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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Andrew Crowe. Andrew is the leader of the new American manufacturing Renaissance and host of tv's project MFG. Andrew, welcome to the show.
Andrew Crowe: Thank you so much for having me.
Lisa Ryan: Share with us about your background and what led to your passion for changing the face of manufacturing.
Andrew Crowe: I would love to. My name is Andrew Crowe. I grew up in inner-city St Louis. The area I grew up in was violent, and there weren't a lot of opportunities. In the school district or the radius of where I was, I didn't have a lot of options or platforms to see what I was good at outside of sports and entertainment.
Seeing many people around me with jobs that weren't paying enough to survive on it led me into crime - to do something to lift my family out of poverty. Unfortunately, the only examples I had around me were people doing badly and illegal things. Before I was 18, I was a two-time felon and a teenage father. I didn't have a lot of focus, and I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. I didn't have much opportunity to express what I could be.
Fast forward to jobs not working out because of felonies and getting into more trouble. I finally had enough. I put the word out that I was looking for a job and a young lady introduced me to a place where she was working. It was a manufacturing plant, and I walked in and took a machinist test and failed horribly. I had never seen micrometers or calibers or anything like that. But on the back side, there was a math test with fractions and decimals, which is what we measured. I did well on that side, so I got hired to run the saw on the third shift, cut material, and drop it off at the CNC machines and the manual machines. I took this job in that factory, and my mind exploded with all the opportunities for the first time. I felt like I was the guy that got left in the museum or the kid in the candy shop.
I walked into this new world and had never considered how things were made. I didn't know anything about manufacturing. It lit a fire under me that I had never felt before. I wasn't passionate about the other things I had done in life. I didn't know what that felt like to have a passion. So I stayed in that environment as long as I could. I would work my eight hours, clock out, and then I would stay for four hours and watch the machines. Finally, I would stand and take notes.
I bought a lot of coffee and donuts, and I tried to find some teachers and mentors that would teach me more about this field. At the same time, this thing kept me from the streets and making bad decisions because all I could think about was how important my job was. We were making things that went into the fighter jets, the tanks, the cars, and stuff like that, then that moves America and protects America. I didn't feel like a felon, and I didn't feel like a teenage father. I felt like I was an American, and I felt like the things I was doing contributed to America. I was important here, so I would come to work early and stay late. I would study and at the same time.
I understood that the culture wasn't conducive to people who look like me, and frankly, not people who look like you. So, as I fell in love with this industry, I realized that this place isn't a great place for people of color and women. Because women raised me, and I am a person of color, I felt there were some things we could do to change that.
I watched how manufacturing could uplift my life and brought me from feeling like I didn't have a place in America and wasn't important. I wanted to ensure that people who came from could have that same feeling. At the same time, my career started rising because I put as much as possible into it, so I went from the saw to running the manuals. Then from the manuals to running some CNC machines. At that time, I just started, just diving in.
I looked on YouTube there weren't; there was no titan at the time. There was nobody that was teaching that looked like me and represented my community. So I made that my mission - to return to the community and teach them skills as much as possible. I will work with the youth. I organized the youth offenders and organizations working with the boys and girls club. My sister works at a place called the Wyman group, where she runs programs for teenage mothers and single mothers, and battered women, and I would teach these skills, so people could get these jobs that are paying high. So they can work around their schedules and keep pushing the industry forward.
At the same time, my name started rising in the industry because I became a conduit between the open jobs and the job list in these communities. I would go into some major brands and give them the skill set and the tool set to start communicating with these pockets of society that have been overlooked by our industry and build that bridge. I was making that connection because the workforce, the face of the workforce, and the workers are changing. How our industry has been recruiting workers isn't going to work if we want to continue to thrive.
A gentleman said something on one of my LinkedIn posts, saying that manufacturing is a global heavyweight division. So we need everybody on our American spectrum, everybody in that boiling pot. We need the opinions and creativity in our minds to have a manufacturing sector that will compete globally, and this is how we do it.
I'm noticing that we had a significant void in hiring, recruiting, and retaining the next generation of American manufacturers and leaders. So I decided to get out on the road, and I started with friends of mine. Master cam has been a great partner. Edge factory is also helping me get on the road and put American manufacturing at the forefront. Getting in front of communities and showing them awareness and access to these careers, training for them, and showing them local opportunities around them that they can get in front of right now to change their lives and become whatever they want to be in manufacturing. Whether that's the saw guy, the CNC operator, the machine is, the programmer, or the engineer, this is the new American dream and is accessible.
