“Involve me, and I understand.”

For this week’s blog, SVAM is turning things over to MSI Workforce Solutions, the workforce affiliate of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. We welcome Melissa Lamont-Gordon, Dream It. Do It. Virginia Coordinator, as our guest blogger. 


“Involve me, and I understand.” 

These words have been attributed to many over the years- Aristotle, Confucius and Voltaire to name a few, making a case for Experiential Learning– simultaneous learning and doing.  Bottom line, people have noticed a connection between doing and learning for a long time- and- judging from this list of scholars- a very long time.

Experiential Learning Activities=Career Path in Advanced Manufacturing?


Building the future pipeline of workers was a recurring theme at the Virginia Chamber Economic Summit and a key focus of Blueprint Virginia 2025, which the Chamber presented to Governor-Elect Ralph Northam.   Our youth are the key to Virginia’s future success in industry. (December 1, 2017)

Why Experiential Learning?

The Manufacturing Institute, in partnership with the Student Research Foundation and SkillsUSA, released a report identifying the characteristics of experiences that impact student career choices. (October 23, 2017)

The study found that 63 percent of students identified their own interests and experiences as having the greatest influence over their career decisions.

“To help build the future pipeline of workers, manufacturers need to give students and parents more opportunities to experience innovative, high-tech and exciting modern-day manufacturing,” says Carolyn Lee, Manufacturing Institute Carolyn Lee.

What resources are there in Virginia?

Dream It. Do It. Virginia is one such resource.  With our industry and agency partners, we provide experiential learning activities through our Advanced Manufacturing Academies, Camps and, in partnership with the Virginia Community College System, Career Coaches.  Through our partnerships, we are helping to build that pipeline, one student at a time.  In 2017 alone, we reached over 200+ students in our summer programs and over 14,000 people have visited the free Dream It. Do It. Virginia Career Information System, which focuses on Advanced Manufacturing.


Student Involvement:

Bradley Holmes is a Dream It. Do It. Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Camp alumnus.  Here is his take on how experiential learning influenced his career path.

“I attended STIHL’s Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp (MTSC) for two years.  The first year I attended my team won the manufacturing competition held on the final day of camp. My second year I was in a “mentor” capacity.

The MTSC helped me to realize that I enjoyed working with my hands and opened my eyes to the world of manufacturing before engineering. It was fascinating to see the amount of technology that goes into manufacturing.  Prior to the camp I hadn’t had my sights set on much aside from “engineering” and it helped me to realize I wanted a career in manufacturing.  I ended up joining STIHL Inc. in 2015 as an Apprentice Mechatronics Technician, where I act as all-around automation maintenance (robotics, electronics, mechanical, plastics processing, etc.).  Thanks to the camp I’m in a position that is very beneficial to me doing a job that I really enjoy.”

Virginia Western Community College student Carolina R. is pursuing a major as an Engineering Technician.  While she grew up in a manufacturing family, she became really interested in Advanced Manufacturing through her high school CTE classes, where she met Advanced Manufacturing Coach Mike Howell.  He assisted her in obtaining a Job-Shadowing opportunity at Trinity Packaging.  While on site she followed a project engineer, toured the plant, observed the manufacturing process and was eventually hooked.

Carolina is one of a few women enrolled in mechatronics classes at VWCC.  Howell hopes that number will increase. His involvement in the schools as an Advanced Manufacturing Coach have allowed him to host a DIDIVA Summer Camp, introduce his students to area industry leaders, and facilitate other activities such as alumni visits and field trips, so students can get involved.

Experiential Learning= Involvement+ Understanding=Career Path in Advanced Manufacturing


Melissa Lamont-Gordon is the Virginia Dream It. Do It. Coordinator, and a member of the MSI Workforce Solutions Team at the Virginia Manufacturers Association.  If you are interested in sponsoring or hosting a DIDIVA Camp, or would like to learn more about our Experiential Learning Activities, please contact her at mgordon@vamanufacturers.com.

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Protecting Your Human Capital Investment

Employees are often thought of as a company’s greatest asset. Not the multi-million dollar machines or the raw materials, but the people who make the product a reality. Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soupsaid, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” So, how do you win in the workplace? How do you make financial cents out of good business sense? Mary Jane Umberger, President of HR Alliance, led a training recently on this very topic. Today’s blog will recap what we learned.

