Member Spotlight: Burke Architectural Millwork

Manufacturing in the 21st century is about more than people on an assembly line. They are skilled workers, innovators and craftsmen. Manufacturers should be treated like rock stars; instead, they are often unknown even by their own communities. They’ve become invisible, despite their impact on every aspect of our lives. It has never been more important for every manufacturer — even those just starting in the industry — to take pride in what they do and work to change manufacturing’s public perception.

“There is a crisis facing today’s manufacturer — it’s deeper than just a struggle to locate talent — we’re losing the craftsmanship that comes from creation,” says Kelly Victor-Burke, CEO of Burke Architectural Millwork. “Michigan manufacturing may be as diverse as ever, but for those relying on creating custom-made products, the skills we’re finding are a mile wide and only an inch deep.”

The perception of many industry outsiders is these are careers of last resort. When Kelly and her husband, Barry Burke — company president and a craftsman with more than twenty years’ experience — founded the company in October 2016, they made it their mission to change opinions.

“You used to be able to find great craftsmen — talented men and women who could create incredible, eye-catching, one-of-a-kind products,” recalls Barry. “Today, young people aren’t learning the skills and most don’t even have an interest. We want to bring back what’s gone missing.”

“Manufacturing should be turning people away left and right, not struggling to fill every spot or constantly having to answer why someone should want to be a manufacturer — why wouldn’t you,” Kelly asks. “Where else can you turn a chunk of wood into something for the centerpiece of their home or business. The craftsmen of manufacturing are more than laborers and they are more than talent. They are artists.”

The Burkes regularly scour southeast Michigan in search of training programs that will teach and complement the skills wood manufacturers and other diverse subsectors need. Unfortunately, time after time, they come up empty.

Kelly continues by saying “[we] are working to increase awareness about manufacturing careers and woodworking. We’ve met with schools across southeast Michigan, gone to tech centers, and toured what they do and how they teach. The existing efforts don’t mesh with what our customers demand and it makes growing the business much harder.”

With her background in education and currently teaching at Eastern Michigan University, Kelly decided to change things up and go where the talent is. Burke is making social media their playground. The company’s most tantalizing products and beautiful workspace are now featured across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

“We’re a young company and we’re trying new things,” says Kelly, a 10,000-watt smile crossing her face. “Social media provides incredible new marketing opportunities for manufacturers who struggle to locate proper training programs. You can attract the attention of community leaders, educators, potential clients and, most importantly, young people who have no idea these careers exist.”

Most manufacturers remain hesitant to go too far into social media — the marketing style still new to an industry which often struggles to become younger.

The Burke team believes social media is the perfect platform for manufacturers to tell a compelling story, share their products and engage with the next generation.

“We’re on a mission to showcase the “cool factor” of manufacturing and it’s something every business owner can do,” says Kelly. “The more young people see what you do, the more they’ll want to do it. We want people with a passion for this work. We want future talent to know when you work in manufacturing — especially when you work at Burke — you’re more than a worker, you’re a rock star!”

This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.