Meet the Makers: Dawn Archer

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.

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We would like to introduce you to Dawn Archer, Senior Manufacturing Operations Manager at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Marion, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Dawn with a rewarding and beneficial career for 38 years. We sat down with Dawn to talk about the progression of her career and why she has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

I was led to a career in manufacturing through my father. He worked as a Tooling and Facility Manager and as a Composites Product Manager here at this same facility, which at that time was called Brunswick Corporation.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing.

I went to work for Brunswick Corporation in 1980. I was 22 years old and my original position was an Engineering Technician. After three months in the Engineering Technician position, I was promoted to Program Coordinator in the Production Control Department.

What education and training did you have before you started your job?

I graduated locally from Marion Senior High School, then attended Virginia Tech. While at Virginia Tech I studied Political Science and Sociology. That background today doesn’t really sound like it fits in manufacturing, but back in 1980 with so few women in manufacturing positions, as long as you had a solid educational background, the company took the time to train you for the position you were hired to perform.  Today after 38 years of working in almost every area of the business, including 2 years at one of our business unit headquarters, I would have to say that it has been advantageous to be a part time politician and social worker.  Today with many technology changes in manufacturing, an educational background in science, technology, engineering, or math is beneficial.

Tell us about your continued education and training throughout your career.

Obviously, there was lots of on-the-job training.  Additionally, I continued my education taking several APICS [the association for supply chain management] courses, along with training in supervision, auditing, Lean 101, Lean Leadership, business writing, and communication & negotiation skills. In December 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program, which was a 12-month program in Burlington, Vermont, that was established for GDATP (General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products) future leaders of the business.


Tell us about the progression of your career.

I was hired into manufacturing in 1980 as an Engineering Technician and was then promoted to a Program Coordinator in Production Control. From that position, I began to transition to Program Coordinator II, Master Scheduler, Manager Production & Material Control / Stockroom & Traffic, and then moved to Manager Radomes & Composite Manufacturing Plant 3. In 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program and became the Director of Ethics in 2004. The Director of Ethics job required me to move to Charlotte, NC and work out of our GDATP headquarters.  At GDATP headquarters, I was a member of the senior staff and worked directly for the President of the company. Reporting directly to the President was a great opportunity that allowed me to travel to all of the GDATP locations and meet all of the people that manufactured the products for our business unit.

In 2006, the GDATP business unit reorganized.  At that point, the new Vice President over the Marion facility asked me to move back to Marion and I was appointed the Director of Production Planning and Support for Advanced Materials. In that job, I had responsibility of the planning support groups in Marion as well as our facility in Lincoln, Nebraska.  In 2008, I was appointed Director Manufacturing Operations and was responsible for all manufacturing activities.  In 2016, I was appointed the Director of Production and Material Planning / Aerostructures Operations Manager.  In 2018, our company moved into the GDMS (General Dynamics Mission Systems) business unit and titles changed to map with GDMS titles.  So currently I am Senior Manager, Manufacturing Operations, with the same oversight as in 2016.

What has it been about manufacturing that has made you want to stay in it as long as you have?

I have stayed in a manufacturing role simply because I love what I do.  I love everything that manufacturing brings to the table. There is always something new.  New processes, new techniques, new products, new equipment, new customers, and new ways of doing business through continuous improvement.  I’ve also stayed because of the people.  My co-workers, salary and hourly, have become a part of my extended family and that makes me work even harder, because I want this business to survive and excel.  I want all of my co-workers to have a long career like I have been blessed with.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

When I first came to work here I applied for the first two positions that I held.  The main highlight of my career that I am most proud of is that after those first two positions, I have been recognized and rewarded with promotions and new responsibilities on numerous occasions, without ever applying for another position, which has meant so much to me.

A second highlight in my career was the opportunity to work at our GDATP business unit headquarters. Working at our headquarters gave me a tremendous amount of knowledge pertaining to how the General Dynamics business operates and it opened doors for me to develop business relationships, throughout all of General Dynamics.  While at headquarters for 2 years, I developed an award winning Ethics program that received local, state, and national awards, which will always be a highlight in my career.

Finally, I would say being a third term member of the labor contract negotiating team. We have a union (UAW Local 2850) at the Marion facility, and we have to negotiate our labor contract usually every 3 – 5 years.  I have been fortunate enough to sit at the table with the union and management teams on three different contract labor agreements. Only a small handful of management employees get to experience the labor negotiation process, and that is an experience I will always remember.

What has this career meant to you?

This career in manufacturing has meant everything to me. It has given me many opportunities to grow as an individual by working with others, mentoring new employees, and developing myself. Having all the jobs that I’ve held the last 38 years, I’ve touched many production areas, almost every department, and almost every employee at the Marion facility.  One favorite memory from my experiences was in 2016, being part of a 4-person team that won a General Dynamics Manufacturing Excellence award for the successful start-up of the Gulfstream G600 program.  That award was a true success story for the company and for me personally.

My career has provided more than I ever dreamed would be possible for a young girl who started to work in manufacturing over 38 years ago.  The company has been very good to me through my promotions and through my job responsibilities. The company benefits have allowed me to provide for my family and serve my community through many community service activities and Board memberships. Without this manufacturing career, my experiences might have been few, and in my opinion I would have been a totally different person.

Watch the video below to find out more about Dawn’s 38 year manufacturing career.