The training began by talking about how the pathway to success is often riddled with potholes. Some of the potholes that may get in the way of protecting your human capital investment include:
1. Potential employee selection problems.
2. Seeming employee disregard for company requirements.
3. Apparent employee indifference resulting in sub-standard job performance.
4. Costly employee turnover.
Luckily, there are things that can be done to “patch the potholes”. Mary Jane provided the following as opportunities to build a better road to success.

Take a look at your interview and selection process. How can this impact your bottom line directly? An unintentional misstep could lead to costly litigation. On average, a federal employment law claim will cost between $80,000 and $120,000 to defend in trial. Take a look at your interview and selection process. Make sure your procedures are above board and those carrying them out understand their legal limitations. One important area to focus on: your interview questions. There are some questions that are obvious to avoid like, “Do you have health problems?” Most people know you can’t ask that. However, there are some questions you might think are ok to ask, but aren’t, such as asking an applicant for a photo to attach to his/her application. We found this article from LinkedIn and this one from Business Insider to be helpful in delving deeper into this subject. Again, some of these may leave you thinking, “Duh!” (insert eye roll emoji), but others might surprise you.


Define behavioral policies and organizational expectations. Are your behavioral policies and organizational expectations clearly stated? Are your leaders trained as to why they exist? Sometimes employees have the best of intentions, but just aren’t clear of the policy. So, how can you clearly convey expectations?  Options include: 1. Job Descriptions. The job description is where an employee’s path begins with you. Be sure that you clearly state what is expected of employees to avoid confusion and frustration from the very start. 2. Performance Evaluations. Evaluations were created for this very purpose – to talk about whether expectations are being met or not. Use evaluations as an opportunity to give your employees clear suggestions for how they can improve and better meet the expectations of the job. 3. Recognition to reinforce positive behavior. Recognizing employees can be such a simple thing that produces such a large return on investment. We actually did a blog post about this very topic, which you can read here. 4. Consider your employee handbook. Are your excited, ready-to-get-to-work employees actually reading it for understanding? Consider hosting a training about the handbook. You could hit on those “pet peeves” that both management and employees might have. Those “pet peeves” could just be a misunderstanding on both sides.

Increase Employee Engagement. Hey! We did a blog about this one recently, too. Do your leaders utilize behaviors that foster employee engagement and recognize the corresponding cost benefits…liabilities? Here’s what Mary Jane shared with us on this topic:

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 1.56.51 PM

She also shared this excellent video which presents some very interesting facts about employee engagement.

Consider Your Employee Turnover. Is your organization spending hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars in hidden (and not so hidden) costs on employee turnover? Hard costs include time spent processing separation, recruiting, interviewing, reference checking, orientation, as well as the costs to pay overtime, advertising fees, drug screening, and training. Other costs include lost productivity, increased workload, reduced engagement, and an effect on customer service. Mary Jane talked about the importance of on-boarding. Successful companies understand on-boarding has a more long-term success.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 2.51.25 PM


And there you have it! We hope by reading this you’ve gained some insight into how you can better protect that oh so precious investment – your workforce.


For deeper reading:
Here are three books Mary Jane Umberger recommends on the topic of employee engagement:

  1. “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink
  2. “Nine Minutes on Monday” by James Robbins
  3. “All In” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

We’d also like to add “Gung Ho” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.


All information was pulled from the presentation created by Mary Jane Umberger.

17 Reasons We Are Thankful For Manufacturing in 2017

Manufacturing is a way of life in Southwest Virginia. It is an industry that touches each of us in some way, giving the citizens of our area many things to appreciate. This week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we, at SVAM, celebrate our appreciation for the manufacturers in Southwest Virginia.

Here is our list of 17 reasons we are thankful for manufacturing in 2017: 

For economic reasons…

1. There are about 400 manufacturing facilities providing jobs for about 18,000 individuals in Southwest Virginia.

2. Manufacturers contribute over $2.17 trillion to the economy each year. Taken alone manufacturing would be the 9th largest economy in the world.¹

3. There are plenty of job opportunities for new workers. 80% of the manufacturing workforce are Baby Boomers nearing retirement. This means that manufacturers will be looking to fill up to 80% of their positions over the next few years.

