First Person: Building a Long-Term Manufacturing Workforce
Area Development’s staff writer, Mark Crawford, recently spoke to Amanda Hutchings, president of Peak Manufacturing in Pleasant Lake, Mich., about addressing the looming shortage of workers in manufacturing by hiring women, who are underrepresented in this field, and educating the youngest generation about the rewarding careers that await them in manufacturing.
Hutchings: Peak Manufacturing is the world’s largest bearing spacer supplier for the heavy truck industry. We shear, press, and machine a line of spacers that go into the hub assemblies of most heavy trucks you see on the road today. I wish I could say I was a confident superwoman and pushed for growth and promotion when I started with Peak 10 years ago in an entry-level position. In reality, I was in my early 20s and fearful of change. However, the owner had an unusual amount of faith in me and moved me into open positions as key people left the company. In a small business you learn quickly to wear many hats.
AD: Workforce is a huge issue in manufacturing today, especially the skills gap. How do you maintain a highly skilled workforce?
Hutchings: The type of manufacturing we do here at Peak Manufacturing requires training; we use custom equipment and a variety of machining methods. We grow from within and train. When we hire, we find people with integrity who have desire to learn, and we teach them what they need to know. Almost the entire management team started their careers with entry-level jobs at Peak. We have an excellent employee retention rate, in part due to our positive culture. Our employee appreciation and community giving programs help attract the type of people we are looking for, and our culture and opportunities for advancement keep them here.
AD: Do you require employees to have a postsecondary degree or specialized training?
Hutchings: No one was ever hired at Peak because they had a degree, and we never have required a degree for any position. I am a firm believer in postsecondary education for those who want it, and in many industries, it may be vital to obtain a job, but at Peak it is not a requirement. We offer hands-on training for every employee. For administrative, quality, or management-type positions, we offer many skills seminars or training sessions to help solidify the skills that are needed for their roles. I require seminars for my entire management staff. Continuous improvement is a large part of our quality management system, and the same can be said about our human resources — we are constantly looking for ways to improve employee competency and personal growth.
AD: What are the greatest challenges for women in manufacturing?
Hutchings: Manufacturing is a male-dominated industry. I did not grow up imagining that I would be in manufacturing; it simply just happened. I went to college for marketing and was working with a nonprofit whose office happened to be located in a manufacturing plant. My eyes were opened to the different types of roles within a manufacturing organization, especially financial and quality positions.
Manufacturing does not only mean assembly line work or running a machine. There are many supporting jobs that people just do not know about. For example, we have many women at Peak in positions that include top management, administration, purchasing, quality control, and inspectors and machine operators on the shop floor. It is our job as women in manufacturing to celebrate our contributions and share these opportunities with other young women. Inspiring the next generation and showing them that there are rewarding careers, from entry level to top management, is an ongoing mission — it takes time and I think we will get there.
AD: Tell us about your efforts in getting the youngest generation interested in science and manufacturing.
Hutchings: For over 10 years I have been very involved with the Shop Rat Foundation and have watched the organization grow from a simple after-school program building chopper motorcycles with local kids to becoming mid-Michigan’s premier STEM and skilled trades educational curriculum provider. Staff work hand-in-hand with the educational pipelines and industry to prepare students for their next step, whether it is a continuing program or moving directly into a position in the skilled trades. The curriculum is carefully developed to meet both the needs and interests of the students, as well as the community. Many of our Shop Rat alumni are enjoying their careers with local manufacturers.
Peak also supports skilled workforce youth organizations such as the Stockbridge High School robotics team, Jackson Area Career Center, JAC3 Program, JAMA Camp, Junior Achievement of the Michigan Edge, and other youth programs. One of our past Shop Rat students is completing her internship though Peak by working as a mechanical engineer.
AD: Please share any final thoughts about what it takes to be a successful and competitive manufacturer today.
Hutchings: We are shifting our focus from profitability and customer satisfaction to employee satisfaction and community involvement. Customer satisfaction and profitability will always be important, but these come much more naturally and are more sustainable with happy, satisfied employees who are proud of working with a company that cares about the community.
As part of Peak’s mission statement, supporting our community is just as important as supporting our customers. We believe that giving should be the foundation of any business. Peak sponsors and donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to local organizations, including missionary work, youth programs, and animal rescue organizations. Employees can earn up to two full days of vacation time for volunteering throughout the year. We also do group volunteering where the entire company is invited to participate in a volunteering event. Last fall we packed food for an amazing non-profit called Generosity Feeds to help combat child hunger. Giving back is embedded in our culture — it is who we are.
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