Engaging Students on MFG Day

This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

There are few things more eye-opening than stepping into a manufacturing facility for the first time. The bright lights, cool machines, smiling faces, high-tech tools and captivating sounds all leave you with a rush of excitement. It’s fun to be a manufacturer! If you want to share that excitement with your local community, there’s an event this fall which every manufacturer should be a part of.

National Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) is a great day to increase awareness about manufacturing careers and the industry’s far-reaching influence. Be part of the momentum! Your business isn’t alone in promoting the message — there are literally thousands of businesses opening their doors on MFG Day! Take a step forward and join the nationwide celebration. MFG Day is 10/5/18 and your planning must start now.

“It is no secret that Michigan has made an amazing comeback, and our manufacturers have played a critical role in that,” said Governor Rick Snyder. “The manufacturing industry is one area that has grown immensely and is flourishing, but we lack critical talent to fill many of today’s manufacturing jobs and keep up with this growth. MFG Day is a great opportunity to showcase the job opportunities in this field and inspire the next generation to explore and pursue these rewarding careers right here in Michigan.”

Whether you’re an old pro at MFG Day, are working to improve existing events, or learning about MFG Day for the first time, every manufacturer can help swing the talent challenge in a new direction. It only takes a few resources, a little time and the same determination you put in every day as a manufacturer.

“Through MFG Day, we’re able to take students out of the classroom and bring them into our facility to not only learn about our company and our manufacturing processes, but also inspire them and create awareness about the many available career paths,” said Patrick Curry, president of Saginaw’s Fullerton Tool Company.

Use the following tips to shape your MFG Day 2018 plans and consider the lessons learned from fellow manufacturers and pro-industry supporters.

Start with a Well-Thought-Out Plan
Choose the Event

Not every event is right for you, your business or your audience. Is an open house the way to go? Consider working with other manufacturers and plan a community-wide event. The only wrong way to participate in MFG Day is by not doing anything!

Open House: “We do the open house showcase so the students can see what we do live,” said Paul Aultman, president of Standish-based Vantage Plastics. “There’s just something different about seeing it up close and in the future, we’d like to open up MFG Day events to parents as well so they can see what options are available for their kids.”

Block Party: “Shape Corp organized a 2017 block party with five of our neighbors to provide students with hands on activities, plant tours and presentations, plus a panel discussion of professionals currently working in the skilled trades profession,” said Julie Davidson, talent acquisition director for Grand Haven-based Shape Corp. “We chose the block party theme in order to encourage local businesses to participate while being able to offer the students a good variety of what manufacturing has to offer.”

Register Your Event and Connect with MMA

Your event deserves national and state recognition. Register it on the national MFG Day page ( to get the word out and connect with MMA for help sharing information about your event.

“I liked the resources they provided on,” said Shirley Shelson, HR manager for Standish-based Vantage Plastics. “They had a lot of significant resources, and they helped me compose a letter that I use as our standard letter every year to send to the schools.”

Organize the Five Ws

Who are you inviting? What will you be doing? Where will the event be hosted? When will the event be? Why are you hosting the event? Answering these common questions at the start will guide your planning.

“Organizing plant tours across multiple companies can be tricky — use the same collaboration and team work techniques you use every day to develop a well-organized plan. Then execute it,” said Julie Davidson, talent acquisition director for Grand Haven-based Shape Corp.

“Know the space you have available and don’t overextend yourself,” said Kelly Victor-Burke, CEO of Livonia-based Burke Architectural Millwork.

“The internal logistics can be challenging,” said Paul Aultman, president of Standish-based Vantage Plastics. “Get everyone on the same page and you can turn a hectic situation into an all-around great experience.”

Pick Your Partners – Schools and Fellow MFG

If you have existing partnerships with local schools, now is a great time to contact them. Let them know they are invited to your event.

“Manufacturers often struggle with connecting with local schools. Schools often struggle connecting with employers in the community. MFG Day is an opportunity to begin to build a bridge,” said Jennifer McNelly, president of 180 Skills out of Indianapolis, Indiana. “Employers need to talk with students about what they look for in future employees, the math and technical skills, plus soft skills like teamwork and leadership.”