4. For every manufacturing job created, 2.5 more jobs are created in other sectors.

5. Manufacturing has the second largest marginal economic impact on the Southwest Virginia region’s economy.

6. Manufacturing employees make on average $10,000 more a year compared to workers at other establishments.

7. Manufacturers provide employees with highly desirable benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.

8. Manufacturers like to hire from within, which means there is plenty of room for advancement in the company.

9. Manufacturing supports a broad and diverse career spectrum. There are positions available for production workers, engineers, management, and almost anything else you can think of.¹


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA


For community support and environmental awareness…

10. Manufacturers give back to the community! For example: West River Conveyors and Machinery Company in Buchanan County, Virginia has widely supported youth activities and charities in its community for the past 36 years. They support the Department of Social Services Angel Tree Christmas Program, YMCA programs, Boys & Girls Club of Central Appalachia, Buchanan County Youth Incorporated, and Buchanan County Little League sports. Also, each year, they provide funding for any student at a Buchanan County high school unable to afford the class senior trip. Just over the past few years, they have contributed more than $150,000 to youth activities and programs in the community.

11. Manufacturers care about the environment! For example: Tempur Productions in Scott County, Virginia is a company that puts safety and the environment first and works tirelessly to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases for the community. Their EPA Energy Star Program is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. The goal is to protect the environment through the adoption of energy efficient equipment and practices as well as reduce greenhouse gases. Through their focus on landfill elimination, this facility is a zero landfill company and have been since June 2015. Through their lighting upgrade project, they have a long-term plan to convert 100% of their lighting to high efficiency LED. Through HVAC upgrades, their entire plant is air conditioned. They have upgraded three of their chillers to high-efficiency design, with the fourth and final unit scheduled to be upgraded by 2018. The roof has recently been upgraded to a white finish to reduce the heat load in the summer months. All the HVAC controllers have been networked to form a ‘smart’ system which identifies additional opportunities for improvement.

For innovation and safety…

12. Manufacturers are constantly creating new and innovative technologies! For example: Electro-Mechanical Corporation in Bristol, Virginia showed innovation this year by implementing lean practices to eliminate waste and become more competitive. They produce pad-mounted switch gears. Customer demand for this product had grown beyond the company’s ability to produce within a one shift operation.  Something had to be done to eliminate waste in the system and increase capability of the line to meet the growing demand. One complicating factor, from a manufacturing standpoint, is that there are over 25 versions of these switch gear enclosures all produced in random sequence on the same assembly line, each having as many as 200 parts.  Another complication is that two geographically separated plants are involved in the production and assembly process. Lean principles were applied beginning in 2012 to eliminate wastes associated with the manufacture and assembly of pad-mounted switch gear. Since the implementation of these principles, sales for this product have increased from 30 to 70 units per week and are expected to continue increasing.

13. Manufacturers put employee safety at the top of their priority list! For example: Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products in Wythe County, Virginia says that safety is the foundation and core of the business for their manufacturing facility. Their local facility pursued OSHA VPP STAR Certification and were awarded Virginia Protection Program’s STAR status (OSHA’s highest designation) in April 2016. Safety is a focus for all levels of leadership throughout the company. Management demonstrates its commitment to Safety and Health procession by actively participating in monthly Safety Patrol audits, safety training, managements of change, and accident/near miss investigations. All employees have opportunities to get involved with different safety and health activities at the facility. New Hires are encouraged to become a member of the Employee Safety committee, PEO team, or help in safety training or the annual health fair.


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA

For the way they impact their employees and consumers…


14. Manufacturers are spending time and resources studying what creates worker satisfaction across generations. 

15. Manufacturing facilities promote a sense of camaraderie and teamwork with their employees.

16. Manufacturing directly improves the quality of our everyday lives, from the cars we drive (Somic America in Wytheville) to the bed we sleep on at night (Tempur Productions in Duffield).

17. And last, but not least, we are thankful for manufacturing because manufacturers care about us. Manufacturers are making products to keep us safe, make our lives easier, and improve our everyday living.


