The manufacturing industry is not one of the fastest-growing sectors of the US economy. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts little to no growth from now through 2028. However, the workforces at many production facilities are aging and approximately 2.7 million baby boomers are expected to retire by 2025. This creates a flood of new openings in many senior positions that can be filled by younger workers who have the ambition to take the next step in their manufacturing careers. Read on for advice that will help you move up the ladder!
1. Attend a technical undergraduate program, but follow it up with a business-related graduate degree. If your goal is to become a manager or executive, getting an MBA will be worth your while. This post-graduate education will give you the skills you need to run a department, division, or entire company. More focused technical training is essential to begin your career, but once you’ve gotten your foot in the door you’ll need to broaden your horizons and acquire the business skills necessary to take on additional duties.
2. Don’t just find a mentor; get a team of advisors. A decades-old Harvard Business Review study showed that executives who received some form of mentoring earned more money earlier in their careers and attributed much of their success to this mentor relationship. However, there has been a shift recently toward “mentoring by committee.” Essentially, why have one mentor when you could have three or four? The benefits of having a more senior member of your company supporting you and rooting for your success are increased when you have close relationships with multiple individuals.
3. Deliver—employees who get results are usually the first to be promoted. Being able to identify specific ways you have enhanced operations or positively impacted the company’s bottom line enables you to make a solid case for promotion. One area where professionals in manufacturing have an easier time than other fields is quantifying their achievements. Since everything from yield to product quality, defects, customer returns, and on-time shipping are tracked so closely in a production environment, you should have no problem compiling a list of measurable accomplishments to wow your superiors.
4. Build rapport with your boss and other senior leaders. As mentioned in the second item on our list, it’s important to make connections with the higher-ups at your company. Beyond pursuing a mentor-protégé association or building a team of advisors, you should develop a great working relationship with your immediate supervisor. They will ultimately be the initial gatekeeper that can block your professional growth or make your journey up the corporate ladder a bit smoother. Seek their counsel, discover what makes them tick, and use performance reviews to go deeper than simply discussing your work—find out how you can help your manager succeed.
5. Volunteer to help others. Embracing the "other duties" your role entails is a great way to separate yourself from your peers. Asking for additional tasks and taking on projects others would prefer not to tackle is one way to show that you’re prepared to take the next step in your career—and that you’re up to any challenge. It can also prove that you’re a team player, which is a characteristic many managers look for when considering associates for positions with more responsibilities.
6. Never stop learning. This advice applies to any professional, but it’s especially important in manufacturing where technology is constantly evolving and new techniques are being formulated and implemented to continuously improve operations. If you don’t keep up with industry changes, you will be left behind. Credentials such as a Six Sigma Black Belt, Certified Quality Engineer, and many others will also make you more marketable outside of your organization.
7. Establish a reputation for professionalism. Becoming a vital member of your organization (and thus, a prime candidate for promotion) means being seen as dependable, cooperative, productive, and helpful. Display the qualities of a leader to show you're ready for a supervisory role. Asking questions, remaining optimistic in the face of challenges, avoiding complaining, and sharing credit for a job well done are all traits that will endear you to your peers and senior management.
8. Manufacture your own luck. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to initiate a project. If you see something that needs to be fixed, jump in and fix it. Study your company’s processes and systems to determine if there are opportunities for improvement and draft a proposal to show senior leadership. You could even take things a step further and prepare a plan that calls for the creation of a new position. And if you find too many obstacles in your career path with your current employer, don't hesitate to look elsewhere for advancement opportunities in the manufacturing industry.