the work that they enjoy.
So, let’s dispel some of those myths, shall we?
Myth: Manufacturing work is mundane and outdated.
Reality: This is not your grandmother’s factory. Gone are the days of uninspiring workshops and monotonous assembly lines. Clean, safe, high-tech machinery and facilities are the standard. Technology, process improvement and innovative solutions are at the forefront of today’s manufacturing world, and teams are encouraged to think critically, experiment liberally and challenge the “we’ve always done it this way”-s.
A spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well in our Kohler factories. We have an incredible culture of openness to new ways of thinking (and re-thinking) strategic perspectives. It’s inspiring and it drives rapid results. If something’s not working—or could be working better—you better believe we’re looking at a solution. Each day holds new opportunities and challenges, and that’s what I love about working in manufacturing.
Myth: There’s no room for growth in manufacturing jobs.
Reality: Manufacturing professionals are in high demand, and companies like Kohler are investing in career development, training and education. As with any business operation, successful manufacturing relies on collaborative teamwork across diverse skillsets—and that stems from the support, mentoring and development of our associates.
My personal approach is to “limit the limitations.” Basically, how can we give our team members the tools and support to help them get more for their efforts? How can we reinvest in them to ensure they reach their full potential? Manufacturing careers require a dedication to lifelong learning, and we must champion those efforts from the bottom up.
Myth: Manufacturing work is unskilled and could be replaced by robots.
Reality: Success in manufacturing takes hands-on training, continuous education and strategic upskilling. People, process and technology are the engines that make manufacturing go—but it starts with people. Processes and technology help humans work smarter—but they certainly cannot replace the critical thinking capabilities of a highly skilled manufacturing professional.
By augmenting people with technology, we can upskill them to add value in different ways than ever before. We are creating agile, iterative production processes; accelerating data collection and transformation; and advancing timeliness, accuracy and autonomy of decision-making for our associates. We are not fully automating jobs—we are giving people the tools to do their jobs better, faster and with more proficiency and satisfaction. Manufacturing jobs are evolving and require more specialized skills than ever before.
I’ve been fortunate to work on some amazing, disruptive projects in my manufacturing career. Things like using Google glasses to deliver digital work instructions. Flying drones through warehouses for cycle counting. Experimenting with a forklift-free assembly plant. This work, along with my contributions at Kohler, is what ultimately earned my induction into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame earlier this year.
However, my greatest achievements have been and continue to be mentoring, coaching and developing the next generation of manufacturing talent. Take it from this English and Art major-turned techie- process improvement junkie: There’s a place for everyone within manufacturing, and I will continue to share my passion for its unique opportunities and rewarding careers.