Manufacturing Makeover

The Joy of Learning -- Two of the 25 GLAM campers participate in a machanical drive system problem-solving activity.

How do you dispel deeply entrenched stereotypes? Kim Ogle says it starts with “opening our mind to new ways of connecting with your audience.”

The corporate communications  analyst at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama (TMMAL)  has headed up programs at the plant the past three Octobers tied to National Manufacturing Day. This time around, though, Ogle and her team set out to create something new.

They call it GLAM Camp, as in Girls Learning About Manufacturing.

“Only 25 percent of the people who work in manufacturing are women,” Ogle says. “So this year we wanted to focus on helping to close the gap.”

A Day to Remember -- GLAM Camp enrollment was limited to create more opportunities for direct interaction between team members and students.

Clean and Bright

That starts with changing perceptions. Mention “manufacturing jobs” and most people quickly form a mental image of taxing physical labor carried out in a dark and dingy factory. As such, it’s rarely at the top of the career list for women — especially young women.
But that mental image doesn’t align with today’s reality.
“Visitors to our plant are always surprised at how clean and bright it is,” says Ogle. “They’re also shocked to see how automated and high tech it is. Team members haven’t been replaced by robots; they work with them. And much of their day is spent in critical thinking and problem solving. The heavy lifting is far more mental than physical.”

To start, Ogle’s team let the career coaches at Huntsville city schools know what they had in mind. Senior girls were then invited to fill out a short application to make the case why they should be one of just 25 to secure a spot in the camp. Ogle says they intentionally kept the number low to ensure the participants would be fully engaged and plant staff would have ample time to interact with them one-on-one.

Hands On -- Students rotated through four troubleshooting stations in addition to hearing from team members representing various roles at the plant.

Keep Them Moving

Those who made the cut spent six hours at the plant, participating in a wide array of activities.
For example, April Mason, general manager of administration, shared her story of how she found her way into manufacturing. Other female team members, representing different roles in the manufacturing process, explained what they do and why they find it so fulfilling.
The girls also got a plant tour. And they participated in hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities that mirrored problem-solving skills they’d likely encounter on the plant floor.
“We rotated through four STEM stations,” says Ogle. “At each stop, we wanted to teach them how to identify the root cause of a problem. We kept them moving. The last thing we wanted to do was have them sit  for six hours listening to lectures.”
There was also a special session to introduce the girls to the Toyota’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program that creates a pathway for high school graduates to earn while they learn on the job at a Toyota manufacturing plant.
Surprise Winners -- The two students who were the most engaged throughout the program day were rewarded with laptops.

Always Give 100 Percent

At the end of the day, Ogle and her team had one last surprise: The two campers who were the most engaged and asked the most questions were presented with brand new laptop computers.
“We asked the team members who led the activities to keep an eye out for students who deserved special mention,” says Ogle. “Our message to them was that you never know when you’re making an impression, so you should always give 100 percent.”
Based solely on the level of engagement, the first GLAM Camp was definitely a success — setting the stage for a return in 2020, as well as the potential for adoption at some of Toyota’s other North American plants.
“There were two high potential candidates in the group who expressed strong interest in the AMT program,” says Ogle. “If the camp leads directly to them enrolling in that program, it would be huge win for us.”
“The unemployment rate in this area  is 2.2 percent,” she continues. “Our plant is in the midst of an expansion and we’ll need to hire 450  additional team members beginning in January.  The new Mazda Toyota joint venture plant   — also in Huntsville — is in the process of hiring up to 4,000 people.  It’s critical that we invest in growing and developing talent now to help secure our workforce needs going forward.” 
By Dan Miller