Manufacturing facts from:

¹ http//www.mfgday.com/resources/manufacturing-infographic

For more information about manufacturing visit: https://svamblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-benefits-of-working-in-manufacturing/


This blog is published by The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing

9 Easy Ways to Master Employee Engagement

Managers are busy…managing things. Assuming you’re a manager, after you’ve finished all of your own tasks and workload (if that’s possible), you probably don’t have much time left. By focusing on “engagement drivers” you can lead and inspire your employees to become a motivated and engaged team with very little time investment on your part.

According to Preparing For: Nine Minutes on Monday, Skills for Mastering the Art of Employee Engagement, a training facilitated by Mary Jane Umberger and inspired by James Robbins’ book Nine Minutes on Monday, there are nine ways employee needs can be met in order to fully engage employees in their jobs. These engagement drivers help create empowered, effective, dedicated employees.

  1. Care: Employees want to be treated as more than a number. In larger companies this can be as simple as knowing each employee on a first name basis and a little about their family.
  2. Mastery: Employees need clear goals and consistent feedback in order to be challenged and feel a sense of achievement in their job. This could be something as informal as a quick check-in once a week or a more formal documented meeting.
  3. Recognition: An employee feels valued when his/her achievements and work are recognized. Recognition is proven to be one of the best methods of improving work motivation. An easy way to implement this is a bulletin board in the employee break room where achievements are posted on a regular basis.
  4. Purpose: Employees want to know that they are making a difference, both in the company and for the clients they are serving. Ask employees to write down their job inspiration and post the answers as a reminder. Help them understand how the work they’re doing impacts other people’s lives.
  5. Autonomy: Giving employees freedom to make choices when possible, and seeking their input and ideas gives a sense of responsibility. Having an open door policy for suggestions is an easy way to make employees feel heard and take ownership of their work. An employee is much more likely to work hard on an idea they helped develop.
  6. Grow: Encourage personal development through clarifying an area of growth and providing the employee with coaching and feedback. This can be a way to help an employee learn a new work-specific skill or improve upon their soft skill set.
  7. Connect: Everyone values good relationships both in and out of the workplace. Connecting to employees with positive behaviors helps increase “stickiness” to the company. This can be done by promoting engagement and teamwork.
  8. Play: Allowing space for fun activities fosters team spirit and morale. It also decreases negativity and stress. Examples of this could be a monthly potluck lunch, an after work sports team, or a holiday cookie exchange.
  9. Model: It is important for employees to see positive behaviors modeled by their leaders. Management sets the tone for the workday and company. Positivity in management gives employees a sense of security and inspiration. In other words, leaders should always come to work with a smile on their face.

Each of these engagement drivers is a quick, simple way to recognize employees. According to Nine Minutes on Monday, one minute of recognition equals 100 minutes of initiative. In other words, taking one minute to tell an employee they are doing something well will in turn make that employee more productive for 100 minutes. That is a great return on time investment.

How do you engage your employees? Start a conversation with us on Facebook!

For more information visit http://jamesrobbins.com/nine-minutes.

A special thanks to Mary Jane Umberger for facilitating this wonderful event. SVAM was proud to be one of the sponsors.

Encouraging Students to Choose a Career in Manufacturing

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Can you remember the first time you were asked that question and what your answer was? You probably answered police officer, fire fighter, teacher, doctor, lawyer, or veterinarian. Today’s youth also tend to answer video game designer and professional athlete.

Usually a child’s ambitions are directly correlated to what they are most exposed to, likely the career of those closest to them or something popular in the media. This gives children a very limited view of the careers that are actually available to them. In an effort to expand students’ career ideas the United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Careers Expo for Youth exposed over 4000 seventh graders to 75 regional employers, highlighting 16 different career paths. The timing of the event wasn’t coincidental. These 7th grade students attended the Expo just prior to taking their career assessments as required by the Virginia Department of Education, meaning they’ll have a much better understanding of career options and interests, and a realistic picture of the path they should take to match their passion with skill. Students start making their career choices in seventh grade so they can be on the right track in high school, choosing the classes that will lead them to the postsecondary option that is right for them. They meet with counselors to make an education plan based on their personal ability, interests, and achievements.