I also go to companies and teach them how to recruit and retrain. Then, when I'm done, they use the programs there to find and educate the people on their own. It's a beautiful thing.
Lisa Ryan: I love the energy and passion and everything that you have coming through. People listening to this show think, "Man if I had 100 of him, it would be great." There are a couple of things that immediately come to mind.
With almost 3 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled by 2030, we must look at nontraditional sources. Being a felon, you look at that population, and we're afraid or don't think they will work. You turn that on its head because somebody gave you a chance. Now you're coming in with a whole new world that you had never been exposed to, and with jobs pay great. You are contributing to a bigger mission because, as you said, you're not just making pieces-parts, you're contributing to aircraft carriers, and you can feel a part of something. It seems that manufacturing is not where you see many people of color and women, so that needs to change. What are some of the things you're doing? We know that we need bodies to fill these jobs, but why should manufacturing look at more ways of bringing in diversity and changing the face of their workforce?
Andrew Crowe: When looking at underserved populations in nontraditional populations, especially felons, you get an 85% recidivism rate drop when you introduce fellas manufacturing careers. People who get paid high amounts, not high amounts but good enough amount to be able to survive. They are less likely to supplement those incomes with the street in illegal activities, so number one, our reentry population, I like to call it, needs society's validation. They need to say you're more than the mistake you made now. Let's help you reenter society.
In a way, you can pay your restitution, your parole officer, whatever that may be, and you can still have life and food and take care of your kids, and that's all people want. At the same time, you're looking at numbers in a manufacturing environment. If people can work hard for you, you're looking past some of those things they may have done in the past. There's an avenue to go to school and get different labels. There's a real opportunity.
Another thing that I'll say is a lot of the companies that I talked to in the beginning think that they must make a significant investment, or they think that they must drastically change some of the things they're doing. It doesn't have to work like that. There are happening around you and in your community that you are going to call them. Some of those fears you have, especially felon based, are things like bonding insurance you can get for that felon trying to reenter. That will protect him from anything you think will happen while they're on the job and insure you.
At the same time, there are a lot of programs that do background checks that work on soft skills. The Urban League has a lot of beautiful ones that will help work on all the things. They provide transportation to these jobs so that all you have to work on is the hard skills and train them on the job. Another thing, why do we have to diversify. We've got to diversify because we've only traditionally, have given a seat at the table and mouths to speak and consideration of the opinion of one type of person, and that's been an older white male. Our industry is full of it, and that's great. There's nowhere that that they need to go, but our table is big now because we're still a global competition.
Our tables are even bigger, and more seats need to be here. But they're going unfilled because we're only replacing the seats there. So we need to look at this table as hey let's introduce more cuisine, whether you like it or not. Whether it's something that you're used to eating, it's still an option. Let's introduce more people at the table who have an opportunity to speak and put in their opinion. At the same time, you don't have to go anywhere. We're not pushing you out. We're just adding seats to this bigger table that we've created.
The more that we can say, hey, I like a little bit of this type of food that type of food. It all works in harmony. This is the balance that we found. These things go together with the best.
Then we're humming, and we're able to put ourselves in a place where we're the top global manufacturer again. But, again, we're going against on a global scale with countries that don't traditionally cut out parts of their population. So we're not even given ourselves a good chance to say we've all this traditional old manufacturing knowledge. Plus, we've got all this new knowledge, angles, opinions, and experiences that we can add to that that will make us even more robust.
Lisa Ryan: When it comes to it, it all sounds like a great idea. What would be a practice instead of just looking at it from the standpoint of Okay, we need some more people of color? We need some more women in the organization. What can manufacturers do to start building their diversity and their diversity programs in the right way and the way for the long term? Where you have not only diversity but also belonging and inclusion.
Andrew Crowe: 100%. That is a great question, and I think that going along with looking at other industries. Almost every other sector has adapted things like this. So we've got an advantage in that. In that event, we can look at industries like the IT industry, which started and was typically for nerds. Whatever that definition was, then, and then there was an explosion of computing, and everything the Internet, made everything more digital were digitizing. So now there are more jobs than the stereotypical nerd can feel.
So we started looking at things like coding boot camps. And coding boot camps are now. So if you're a peg-leg unicorn that identifies as a pirate, there's a coding camp for you. They've rebranded the industry to something easy to get into, no matter who you are. You can upscale quickly. You can learn from, and with people that look in, whatever like you and in you have that comfortability. Plus, you matter. If we can adapt some of those things, like coding camps in pockets of communities and empowering those communities to have the resources to teach these camps.
