This blog series intends to shatter some "manufacturing myths". Sometimes there is a perception of manufacturing being dirty, dead-end, unskilled, monotonous and boring. The reality is, it's bright, clean, fulfilling, hi-tech, versatile and rewarding!
I had the privilege of interviewing some Zentech employees - a way of humanizing the manufacturing industry to demonstrate why you may want to consider a manufacturing career.
Christy - Production Supervisor, Zentech Bloomington
Stephanie: Tell me about how you got into manufacturing.
Christy: I have been in manufacturing since I was 15. So, most of my career has been on the manufacturing floor. My father was a Plant Manager at a big facility in Shelbyville, IL. On the weekends we used to go in and do some kitting for extra money. I think they’d give us a quarter for every bag, and we thought that was so cool. I was always trying to figure out how to make it faster.
So, the next weekend, I’m in my roller skates; I figured I could get from place-to-place way faster. I learned pretty quickly that I loved the smell of the manufacturing floor and the idea of it.
I went to college on a basketball scholarship and earned a degree in Criminal Justice, but as soon as I was done, I literally found a job working in a manufacturing plant. I thought I would eventually to be a cop and “do all the things”. But once I got on the manufacturing floor, I never looked back. I spent almost 20 years of my career there, managing a little over 60 people across 9 departments, as a Production Supervisor. Then the family got up into their 60s and 70s… so they decided to close the facility.
I had planned on retiring there, so I thought, “now what am I going to do?” I took the summer off to mull over it and decided to flip 2 houses while I was thinking. I sold them and then I said,” Ok now I’m ready to go back.”
I applied here at Zentech where Kim hired me to work with the quality team and that was my foot in the door. Not that I don’t love quality, but my heart was definitely in production. Within 6 months, the Production Manager at the time saw that and said he could really use me on his team because they were having some struggles. I never looked back.
Stephanie: How did you feel when the Zentech acquisition happened?
Christy: When the acquisition happened, I sensed their energy and I thought, “here’s where I feel like I can shine.” I met John, heard what we were planning on doing and everything about the culture he wanted to build. It was everything I wanted to see moving forward. I love his energy, I like the people, I like Michael Seltzer’s energy and all those people who wrap their head around what needs to be done. Those people believe we’re going to make it, we’re going to be great. And it’s contagious.
This is how I want to end my career: helping people get to the next level. I’ve gotten some of my regular workers to become leads.
The Production Manager I started with ended up leaving and for the better part of a year now I’ve handled the management role. But I look forward to the next Production Manager training me so I can get to the next step in my career. I’ve never overseen budgets and things like that, so I want someone to help me grow.
Stephanie: You’re definitely a “doer”. So instead of just complaining about a problem, you ask what are we going to do to change it? And that’s huge when Zentech acquired the business, because there were a lot of challenges.
Christy: There are still a lot of challenges. But I call them opportunities. Opportunity for improvement and growth. I feel like we’re all going to get there.
Stephanie: If you were talking to someone from the younger generation, what would you tell them about why manufacturing is a great career choice?
For me, I think that manufacturing has different layers.
There’s lots of levels of experience required in manufacturing which means there’s so many options.
You have to work hard – entry level is a good place to start, that’s where everyone starts. When I’m hiring, I get energetic with them and tell them, “If you start your career out running a machine here, the sky is the limit for you.” Manufacturing has different layers, and you don’t have to stay in the same place. If people have any kind of urge to grow it’s a great place to be. And it's constantly evolving.
Stephanie: And I would imagine on the factory floor, every day is a little bit different.
Stephanie: I mean, you do the same thing every day, but within that, there’s different challenges, each build is different, each customer is different. You could be building 20 different boards, but each has unique challenges.
Stephanie: So, it’s not really monotonous, repetitive or boring.
Christy: Nope. Especially here because I also cross-train almost everyone I hire. So, I never have to worry about when someone goes on vacation, someone quits, it’s not going to kill me. I’m able to shuffle 6-10 people pretty easily into other positions.
Not only does that help Zentech, but it also helps each one of them to grow and not become bored. It helps their career path with making more money, learning what they love and don’t love. To see that there’s other avenues they can take that might fit them even better.
It’s super important to understand - not every kid is going to go to college. Not every kid one, wants to, and two, not every kid is afforded that luxury. So, if you catch them at the younger part of their life, you engage them and you mentor them, you’ll get people that will stick around for a long time.
Stephanie: Why do you think a lot of people have a bad perception of manufacturing?
Christy: I think in their mind, they remember their moms and dads coming home covered in dirt and grease, exhausted. They think of physical labor.
And I think their perception is that manufacturing is physically hard, late nights, rotating shifts, weekends etc. People hear about all those things, and conclude there’s no work-life balance. And though there are some manufacturing plants that are still incredibly physically demanding, much of manufacturing is not like that, including Zentech. But it’s hard to differentiate ourselves from this perception.
Stephanie: I think younger people may not realize how highly technical it is. It’s skilled labor, not manual labor.
Christy: You’re in a controlled, clean environment. It’s diverse in its skill levels and opportunities. This is what we need to be “selling”.
This is a side of manufacturing you may never have considered, and it's absolutely worth exploring.
Stephanie: Thank you, Christy, for your dedication and leadership at Zentech! Keep up the great work.
Christy: Thank you for letting me share about my love for manufacturing!
If you would like to know more about careers at Zentech, visit our Zentech Careers website.
Zentech Manufacturing, an Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) small business, is primarily focused on the defense, aerospace, and medical industries, specializing in producing highly complex electronic and electromechanical circuit card assemblies. The company has locations in Baltimore, MD, Richardson, TX, and Bloomington, IL and maintains several key electronics industry certifications. In January 2023, Zentech received the Stan Plzak Corporate Recognition Award from the IPC.