Portman Rountable Explores Challenges Manufacturers Face in Promoting Rewarding Employment Opportunities

Special to Advanced Manufacturing Industry Partnership (AMIP)

MASON, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who once served as the nation’s top trade ambassador, chose a diplomatic way to kick off a roundtable discussion hosted by Rhinestahl Corp. Feb. 8 on jobs and careers in manufacturing.

The senator from Cincinnati recounted his children’s response when he told them where he was headed that morning: “Cool, dad, you’re going to a brewery,” they said.

The word play on Rhinestahl and Rhinegeist, a popular Over-the-Rhine brewery, earned a laugh. At the same time, the anecdote also deftly touched on two of the key themes to emerge during the one-hour roundtable: awareness of local manufacturing, and perception of the industry.

Rhinegeist, the brewery, clearly enjoys name recognition. But a strong argument could be made that young adults would be well served by brushing up on Rhinestahl, as well as Pilot Chemical, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Makino, Feintool, RB Tool & Manufacturing, General Tool, Richards Industries, Clippard and Thyssenkrupp Bilstein. Representatives from each of the companies participated in the roundtable.

Portman reminded the audience, composed of executives and students, that the Cincinnati area still is “the machine tool capital of the world.” And Ohio is “ahead of the game” by providing more funding to encourage students to seek high-tech and manufacturing careers, he said.

Funding is critical, Portman said. He touted Senate legislation he co-sponsors called the JOBS Act, an acronym for Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students. The proposal would amend the Higher Education Act by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term job training programs. The lawmaker said he hopes the legislation will pass this year.

To the students at the roundtable, Portman extolled the advantages of work and study programs offered by local manufacturers. “You can go to college. Rather than taking on $27,000 in debt, you can be making ten times that much,” he said. “These jobs pay well.”

In bottom-line terms, Portman told the students: “You can buy a car. You can buy a house, and not live in your parents’ basement.”

Bill Metz, VP operations and engineering at Richards Industries, picked up on Portman’s funding focus. “We need more employees. We’re trying to hire people with the right attitude. We can train them,” he said. “We need more funding to encourage more students to seek the training.”

Bill Clippard Jr., VP of operations at Clippard, offered a similar sentiment. When Clippard finds a prospective employee with the right attitude and passion, it’s willing to make an investment, he said. “It’s the key to our growth.”

Michelle Parsons, HR business director at AstraZeneca, said manufacturers are being challenged to make some changes; changes in their attitudes, in the way they train, in the way they motivate. “Young people want a purpose,” she said. “We all want to know our life’s work is for a good cause.”

Chris Leedy, VP of manufacturing and engineering at Pilot Chemical, said manufacturers could use some reinforcement from educators on the motivational issue. Students still are motivated by a four-year college experience, he noted. It would be beneficial if teachers and guidance counselors would promote the manufacturing path by emphasizing to students that “these are real careers,” he said.

Makino President Don Lane shared an insight that giving young people an up close and personal look has proven to be an excellent motivator. Lane said Makino brings students on buses to its manufacturing center. The students “who come through our facility are coming back,” he said.

In a portion of his remarks, Portman cited Butler Tech for being a leader in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) field. “Butler Tech is right at the top,” the senator said. They take CTE seriously, they want businesses here to succeed and they want to give young people opportunities, he said.

Dave Fox, a Butler Tech precision machining instructor, created roundtable buzz with some cold hard numbers. In one of his programs, involving 28 students, the group received over 100 job offers, he said. Those numbers are changing parents’ minds about the manufacturing option, he said.

Rhinestahl President Dieter Moeller linked a Portman comment about the Rhinestahl manufacturing floor “being clean enough to eat off of” to the crucial issue of perception.

“These are good (career) paths,” Moeller said. “The hardest spots to fill are the ones in skilled trades, due to stereotypes and old world perceptions. High-skilled work is on the rise, but it gets wrapped up with the impression that manufacturing is on a decline,” he said.

“We need to develop the next generation of skilled workers,” Moeller added. “There is no reason that this (southern Ohio) can’t be the machinery, high-tech epicenter of the United States,” he said.

Portman wrapped up the roundtable discussion on a high note. “The dignity and self-respect that comes from working should fire people up,” he said.

To learn more about how your company can join the movement, contact Rhinestahl Vice President of Corporate Development, Amy Meyer at amy.meyer@rhinestahl.com

Written by Tim Sansbury