The Ingredients for Great Turnout — Promotion, Promotion, Promotion
E-Mail the VIPs

MFG Day only works if you’re connecting with the people you need to reach. Pinpoint who you want to attend early. Are they students? Are they parents, teachers and counselors? Are they legislators and local leaders?

Make the Most of Social Media

Today’s students and working professionals are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Promote your events there with photos, videos, hashtags and eye-catching marketing.

Up the Press Coverage

The media loves a good story and few tell a better story than manufacturers doing what they love. Connect with local newspapers, radio and television stations and business-focused blogs to spread the word about MFG Day — you can even offer op-eds, press releases and media advisories.

Make it Fun
Smiles Make Memories

Utilize your rock stars. You know who they are. Whether they are on your shop floor or somewhere else, these are the men and women who will make manufacturing real.

“The pride in our employees as they inspired the next generation of manufacturers truly made this a worthwhile endeavor,” said Ronald E. Geisman, president of Horton-based Lomar Machine and Tool Company and the 2017 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year.

“There are opportunities for jobs in manufacturing beyond just factory work,” encouraged Paul Aultman, president of Standish-based Vantage Plastics. “There’s HR, IT, accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, design and many more ways to make your impact on a business. If you have a passion for something, it’s highly likely there’s a way to use those skills in manufacturing.”

“The most successful MFG Day events engage the full manufacturing workforce,” said Jennifer McNelly, president of 180 Skills out of Indianapolis, Indiana. “From Accounting Departments talking about currency exchange to Machinists talking about math, the most powerful voice on MFG Day are the combined voices of your manufacturing employees.”

Hands-On Learning Creates Lasting Love

Whenever possible, allow the students interactive opportunities throughout the day. The more they can see it, touch it, taste it (okay, maybe not so much taste it), the more they’ll remember it when it’s time to select a career path.

“Manufacturers should make the experience as interactive as possible,” said Jeff Hannan, director of business solutions for Benton Harbor-based Kinexus. “Some students are hands-on learners and you should look for ways to keep students engaged throughout the day.”

Have Facts to Share

While students may be won over by the hands-on learning, parents, teachers, and local leaders often want a little extra. Use MMA, NAM, the Manufacturing Institute and the National MFG Day site for facts relating to employees, wages and benefits, the industry’s multiplier effect and more.

Answer Questions

MFG Day offers you a rare chance to talk directly with students. Make the most of it by offering Q&A time or getting questions ahead of time to seed answers in throughout the day.

“Our interactions with students were by far the best part of the MFG Day experience — they were so eager to learn and asked great questions,” said Patrick Curry, president of Saginaw’s Fullerton Tool Company. “I’m very excited to see the future impact these young men and women will have on our everchanging industry.”

Make More than a Day Out of MFG Day
Survey Participants

You don’t know what you don’t know. Have surveys available at the end of the event and e-mail participants a follow-up asking what they thought. It’ll provide ways to improve your event every year.

Make the Memories Last

Blog posts, photo galleries, news articles and videos all keep the experience alive and raise the excitement for next year. Plan for these ahead of time and appropriately release them in the days and weeks that follow.

Continue the Conversations

The talent challenge won’t be solved overnight; it’s a process and your MFG Day isn’t the destination, it’s one step on the journey to raising awareness. Keep the relationships you build alive, follow up with attendees and sprinkle in other community engagement events throughout the year.

MFG Day is a celebration where you and your team get to show why your careers are among the most exciting anywhere — so have fun and showcase manufacturing’s cool factor!

“MFG Day should be an important part of every manufacturer’s annual calendar because this is an industry that is growing and changing — it is more high-tech than ever and requires a whole new generation of innovative workers,” said Governor Snyder. “From machinists, to CNC operators, to mechanical, industrial and electric engineers — manufacturers are in need of skilled workers to fill the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. Manufacturing is part of who we are as a state and MFG Day can help ensure Michigan remains a national leader for years to come.”

About the Author

Brett GerrishBrett Gerrish is MMA’s communications coordinator. He may be reached at or 517-487-8533.