SVAM and the SVAM-CoE were excited to be a platinum sponsor of United Way’s event. During the Expo we interacted with over 500 students, giving them information about careers in manufacturing and allowing them to watch a virtual reality tour of a manufacturing facility. The students were often surprised that the information we gave them didn’t match the preconceived notion they had of “factory work.” We participated because we know the benefits of reaching students at this young and impressionable age.

So…what can you do to encourage young students to choose manufacturing as a career path?

  1. Change perceptions: Many students still view manufacturing jobs as the factory work of their grandparents, associating the work with coming home at the end of the day exhausted, hot, and dirty. Students need to see how much the manufacturing environment has changed since the factories of the 80’s. How? See Points 2-4 below.
  2. Encourage Job Shadowing: If you work in manufacturing suggest a “Bring Your Child to Work” day. Not all facilities or occupations are appropriate for this, but if yours is it can be an eye opening experience for a student to see the wide variety of careers available in one facility. Another option would be to partner with your local schools and let them know of your availability to host students who may want to job shadow.
  3. Provide tours: SVAM has partnered with manufacturers and school systems to provide local educators and students with insight into the reality of manufacturing as it is today, versus outdated perceptions, and help those in education make connections between classroom learning and potential careers. If you work for a manufacturing company, there are many opportunities to open your doors and show the community the incredible things that your company is doing. Contact SVAM to let us know if you’d like to participate in one of our upcoming tours.
  4. Talk about your career: If you have a career in manufacturing, there’s a reason. Maybe you love the work you do or maybe the best part is knowing you are earning a steady income with good benefits. Regardless of the reason, share what you love- on social media, at the dinner table, during the family reunion. Share it with your kids, their friends, your nieces and nephews, and, especially, their parents since we all know parents play a huge role in how children determine their career path.
  5. Teach the children in your life that there is more than one path to success. Some people want a desk job. Some people like working with their hands. Some people want something in-between. Kids need to know that all of those opportunities are possible and attainable, and that one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They also need to know that their dream may not require a traditional 4-year college track. Help them understand what their path may look like by researching with them.

With 80% of manufacturing workers falling into the 45-65 age range there will be a huge demand for qualified workers over the next decade. Manufacturing needs new, young talent with skills to match its high tech demands. Through personal stories, programs like SVAM’s #madeinswva tours and United Way’s Career Expo, we have an opportunity to start recruiting this talent at a very young age.

The Importance of Employee Morale…and Five Ways to Boost It!

Employee morale is incredibly important.  The level of morale in the workplace can impact productivity, safety, performance, creativity, number of leave days, and employee retention.  When staff morale is high, everyone works well. You’ll find that some people will arrive early or stay late just because they love being at work and enjoy the tasks. Also, when morale is high, people pay greater attention to detail. Employees are less distracted and more focused which results in higher quality of work and a safer work environment.

Below are five ways to increase employee morale: 

Recognize personal milestones and losses.
Individuals experience higher morale when employers appreciate them as people first and employees second. Respond as you would to a friend, with kindness and consideration. Seeing as how “78 percent employees spend more time with co-workers than they do with family,” a supportive community will go along way to fostering happiness.

Volunteer Days.                                                                                                                                         Companies that participate in community involvement programs have employees that are happier with their jobs on a 2:1 ratio.  It gives employees a chance to work together and build relationships and skills in a different setting.  Everybody needs a day away from the office to recharge, why not do it in a way that increases the skills and happiness of your employees?

Celebrate work anniversaries.
Work anniversaries are relationship milestones between an employee and a company. “According to a survey from Globoforce, 82 percent of people would feel good if people noticed and recognized their work anniversary, but only 36 percent of people say a work anniversary made them feel valued.” Because everyone is different in how they like to be recognized, have a conversation with your staff about the best way to honor work anniversaries. And while you’re at it, make sure to celebrate your company’s birthday. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with your mission while generating good feelings.

Give them a reason to believe.                                                                                                   From the first interview, potential candidates need to understand and share in the vision of what you are doing as an organization. That vision alone will motivate and inspire your team. Let your employees know that what they are doing matters.  One example for manufacturing in the region is that it provides 2.5 more jobs in other sectors.  So your employees are indirectly helping to create jobs for other people.

Promote from within.                                                                                                                  When your employees see that there is room to advance their career within your organization, it speaks volumes. When you have a stellar team member, help invest in the training they need to advance as your company grows. One of the worst things to feel in a work environment is stagnant.  Make sure your employees know how to advance their career with you.


