Dream It. Do It. goal: ‘aligning hopes and dreams’

By Plant Engineering Staff July 19, 2005

The effort in Kansas City to launch the Dream It-Do It campaign has been entrusted to Paul Scianna, executive director of the Alliance for Innovation in Manufacturing (AIM) in Kansas City, and Phyllis Eisen, vice-president of The Manufacturing Institute, which is part of the National Association of Manufacturers.

PLANT ENGINEERING spoke exclusively with both to find out how Dream It. Do It. is being received, and why the effort is so important to the short- and long-term future of manufacturing:

When you talk with educators and young people, what’s their initial impression of Dream It. Do It.?

Scianna: It depends on the audience. Educators who are aware of the array of manufacturing-related careers require little or no information to convince them about the importance of our campaign. For those who are less familiar with careers in today’s manufacturing, it doesn’t take long for them to realize the value of our campaign. And when I mention that the average wage is manufacturing is about $62,000 a year — or 22% higher than other sectors — I’ll inevitably hear the question, “Where can I get an application?” This is usually followed by some good-natured laughter.

Many secondary educators indicate they are under a lot of pressure to “send” their students to four-year colleges or universities — regardless of the student’s interest or level of preparation. These educators welcome programs that support their efforts to offer meaningful education and training to all of their students. It’s important to note that while most entry-level positions in manufacturing require some sort of post-secondary education or training (i.e., an advanced certificate, associates degree, etc.) not all require a four-year degree.

I am aware of a number of cases where individuals have begun their careers in manufacturing with various levels of education and have continued their education — eventually earning an undergraduate or (in some cases) a post-graduate degree. Most have done so by taking advantage of tuition-reimbursement programs offered by their employers.

In addition, most teachers are very open to forging new relationships with area manufacturers and to bringing practical applications of coursework into the classroom.

Eisen: When we talk with both educators and young people, their initial response to manufacturing and its careers is old and stereotyped or just ignorant (no knowledge at all) They have been influenced by plant closings and local news as well. When we talk about the Dream It. Do It. campaign – they light up and almost instantly connect with the aspiration and personal challenge of the campaign. Educators want new opportunities for their students and new tools to help them connect with the real work of the future. Students want to connect their sense of self and hopes and dreams of contributing to society (a very important goal of this generation)and are totally open once they get into the Website or connect with a real person.

How about with manufacturers? What’s their reaction been at the grass-roots level?

Eisen: Manufacturers tell us all over the county how concerned they are about their pipeline and a skilled workforce to keep them competitive. The large companies have been working with schools for years and they can cream to top of the community. The problem is the small and medium sized companies that have the fewest resources for both recruitment and broad-range training. I think local manufacturers are excited about being portrayed differently and looking cool. I also think they are cautious because they want to make sure this is not just another flavor of the month.

But having NAM behind this is key for them. We are their trusted association and they feel extraordinarily positive we understand they are sick and tired of being portrayed in old, negative stereotypes and eager to show their facility is not their grand-dad’s factory. Slowly but surely they are gathering voice in a broad range of communities to say we will join this campaign and fight for our future. So for our members, the national attention and the local opportunity to become involved is the secret of the sauce. It just takes time to connect them with the available resources.

Scianna: Overall, the reaction has been very positive. Yet one of the challenges we face is that most small- and medium-sized manufacturers wear many hats, so it’s difficult to pull them away from their day-to-day responsibilities to address an issue — even one that most affects them. We have a number of manufacturers who are becoming more involved in our efforts, and we’re continually seeking their input on ways to engage them in a manner that takes the least amount of time and offers the greatest value.

In addition, many manufacturers are using our efforts as a rally cry and a means of encouraging one another to find common ground and embrace the challenges they collectively face. To a certain extent, they have adopted the words of our founding fathers who said, “We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

How will you measure the success of this program?

