Ashley Carr wanted to be a makeup artist and hair stylist after graduating high school until she looked at manufacturing and saw it could be a creative outlet, too.
Now a second-year mechatronics apprentice at Bekum America in Williamston, Mich., Carr is urging young adults considering traditional professions or fast-food jobs to at least explore manufacturing.
"Here I am building machines from the ground up covered in dirt. You have to try it. Maybe you don't like it … but see all your options," Carr told 10 classrooms of middle and high school students tuning into Bekum's virtual Manufacturing Day on Sept. 30.
The Berlin, Germany-based company makes the machines that produce bottles for orange juice, shampoo and syrup as well as gas cans, Halloween pumpkins and even the insoles for Nike and Reebok athletic shoes.
Carr said she has a satisfying career doing machine makeovers on factory floors instead of cosmetic makeovers at a salon. She specializes in mechanical and electrical systems and spent two weeks in Chino, Calif., refurbishing a 20-year blow molding machine for one customer.
"I enjoy building something from the bottom up and to challenge myself every day — to figure out to wire something differently or make it look better," Carr said.
Manufacturers like Bekum and PVC profile extruder Veka Inc., which held a virtual Manufacturing Day on Oct. 1, look to the events held every October since 2012 to connect with future talent and reframe the public perception of modern manufacturing to address the skills gap.
More than 2.4 million American jobs may be unfilled by 2028 due to outdated misconceptions surrounding the industry and the lack of highly skilled workers, according to the Manufacturing Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group that is a workforce development partner of the National Association of Manufacturers.
"I think every business today that has the luxury of being deemed essential — and we're very thankful we were — is hiring," said Steve Dillon, Veka's North American marketing director. "It's not easy with the labor pool and some of the incentives that are out there for people to stay at home. Sometimes it's challenging to find people willing to come in and work shifts."
Veka produces vinyl profiles for windows, decking, fencing and railing at a 700,000-square-foot facility in Fombell, Pa., where it is based; a 200,000-square-foot facility in Reno, Nev.; a 165,000-square-foot plant in Morganton, N.C.; and a 100,000-square-foot plant in Terrell, Texas.
With $215 million in annual sales, Veka ranks No. 23 among North American pipe, profile and tubing extruders, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
The U.S. production plants are located in "fantastic" cities that are great for families and there are chances to relocate to them, Dillon said, noting another perk of Veka employment.
In all, parent company Veka AG, which is based in Sendenhorst, Germany, where it has a 1.3 million-square-foot facility, operates 18 manufacturing plants in 14 countries. The family-owned company bills itself as the largest extruder of fenestration systems in the world.