Today, manufacturers across the U.S. are celebrating Manufacturing Day – an annual event recognizing manufacturing to inspire the next generation of manufacturers. Accounting for roughly 9% of the nation’s workforce, Manufacturing Day calls attention to this important industry in our country.
Jeff and Wyatt Rosenlund, a father and son pair holding manufacturing-related roles at Milliken, took the time to share their perspective of U.S. manufacturing. Their viewpoints highlight the modern approach Milliken takes to manufacturing, and offer insights into the varied and sometimes surprising opportunities found in manufacturing careers.
With Jeff currently serving as a Manufacturing Practitioner with Milliken’s consulting group, Performance Solutions by Milliken, and Wyatt heading the Advanced Print Development team in R&D efforts for the Milliken floor covering division, their unique approach to manufacturing careers inspire others to think differently about the career options in modern manufacturing.
What is your take on the state of U.S. manufacturing?
Jeff Rosenlund: In short, our country has an opportunity to promote the manufacturing industry. Because manufacturing, in years past, battled a strong misconception, there are an increasing number of manufacturers seeking qualified applicants for positions that offer a great standard of living. We can fill these roles by encouraging young people to pursue skill development in manufacturing crafts, which can be found at many technical colleges.
We also have the opportunity to address another misconception about the industry. Many people do not realize the technology integral to building a successful manufacturing company. The ‘high tech’ industry is a misnomer in that it is used to designate companies making computers, solar panels, phones, or other computerized components. Nowadays, no matter the end product, all successful companies are ‘high tech’ in their production capabilities. Every industry requires highly technical skills to be cost effective, safe, and efficient.
Wyatt Rosenlund: I think U.S. manufacturing is making a comeback. Especially in the Southeast region, manufacturing continues to grow rapidly. I believe the U.S. will return to being a global leader in manufacturing. As technology continues to advance, it will enable us to win back jobs previously moved overseas to capitalize on lower labor rates and higher margins. It speaks to the Milliken spirit that we were able to not only survive, but actually thrive, through periods when manufacturing was moving out of the U.S.
What does manufacturing mean to you in this day and age?
JR: Successful manufacturing means the engagement of enabled and empowered people who work together to produce value for themselves, their families, their communities, their customers, and their shareholders. No matter the number of computers or robots a company has, success is driven by a strong workforce who is educated, who excels in a team environment, who values strong communication and alignment of goals and objectives, and who is committed to helping individuals and the company grow. This teamwork must be cross-functional across the organizational structure.
WR: I’m proud to say that I work in manufacturing. It has changed the way I think about and treat people. Manufacturing provided me an avenue to meet a lot of people and to grow into my career.
It is also a commonality that I share with my family members who have worked in manufacturing before me, and it’s fun to share experiences when we get together. My father has worked at Milliken for a long time, mostly in manufacturing, and I have grown to appreciate those ‘embarrassing’ moments when I get introduced to a group as Jeff’s son, or when I meet someone new and they tell me ‘I remember you from family day back when you were eight years old.’ Thankfully he seems to have made more friends than enemies, so I haven’t suffered much retaliation. I certainly have a greater appreciation for how hard he worked to help provide the life I’ve been blessed with, and I hope to do the same for my family.
What was your perspective on manufacturing? Has that changed during your time with Milliken?
JR: My father was an engineer working in manufacturing and advanced his career through plant management, so I have always had a positive perspective. I feel the value of a manufacturing career has not changed. My career has helped shape my understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the manufacturing industry. I have experienced firsthand how important it is for a manufacturing operation to truly engage the workforce in meaningful work; that knowledge continues to grow, thanks to my current role in advising other companies to improve how they operate their plants.
Manufacturing is often hard and very challenging work, but it is rewarding. The rewards can be through the sense of accomplishment of overcoming challenges, working together as a team, learning new skills, and helping other people to build successful careers and lives.
WR: I’ve always had a lot of respect for manufacturing, as many of my family members - including my father - have built great careers working in various manufacturing roles. My respect for the industry and for my father has only grown during my time at Milliken. No one will ever tell you that working in manufacturing is an easy or glamorous, but it is rewarding and makes you appreciate the amount of work from a number of people that goes into the everyday products that we take for granted.
Specific to Milliken, manufacturing was, is, and will continue to be the heartbeat of the company. If you want to know how the company is really doing, go walk through the aisles, canteens, and warehouses in the manufacturing locations, and take a minute to talk to the associates. You might not see a balance sheet or an income statement, but you’ll know how things are really going by the time you leave.
What led you to a career in manufacturing?
JR: I come from a home that was financially supported by a manufacturing career. Additionally, I enjoyed science, math, and making things growing up. I then learned to appreciate the great teamwork and people skills required to be successful in manufacturing.
WR: I knew I wanted to be in a career that allowed me to interact with people. As someone who always enjoyed the camaraderie and unity of sports teams, I wanted that same environment professionally, and manufacturing provides that. Milliken offered me this opportunity at a time when jobs were hard to find coming out of the recession.
What is one misconception about a career in manufacturing?
JR: Manufacturing careers are boring and not rewarding. In fact, this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth, which is that manufacturing can be deeply fulfilling and meaningful.
WR: Some of the biggest misconceptions about manufacturing are that it is dangerous, low-paying, and career limiting. I think these couldn’t be further from the truth – especially at a company like Milliken, whose first priority has always been taking care of its associates.
In just six years, I held five different positions. Each of those positions pushed me to be a better individual and a better associate. Some of them I was ready for, and some of them I wasn’t, but they all gave me a chance to grow. The beauty of manufacturing is that it is fast-paced and ever changing, and your career can be the same if that’s what you work towards.
What is one little known aspect of your career in modern manufacturing?
JR: Manufacturing provides a tremendous variety of career opportunities. Not only a multitude of skilled crafts (welding, electrical, computer programing, maintenance, robotics, lab technician, and more) but leadership positions, product development, research and development, product design, production planning, financial analysis, project management, human resource management, environmental, safety, education, and so on.
WR: Whenever I came into a new position, I was always aware of how much I had to learn. I have always believed that you’re only as strong as your team. I don’t think I ever claimed to be the smartest person in the room, and I probably never was, but I always knew our team would find a way to be successful. I owe all of my success to the great people that I’ve worked with along the way.
What would you say to someone considering a career in manufacturing?
JR: Actually, I would tell anyone who is trying to determine what type of career path they want to check out manufacturing options. Learn about the wide variety of jobs that are available, and understand the challenges and the opportunities that exist. Almost any skill can be used in some way in a manufacturing company. Join others in making your community and nation strong by providing meaningful jobs to more and more people.
WR: I would tell them that if you value building relationships with people of all walks of life, and if you enjoy seeing the tangible results of your hard work, then you are in the right place. Whether it is for one year, or for 35 years, there’s no better place to develop your people and problem solving skills than in the manufacturing industry. It’s challenging, and can be stressful at times, but succeeding in those times when it feels like your back is against the wall is what makes it fun.
The modern manufacturing industry offers a range of exciting careers. Visit our career center to discover the available positions at Milliken offering purpose and passion for professionals of all skills and experience levels.