Eisen: The success of this program will be measured in a variety of ways – each reflected by the region that designs the Dream It. Do It. campaign. In Kansas City and other pilots we will do pre-and post benchmarking of attitudes (over a 16th month period) We have also developed a Skills Gap Analysis tool that shows what gaps need to be filled by the supply side (education) to fill business and job demands. We will review in each pilot if those are underway. We continuously track website traffic and focus on continuous improvement and feedback from the community. We will track involvement in each region of the coalitions or alliances that develop (a key part of the model) and see who has joined from varying parts of the community (civic, political, economic development, educational and business and community based organization) and what they have agreed to do to make the Dream It. Do It. campaign successful and an integral part of the community.

We will also monitor and be closely involved with new school and business partnerships that focus on manufacturing careers. Finally, when push comes to shove – it’s always, “show me the money” so we will also be closely monitoring and give whatever help we can to continued fundraising from the state and local coffers, foundations and local corporate funding.

Scianna: Manufacturing has long been the economic backbone of our nation and the source of growth and prosperity for our communities. And while we cannot guarantee the success of our efforts, we can be fairly certain of the results if we do nothing at all.

While there are many benchmarks we can use, our success ultimately will be determined by our ability to retain and grow our existing manufacturing base and to attract new manufacturing operations to our area. But in order to accomplish this goal, we must be successful in our efforts to: 1) update the perception of manufacturing among young adults, parents, teachers and counselors; 2) align our education and training programs with the demands of area industry; and 3) ensure that our region offers a competitive environment for manufacturers.

I am reminded of the words of the 19th Century French philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville. After visiting America’s houses of worship and observing the care and concern offered by our charitable institutions, de Tocqueville said, “America is great, because America is good. And when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” His words speak to the moral fabric, or the heart and soul of our nation, which has forever set us apart from other countries. With all due respect to de Tocqueville, I believe it also could be said that, “America is great because America produces goods. And when America ceases to produce goods, America will cease to be great.”

Manufacturing has long been a key source of our country’s greatness, and it is our goal to ensure that we have the highly skilled workforce necessary to maintain America’s global leadership through unparalleled innovation and productivity.

The goal of Dream It. Do It. is to roll out similar programs all over the country, but time is of the essence. What can manufacturers do now to develop a similar program in their own communities?

Scianna: My father-in-law is fond of the saying, “When all is said and done, often times, more is said than done.” Manufacturers across America are not only talking about the issues they face, they’re taking action to address them.

While other communities may not currently have a Dream It. Do It. campaign or an organization such as AIM-KC, local manufacturers can take the leadership in ensuring that their communities have the infrastructure in place to meet the workforce challenges of the 21stcentury.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60% of all new jobs in the 21stcentury will require skills that are possessed by only 20% of the current workforce. So if you think about it, most all of us will require some sort of “re-tooling” in order to remain viable. If we are willing to embrace change, you’ll be successful. If not, we — and our community — will be left behind. Manufacturers can initiate a dialogue with their schools — both secondary and post secondary — to update them on the careers available in manufacturing and the education and training required. In addition, they can open their doors for tours, provide internships for students and teachers, and collectively make their voices heard in the public square to ensure they have a competitive environment from which to operate.

Bear in mind that Kansas City is the pilot, and it is our desire to take what we learn and make it available to communities across America. In the meantime, manufacturers can take steps toward accomplishing similar goals in their communities.

Eisen: Yes, time is of the essence but we are determined to test this community based model and make sure it is flexible and doable and also can be integrated with local ideas for promoting the skills and careers necessary to create a robust manufacturing sector. Local communities are calling us every day with ideas of their own and we are working one-on-one to help them integrate some of the work of Dream It. Do It. But our model is not an inexpensive one or an easy one. It takes an entire community pulling together to turn the tide on focusing young people to the high skilled and exciting jobs in manufacturing.

This is not just the creation of yet one more video or some additional curricula for the schools. We have to break out of what we have done in the past to achieve new results in demanding times. We want Dream It. Do It. all around the country as a brand that manufacturing careers of the 21st century align directly with the hopes and dreams of our future workforce. Otherwise, I don’t think we have a chance to have the best, brightest and future change agents in our most productive sector — at least for now.