Steve Heethuis - NN Mobile Solutions - 2022 MFG Talent Champion

This article appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Upon hearing Steve Heethuis talk about inspiring the next generation of manufacturing professionals and motivating current workers, it’s easy to see why he’s been named this year’s MFG Talent Champion.

Training Director at Autocam of NN Inc. for the past eight years, Heethuis is passionately committed to helping employees and future professionals reach their full potential through education, training and by showcasing manufacturing opportunities to students in person. Heethuis says employees also become inspired when they see the value of their own efforts.

“I do what I do out of the joy of seeing someone pursue their own success. I work with great people, and when you work in an environment where they want you to be successful, it’s kind of opportunistic to help share that experience with others,” says Heethuis.

As manufacturers across the state face significant challenges developing and retaining workers, Heethuis works tirelessly to connect with students, counselors, teachers, parents and more to advocate for careers and opportunities in the industry.

“Whether it’s a student getting clarity as to what their next step might be, an employee finding joy in learning a new technical skill or talking about the culture of a company that really helps set it apart — those are all experiences that I really, truly enjoy,” he says.

Autocam is committed to sion of Discover Manufacturing, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing manufacturing talent needs in West Michigan. Heethuis currently serves as the organization’s Executive Chair.

Jerry Hill, Industry Council Lead for Discover Manufacturing, describes Heethuis as a relentless catalyst for change in this regard.

“Having someone who is willing to collaborate and to pull all the stakeholders together and to be so open and sharing of the best practices has been an incredible gift to West Michigan,” Hill says.

John Buchan, Executive Vice President for the Mobile and Power Solutions Group within NN Inc., says promoting the culture of manufacturing businesses is essential.

“Anybody can buy a machine. Anybody can push a button and make the machine go up and down,” says Buchan. “Coming up with a differentiator, a competitive advantage, something that makes you special, something that makes customers come back, that’s really about the people and you have to develop that.”

Buchan says Heethuis has been a longtime leader in developing innovative ideas for training and workforce development solutions.

Heethuis is also involved with MiCareerQuest, a statewide program that introduces students to professionals in the industry and career opportunities. Buchan says that MiCareerQuest has accomplished a lot to evolve the public’s perception and understanding of the industry.

“That perception needed to change,” Buchan says. “It started with getting out and talking about manufacturing, changing who we were hiring and why we were hiring. We weren’t just hiring somebody to run a machine; we’re hiring engineers or technicians, we’re hiring people with a career and a future. And Steve led that effort in the community.”

The goal of these programs is to help students explore career options — even those they may never have considered before.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to help a student understand that they’re not going to make a mistake. They can just learn and explore,” says Heethuis, adding that the value of an educational pursuit is for students to understand what’s right for them and what isn’t.

“I think as a community when we can hold the perspective of engaging with our students, engaging with our talent pool, to help them find what they really get excited about, we’re all going to be better off,” he says. “I hope from a talent development perspective, we’re more interested in opening doors for people than we are in closing them. I think that would be beneficial for all of us.”

Heethuis’s dedication to improving the industry’s reputation and inspiring current and future manufacturing professionals makes him a well-deserved recipient of this year’s MFG Talent Champion award.

Premium Associate MemberThe MFG Emerging Leader is part of the annual MFG Excellence Awards which celebrate the leaders and products that are pushing the industry forward. Learn more about the awards program and gala.