The common theme in all of these ideas is caring, recognition, rewards and appreciation. These small steps can go far.




Into the Mind of a Millennial


Due to the fact that 80% of manufacturing workers are aged 45-60 years old, there are predicted to be millions of job openings over the next fifteen years.   Let me repeat that, millions of job openings. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s a good thing in that millennials entering the workforce have ample opportunity. However, it could potentially be a bad thing for manufacturers if those jobs go unfilled.  So how do we ensure that that does not happen?

First off, manufacturers need to understand what exactly makes millennials tick. Members of the millennial generation look at things a little differently than members of older generations.  They have different priorities and goals in life.  Millennials also work differently.. this is very important to remember.. they work differently.  Not less, not lazier, just differently.  Millennials ask questions.  Millennials want to make a difference. When you hire a millennial, chances are you are not getting a yes person.. you are getting somebody who wants a say in what they do and how they do it. This can be an incredibly great asset in the workplace if it is taken advantage of rather than treated as an annoyance. This kind of attitude can lead to an increase in innovation and improvement.

To help you get a better insight into the mind of a millennial, we talked to a few millennials working in the manufacturing industry in Southwest Virginia. We asked them what they enjoyed most about their job and why they stayed in the manufacturing industry. Here are their responses:

I guess for me it’s just that you’re actually getting to make something. For instance, being able to set up a process to make the desired product. It’s all very hands-on and requires making a number of adjustments on the equipment and its settings in order to make an acceptable product.  At the end of the day (if all goes well) you actually have something in your hand that can meet a customer’s need.

Manufacturing is inherently going to strive to make things better and more efficiently. This creates challenging problems that are interesting to try and solve. It is also pretty broad, which means there are a number of different areas that you could work in.

Being able to make a good living has been the most important thing for me. I went to trade school my junior and senior year in high school and was able to get hired full-time as soon as I graduated.  I’ve been given a couple of promotions in the last few years which has really been great.  Having the opportunity to get promoted has been the best part about being here.

I really like that I have a set schedule.  I know a lot of my friends work as servers and in retail and their schedule is different every week.  I know which days and which hours I’ll be working two months from now, so I can make plans in advance without any issues.


I work a swing schedule which actually gives me the opportunity to have a lot more days off than other people.  Yeah, I work more hours on the days that I work than somebody who maybe has a regular 9-5 Monday through Friday job.  But I also get to have four day weekends. That along with good pay gives me the opportunity to travel around and take trips regularly instead of having to wait for a holiday weekend to do so.

It seems that getting to play an active role in creating something, working to solve problems, job diversity, having time to travel (or make plans in advance), having room for movement, and good pay are all things that are important to the millennial generation when it comes to starting a career.

For even more information and insight into the millennial mind be sure to stop by the 2017 Southwest Virginia Manufacturers’ Expo at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, VA. where Te-kai Shu of Strongwell will be holding a breakout session on Millennials in Manufacturing.  Also, on August 22nd there will be a Lunch & Learn, Managing Five Generations at Work, at the Crossroads Institute in Galax, VA.

The Importance of Self-Care

There are times in all of our lives where we neglect ourselves a little bit.  Our busy schedules can get the best of us. We have a lot going on at work,  a huge to-do list at home, and there just seems to be no end in sight.  So what do we normally do? We skip lunch.  We decide not to spend that hour at the gym.  Our friend invites us over for dinner and we turn it down.  We think cutting out these things will give us more time to strike off items on our to-do list… but really it’s just making things that much more difficult. Stress builds up, fatigue sets in, and then we begin to lose productivity.  It can be a very harmful cycle.  To prevent this from happening, you need to have a good defense… and that defense is a regular self-care regimen.

So, what is self-care?  “It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.” Being intentional about self-care can help prevent burnout, it reduces the build up of negative stress, and helps you to refocus. So, by taking a step back and focusing on yourself, it can actually help you to be more productive in other areas of your life.

self care graphic (1)

Self-Care Isn’t a One-Time Deal

It’s the repetition of many small habits, which together soothe you and make sure you’re at your best.  The best way to do this is to implement small self-care practices every day. Below are possible practices to adopt into everyday life:

Ten ways to practice self-care that focus on the body:

1. Just Breath. Take three deep breaths.

2. Give your body ten minutes of mindful attention.

3. Dance!

4. Stretch out the kinks.

5. Excercise! Run or walk for a few minutes.

6. Narrow your food choices. Pick two healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and rotate for the week.

7. Make one small change to your diet for the week. Drink an extra glass of water each day, or have an extra portion of veggies each meal.

