It's manufacturing month at Cary, N.C.-based Cornerstone Building Brands Inc.
The largest producer of exterior building products in North America employs some 20,000 people at about 100 work sites, including 30 manufacturing plants, where many jobs are unfilled as strong demand continues for vinyl siding and windows.
Manufacturing Day is typically celebrated the first Friday in October, and more than a dozen plastics processors and machine and equipment builders participated this year to show the diverse opportunities that exist in the sector.
The Plastics Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group, was a sponsor of MFG Day, which is an initiative of the Manufacturing Institute (MI), the nonprofit education and workforce development partner of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Chrys Kefalas, NAM's vice president of brand strategy, said manufacturing as a career is considered outdated and noninspirational by many job seekers who look beyond the industry.
"They can't visualize roles outside of assembly lines. They look at us really as a one-type-of-career industry," Kefalas told manufacturers in a webinar about what to emphasize in October.
Along those lines, some companies are continuing events all month while others are participating in a yearlong effort called Creators Wanted. The goal is to promote modern workplaces with advanced technology related to automation, 3D printing and robots to appeal to prospective talent.
Cornerstone is a sponsor of Creators Wanted, an MI campaign to build the workforce of tomorrow by inspiring and educating the next generation of manufacturers.
This year's outreach is especially important with companies trying to rebuild the workforce amid the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rose Lee, president and CEO of Cornerstone Building Brands. Lee was appointed to the position effective Sept. 6 to replace James Metcalf, who retired.
With $2.29 billion in annual sales, Cornerstone is the second-largest pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
Lee is taking over at a time when MI says there are nearly 900,000 open jobs in manufacturing — a record for the industry— and 4 million jobs will need to be filled by the end of the decade.
"[There is] an unprecedented need for skilled workers who can design, implement and operate the technologies that will be needed to manufacture the products to sustainably grow our communities," Lee said in a news release. "For our company and countless others, it is crucial to help fill the skills gap that exists today to build a powerful manufacturing workforce of the future."
Cornerstone invited students and community members to a siding facility in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Oct. 1 and will follow that up with programs at a windows facility in Dallas on Oct. 15, a siding plant in York, Neb., on Oct. 22, a metal coating facility in Middletown, Ohio, on Oct. 26, a windows facility in Welcome, N.C. on Oct. 27 and an engineered products plant in Houston on Oct. 28.
"Our teams work together to create exterior building solutions that enable structural, environmental and aesthetic needs of our customers across North America, as well as strengthen our economy," Lee said.
Continuing to change the negative perception of manufacturing is one of the biggest challenges to filling the talent pipeline, according to John Budreau, director of new business development at PTI Engineered Plastics Inc. in Macomb, Mich.
"The narrative should instead convey that manufacturing jobs can be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling, as you have the opportunity to bring new and innovative products to market," Budreau said in an email.
For example, in April 2020, PTI ran tooling operations 24/7 to produce ventilator components as part of the $490 million contract awarded to General Motors and Ventec Life Systems.
During a virtual event Oct. 1 at Noble Plastics Inc., which serves the energy and defense markets, Missy Rogers pointed out to student viewers that the shop floor at the Grand Coteau, La., facility isn't lined with assembly workers.
"There are lots of robots doing the repetitive work like clipping, trimming and cutting. That's all automated so our employees are largely inspectors. They look at parts, verify parts and count and weigh parts," Rogers said.
For one customer, Noble employees helped redesign the BGM-71 TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) missile.
"This is a device in existence for decades. It was heavy. It was cumbersome. It made a lot of noise, and it cost a lot of money. It was made of metals," Rogers said. "We were involved from the very earliest days with the redesign into composites and plastics. We proudly produce a number of the materials and components for that system that helps keep our armed forces safer."