news-mae-zyjewskiI wore my first hard hat at the age of 4. It was sparkly blue, and I loved it. I wore it because my dad was taking me on a tour of the plant where he worked. It was way back then I got the bug. Of course, I didn’t have a clue – I was so young – but I could just feel that important things were happening there, and my dad wanted to show his kids where he worked, so it was a special day.

As I grew up I had other opportunities to tour plants and get to learn more about technical fields, especially engineering. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized how fortunate I was to have someone introduce me to manufacturing.  There’s just something about making things that always has appealed to me. I know the feeling is shared by many others at our Whirlpool plants – especially since we build appliances that make such a difference in our customers’ lives.

Manufacturing truly is where value is added, and there has been a reawakening of the importance of manufacturing to the long-term health of the United States. Manufacturing can create jobs and security to a degree that can’t be matched by any other sector. It concerns me that so many people have not been introduced to the possibilities of a career in manufacturing, especially as there is a widening skills gap growing in the US.

Research conducted by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute is stark: During the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely will need to be filled – but the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled. Contributing factors include a shortage of skilled workers, including loss of knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.

It’s time for those of us who work in manufacturing to take a stand. I’ve always been impressed at our plants with the number of employees who are second or even third-generation employees. Certainly, that’s a strong testament to rewarding work as well as a willingness to encourage to other family members.

The next time you have a chance to talk to your daughter, son, niece, nephew, or kid in the neighborhood about career opportunities, think about pitching manufacturing as a great career choice. Look for the ones who have a natural curiosity for how things work, a knack for fixing things or creating things, or maybe an eye for detail or a natural ability to solve problems and an interest in working with people. If you have time, get involved in programs like First Robotics or volunteer to tutor. All are great opportunities to spread the word about manufacturing.

For me, it was a sparkly blue hard hat and a father who wanted to show his kids where and how he spent his days. I haven’t looked back since, and am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in manufacturing at Whirlpool. Nearly every day presents a new challenge or new victory, with new knowledge to learn and apply. Above all, I am part of a great organization that dreams, designs, builds and sells the best home appliances in the marketplace today.

That’s why Manufacturing Matters to me.

Throughout October, we are celebrating U.S. manufacturing — and the men and women who work in manufacturing to bring innovation to life every day. Mae Zyjewski, senior director, Global Advanced Manufacturing, shared her thoughts on why Manufacturing Matters to her. Earlier this year, Mae was recognized by the Manufacturing Institute with a  STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead award for demonstrating excellence and leadership in her career. The initiative was launched to examine and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership for attracting, advancing and retaining strong female talent.