8. Be still. Sit somewhere green, and be quiet for a few minutes.

9. Get fifteen minutes of sun.

10. Have a good laugh.

Ten ways to practice self-care that focus on the mind:

1. Start a compliments file. Document the great things people say about you to read later.

2. Unplug. Switch everything to airplane mode and free yourself from the constant push notifications of social media and email.

3. Go cloud-watching. Lie on your back, relax, and watch the sky.

4. Take another route to work. Mixing up your routine in small ways helps keep the brain healthy.

5. Pay complete attention to something you usually do on autopilot, perhaps brushing your teeth, driving, eating, or performing your morning routine.

6. Goof around for a bit. Schedule in five minutes of “play” several times throughout your day.

7. Fix a small annoyance at home that’s been nagging you—a button lost, a drawer that’s stuck, a light bulb that’s gone.

8. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just talking to a stranger in line at the grocery store.

9. Be selfish. Do one thing today just because it makes you happy.

10. Have a good laugh. (This is good for your mind and your body.)








Living in the Future: 7 Real Items That Were Once Science Fiction

One thing that makes manufacturing so interesting is that there is always new technology.  The research and development sector of manufacturing can, for the most part, be credited with the technological breakthroughs necessary to make science fiction a reality.  In fact, manufacturers in the United States perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. (Nam.org) Sometimes these technological breakthroughs are used to support the advancement of the manufacturing process itself (3D printing is a good example of this) and sometimes it is the breakthroughs are the products being manufactured.

Below, we talk about seven items that were at one point just ideas in science fiction novels, television shows, and movies that are now used everyday.

1.  Smart Phones & Smart Watches:  If you were a Star Trek fan, you were pretty much watching a technology filled crystal ball. So many inventions in the last decade can be found in Star Trek (albeit slightly different versions) episodes from around fifty years ago! The Star Trek communicator and the NCC-1701 Watch were things of fantasy, but now almost everyone we know owns a smart phone and more and more people are jumping on the Smart Watch (also depicted in The Jetsons in 1967) bandwagon.  Not only are these things super cool and pretty much necessity these days, they have completely changed the way the world interacts with one another.

Wand_Communicator_7appale watch







2.  3D Printers: Another invention that was predicted by Star Trek is the 3D Printer… only aboard the Enterprise it was known as “The Replicator”.  It worked a little differently than the 3D Printers we have today, but our modern 3D Printers can get almost the same result.  There are actually multiple manufacturers throughout Southwest Virginia that use 3D printers on a daily basis.  For example Universal Fibers in Bristol, VA has an entire room filled with different kinds of 3D printers and they have created filament to be used for printing.

Replicated_martini3d printer


3.  Tablets: The tablet is incredibly similar to the Star Trek PADD (sound familar?). This technology can be found in homes, in classrooms, and on the plant floor of many Southwest Virginia manufacturing facilities!  Manufacturers are moving away from paper-based reporting and production information systems to using tablets that can easily send and receive the necessary information.



4.  Google Glasses: So far there has been a common theme to this list… Star Trek. This is the last Star Trek invention being mentioned…we promise.  The Star Trek Virtual Display Glass is eerily similar to Google Glasses. Although the purpose of the two are different – in Star Trek they were used to view the outside of the ship to better defend themselves – the real life version is used for less ominous tasks… like checking emails.



5.  Hover Boards: Any skateboarder or surfer who watched Back to The Future was immediately filled with envy.  Now, hover boards are not only real, they are affordable!  They may not be quite as cool as the on-screen version yet… but they are most certainly heading in that direction!



6.  NASA Canadarm: 2001: The movie, A Space Odyssey, had a mission robot that is incredibly similar to the NASA Canadarm.  The Canadarm has helped move equipment as well as astronauts for over thirty years.