We can change what it looks like and change, the the the culture of manufacturing as well. But, at the same time, the industry is in a weird place where most of the knowledge is with the people enforcing the toxic culture. So if you're a manufacturer, you have to make the hard decision to say, this guy's got a lot of knowledge and is making us a lot of money and parts. He's got a lot of power around here because he's been here for a long time. But he's not a good culture fit for what we need going forward. So do I get rid of him, change the culture now, and lose all that knowledge and machining stuff or do I not take the stand and change the culture and do the right thing. It's tough. It's tough to decide for many companies, especially when they don't see the replaceable talent already clearly on the horizon, if that makes sense.
Lisa Ryan: Part of that is having mentor-mentee relationships, where you're putting that older ten-year-old worker together with that new person and giving them the opportunities. We're seeing a lot of mentoring and reverse mentoring because those new and diverse employees see the world differently from exposure to tech, life, and what they've had.
So again, companies can start the conversation if they are open. What success stories or things have you seen in the industry supporting those types of workforce development programs? What are you seeing?
Andrew Crowe: So I'm seeing a lot of success with companies that tie in with official apprenticeship programs or local tech schools via shared technology. Some of those machines are sitting empty that have work available. They're using those and maybe donating to those Community organizations that have the time to train people from the community. They can then give them workers who are already trained and precisely what they need. Companies with apprenticeship programs put the young with the seasoned, allowing those conversations to occur. Not only that, they're incentivizing those things so that other people within the company see that there is value in those relationships. They're making that the culture.
I also see national brands like Master Cam happening out here and taking a stand and trying to make their software and things more accessible and affordable. So hence, programs that couldn't traditionally afford them are around the pockets of the population that needs them. So laying those seeds and then tying them back to the companies that use Master Cam.
They can start to build those bridges and build those bonds. Other companies are thinking outside the box, and it's working. For example, there's a city where we help initiate a live-work program where the local manufacturers are on board. The regional economic development Council is involved so that if you work at one of these manufacturing plants and satisfy a certain amount of KPIs, they will match your down payment and your closing costs on a home. The Economic Development Board will match the other half. So you've got a taxpaying worker committed to that job and city for at least the next 15 to 30 years. You're helping break generational curses by assisting people in getting real estate and owning homes quicker through working. Those situations include relationships and collaboration with industry and government, tying it into the community working in the cities I've been to. I've been consulting with you for sure.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and it's a win, win because not only are you helping individuals to get off the street, to get a good job with good benefits, and like you just said, the potential for homeownership that makes them more stable and committed to the organization. It's a win for the company because they are again getting loyal workers coming in. They're showing they care and can feel good that they're making a difference. I believe, is there some tax credits too.
Andrew Crowe: So hiring felons and hiring disadvantaged people there 100% are tax credits that the government will give you that you can again put back into a recruiting and retaining programs and make it stronger and apprenticeship program. So all these different things will benefit you in a karmic way or help the industry because we're bringing more people in, but there's a financial aspect to that as well.
We also know from studies that a happy worker is a more loyal worker is a more productive worker. So if you go into a company, this company allows you not to gamble with your life and your family's life and be a good productive member of society. They helped you become a homeowner when when when other opportunities arise, there's an aspect of that that sending you that you're not going to jump ship.
When companies reach out to me, it's either hey, we've got this population we can't reach it all, or we can call them, but they won't stay here right once we get them in. These are some of the tools that you can have to build that loyalty to your company and build it up to keep people here. No matter if they find somewhere that will pay them a little bit more, they won't consider that as much.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and I know that when you're looking at that person that's been there for 30-40 years, they're bringing in all these young kids, and they start to feel irrelevant. If you begin to put together these relationships, you have to force them at the beginning to happen. But then you put together people who wouldn't necessarily gravitate towards each other, and then those relationships, and we come to a different level of understanding. Because now people have a different story where they can understand where people are coming from, they're a little bit better at developing those types of relationships.
Andrew Crowe: 100%. I'll even take it a step further. It gives you data you can then use to build an actual manual. Then, you can build out actions to continue fostering those relationships in the future once you force them or naturally let them happen. You can start to build a program and a culture that says this is how we work with these two gaps. This is the pathway that they go through to achieve ultimate cooperation and ultimate collaboration.
Then you can start measuring these things. When you bring in new or older people, you can say, hey, are they hitting these standards? Are they moving through this process? Let's put them through it. Or if they were underperforming, their culture isn't what we needed. Here's a process that we develop from doing it less reenacted. I mean re-engaging and putting everybody through it again, which improves the company.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and the other thing manufacturers got this reputation and not only among the underserved communities but every parent on the planet, that has...