Cultivating the Next Generation of Finishing Industry Leaders

As a generation of experienced coaters and finishers look toward retirement, new leaders are beginning to emerge. Training, education, support and encouragement for new talent is crucial for the future of manufacturing.
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This past month, Products Finishing reported on the 2020 Bright Design Program, which held its final presentations in early May. The annual program is sponsored by the Metal Finishing Association of California (MFACA) and the National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF, Washington, D.C.). It guides students to think beyond traditional design theory to develop next-generation engineering solutions utilizing surface technology. It was an interesting and challenging year for the program as the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the time students would normally spend in metal finishing shops. Nevertheless, the program persevered. Through the use of online tools, the Bright Design Program continued its classes and conducted its final presentations, ultimately awarding $20,000 in scholarships.

The month of May also saw the Powder Coating Institute (PCI) award its 2020 scholarships. The scholarship program is designed to invest in new talent and steer them toward careers in the powder coating industry.

I’ve had several recent workforce and training discussions that have made me think how exciting it is to see the creative ways companies are working to discover and foster new talent. I recently spoke with Perfection Industrial Finishing (Tucson, Arizona), a company that is scheduled to speak about workforce development at PF’s upcoming Top Shops Executive Summit scheduled for October 20-22 in Indianapolis. The company is doing some exciting work to train workers from rehabilitation centers and correctional facilities, giving them a second chance to contribute and find meaningful careers in finishing. I also spoke with Matt Kirchner, PF columnist and president of LAB Midwest LLC (Mequon, Wisc.), which lends training technology that supports educational institutions from K-8 through to universities and technical colleges, as well as Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), an alliance of industry leaders that works to provide certification for 4.0 integrations as they relate to industrial processes, including finishing.

We are living in a time when cultivating a skilled workforce is incredibly important. As a generation of experienced coaters and finishers look toward retirement, the new leaders are beginning to emerge. Training, education, support and encouragement for new talent is crucial for the future of manufacturing.

One of the features in this issue of Products Finishing covers our 40 Under 40 awards program that recognizes emerging leaders in the finishing industry. The program’s emphasis is on leadership and this year’s finalists include a mix of young professionals ranging from engineers and chemists to general managers and sales professionals. It’s exciting to see these talented individuals stepping into leadership roles in the finishing industry.

Not long after joining Gardner Business Media, I volunteered to be a presenter in my daughters’ elementary school STEM night. I felt a bit like a charlatan — I’ve no experience as an engineer or a manufacturer. But I was learning a lot about the manufacturing industries through my reporting and thought I might be able to talk to kids about some of the cool opportunities out there. I walked into the school cafeteria with a variety of material samples, a few products loaned to me by the kind folks at A&P Technology, located just a few miles from Gardner’s Cincinnati offices, and a slide show of applications I had slapped together. As I set up my display table next to erector set robots, DNA models and volcano experiments, I expected that I might end up sitting at my table alone for the next 2 hours. To my surprise, I didn’t have a moment’s rest. The night flew by as kids played with samples of carbon fiber and 3D-printed parts. They flipped through pictures of various applications (high-end sports cars, drones and spaceships — at least I know my demographic). Most importantly, they asked me questions. Tons of questions — and really good ones. I made a point to remember several of those questions to ask shops during interviews. Kids are amazing and getting to them early, when they are naturally inquisitive and uninhibited, is key.

The finishing industry, like the whole of manufacturing, is poised for some exciting changes. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up supply chains and made shops reevaluate some of the ways they do business. Perhaps some of that will translate to new opportunities for the emerging work force of the future. What role is your shop or institution playing in fostering this next generation of talent? Let us know about your training programs or initiatives. We’d love to hear from you and share your stories with our readers.