7.  Robot Vacuum Cleaner:  In the 60’s, The Jetsons was one of the coolest cartoons there was.  The technology in the show made everyday mundane tasks (such as vacuuming) a thing of the past.  And now, a lot of those tasks really are things of the past.  Robot floor cleaners now cleans floors whenever you set a timer for it to do so. And they’re now affordable enough to become fairly commonplace.  



Honorable Mentions:

Things that are in the process of being created but aren’t quite finished.

  1. Jet Packs                                              Jetpack_Gorge
  2. Star Wars Speeder Bike -> Aerofex Aero-X  aerofexhoverbike-3
  3.  Iron Man Suit -> Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS)  16-TALOS
  4. Bionic Man -> Titan Armtitan-arm
  5. The Jetsons Robo Chef -> 3D Printed Food3d-print-food.jpg



5 Ways to Respond to the Retirement of the Baby Boomer Generation

The United States is currently facing an issue it has yet to see before.  The generation that was at one point the largest generation in the American workforce is now reaching the retirement age.  This will have an impact on the entire workforce, but studies show this will have the greatest impact on the manufacturing industry.  Over the next decade, it is predicted that over 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled.  It will be difficult finding enough workers to fill those positions,  but what will be even more difficult to deal with, is the loss of the job knowledge that Baby Boomers will be taking with them when they retire.  To try and address this issue, we have scoured the internet for research about how to best handle this situation.  Below we have listed the best five ways to respond to the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation:

  1. HAVE A PLAN: This one may seem a little obvious, but it is too important not to mention.  A poll recently done by AARP found that nearly 50% of companies have not done any strategic planning in relation to the impact that the retirement of Baby Boomers will have on their business. First, it is important to know exactly how your company could be affected by this.  As previously mentioned, a large percentage of manufacturing employees are part of the Baby Boomer generation; therefore, your company will more than likely feel the impact of this in some form or another.  To understand the potential effects, perform a workplace analysis.  Once you know exactly how many employees could potentially retire over the next few years, you can begin planning a response to this in a way that is tailored to your company specifically.  There are a lot of “how to’s” out there, but none of those will fully understand the needs of your company like you do. 
  2. FLEXIBLE RETIREMENT PLANS: In response to the potential mass retirement of employees, some companies are now offering more flexible retirement plans.  In some cases this comes in the form of a half-retirement plan. With this retirement plan, retirees work part-time while drawing a portion of their retirement funds. This allows a company to phase out retiring employees while phasing in their replacements in a way that is not a drastic change to the organization. This proves to be a strategic way of skill transfer as well.
  3. JOB SHARING: Job sharing is when one job that consists of around 40 hours a week is split between two people.  This can be done in any number of ways: two people work 20 hour weeks, one person works 30 hours while the other works 10 hours, each person works a certain amount of days, or maybe even splitting the day.  Many companies use this method so the older employees can work less hours, but the same amount of work is still done.  Others companies use this method as a way to phase in new employees that are okay with working part time while they learn from seasoned employees.  Many members of the millennial generation prefer shorter and more flexible hours anyway, so it is a win-win.
  4. LOOK FOR CERTAIN SOFT SKILLS WHEN HIRING:  There are certain soft skills that members of the Baby Boomer generation have that contribute to them being such great employees.  However, it is important to remember that those skills are not exclusive to members of the Baby Boomer generation.  When hiring new employees, place an emphasis on things like loyalty, competence, track records, and common sense. These qualities often lead to higher quality work and greater attention to detail.
  5. IMPROVE THE IMAGE OF MANUFACTURING:  One major concern of large amounts of manufacturing workers retiring is not having enough young, skilled workers looking to fill those spots.  Many members of younger generations have an outdated viewpoint of working in manufacturing and are quick to dismiss it as a viable career path.  If this outlook can be updated to show the benefits of working in manufacturing, the workforce will strengthen and hopefully the skills gap will become smaller and smaller.  One way companies can help to achieve this is to invest in STEM programs at the middle and high school levels.  Another way is to participate in facility tours for students and teachers so that they can see for themselves that manufacturing is an exciting industry to enter.


Although this issue is a difficult one to navigate, we believe that with proper planning and a strategic approach, the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation can be dealt with in a manner that will guarantee a positive outcome.