AATCC brings perspective to priming the talent pipeline
Posted March 25, 2021
By Devin Steele
AATCC hosted a compelling webinar this week on a hot topic that impacts most of the textile, apparel and larger manufacturing industry: talent.
The event, “Rebuilding the Textile Talent Pipeline: A Conversation on Ways to Recruit and Retain Talent in our Industry,” featured several rising starts in the industry, as well as an industry H.R. veteran, and it indeed lived up to its title, “conversation,” as back-and-forth discussions with participants in all age brackets occurred.
Jasmine Cox, process coordinator at the Textile Technology Center (TTC) at Gaston College, Belmont, N.C., moderated the event, part of AATCC’s Digital Lab series. She noted that much of the discussion would center around data collected from a survey she sent to 30 alumni of the Wilson College of Textiles at N.C. State University, starting with the questions: “Did you receive a job directly following graduation?” and “What attracted you to the position and why?”
Among respondents, Cox noted, 82 percent said they landed jobs upon graduation, with location – particularly in a metropolitan area – and roles and responsibilities among the biggest reasons they accepted the offers. Another was that the company and position matched their interests personally and technically. But interestingly, pay was not mentioned nearly as much as the other reasons, she said.
With those questions in mind, she asked another young panelist, Apurba Banerjee, Ph.D., principal textiles engineer at Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, Milwaukee, Wis., about her early career choices.
“I recently changed companies, so this is a relevant topic to me,” Banerjee said. “Roles and responsibilities are what most attracted me to my current company, with the global reach they had and the immense potential they had with textiles expansion. The fact that I was a subject matter expert in textiles and the first hired in that area played a large role. Location didn’t matter so much to me because, in my opinion, if you enjoy your job, you can make the location fun. I’m a born optimist.”
She added that the company’s culture – built on candidness, flexibility and agility, all foundational characteristics – also played a role.
“At Milwaukee Tools, they invest a lot in their employees and they try to see that the future of the company and the future of employees run in parallel,” she said. “I think a lot of young professionals are looking for that value. I would like to see my activities benefit the company, push it forward and take me with it because at the end of our careers, we want to ask, did we make a difference to the company and the people and did we have on the world?”
Another question asked in the survey was how many people are currently employed by the company that initially employed them. And “amazingly,” she said, 73 percent were not. So the follow-up question was: Why did you leave? Some of the reasons were 1) the drive for entrepreneurship; 2) not happy with their manager; 3) larger opportunities to challenge skillsets; layoffs; and 4) not feeling valued.
After two industry veterans chimed in with their perspectives, Cox pointed out that young professionals wanted opportunities for advancement and the desire to get out of their silos by being allowed to attend conferences, trade shows, etc. to experience the bigger picture and network with industry colleagues, one reason being so they could expand their horizons and gain opportunities for advancement.
Cox then turned to a panelist with a wealth of experience to share her perspective. Monica Jackson-Buxton, Ph.D., corporate human resources manager at Parkdale, Inc. has been with the company for six years and noted that “when you get the textile bite, you never leave. I’ve been in other industries, but they’re nothing like this.”
Jackson-Buxton described the Gastonia, N.C., yarn spinner’s Emerging Leaders program as her “puppy.” She pointed out that the company hires individuals out of college, sends them to various plant locations and allows them to shadow individuals in numerous jobs and perform their tasks at each stop to gain exposure in every step of the manufacturing process. Those new hires gather once a quarter for team-building activities, she said, and she stays in touch with him along the way, she said.
Jackson-Buxton also noted that she works with Suzette McHugh at the Textile Technology Center for various training sessions with OEMs, to gain even more knowledge about Parkdale-specific processes and equipment.
Internships also are in Parkdale’s repertoire to attract talent, she added.
“We allow students to come in and try out a job,” Jackson-Buxton said. “Sometimes, it just opens their eyes and you see them blossom. Coming in and getting that hands-on exposure is what they need.”
As Cox noted previously in the survey results, new hires often prefer to work in metropolitan areas, and Jackson-Buxton said she hears that a lot. But occasionally, after new employees have been sent to “rural” areas within Parkdale’s network, they realize that’s where they need to be in order to advance in the company.
“I’ve had people who didn’t want to go to those towns, but after they’ve been there, they call me back and say ‘I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go anywhere you want me to go,’ ” she said. “They realize that if they really want to reach that career goal, they need to go to wherever that opportunity is.”
Cox then brought up another point in the survey: that company culture and workplace environment are important to the younger generation. And a mentorship program gets high marks in any company, she said.
Cox asked panelist Sara Chester, executive co-director for The Industrial Commons in Morganton, N.C., to elaborate on the nonprofit that incubates innovative social enterprises and delivers a suite of workforce development programming, including an industrial sewing program, financial literacy training and open book management, culture change strategies and supervisor training.
Chester explained that her group works primarily with blue-collar employees, those who are coming out of school and are looking for a means to making a living as opposed to college graduates. She also noted that the entities within the Industrial Commons are a “testing ground” in some ways for companies.
Among several initiatives with which it is engaged is the “Great Game of Business,” which she described as open-book management program. Through that, a company’s financials are exposed so that everyone in the business can see their value to a company, she said.
“That has been fascinating,” she said. “We're doing that in four or five different companies, and it really helps employees understand where the profit margin is in the business and their role in helping to create profits.”
She added that most employees, when surveyed, think that companies operate on about 12 percent to 15 percent profit margins, but in reality, it's closer to 3 percent to 5 percent, “so it helps them to see that and their role in either saving money or helping the company be more profitable,” she said.
Chester also explained the Industrial Commons’ mid-level management program and its Worker Committees initiative. She added that through the latter effort, Meridian Specialty Yarns in nearby Valdese, N.C., captured a top award in the state after working with the Industrial Commons on an employee engagement program.
“We have seen a lot of manufacturers open the eyes to young people of what manufacturing is today,” she said. “It's clean and safe and modern, and there are opportunities for leadership and advancement. What we're seeing with young people is an interest in being true problem solvers and leaders within their companies, and we help bring that awareness as much as we can.”
The next AATCC Digital Lab, Digital Printing Color Management and Evaluation, will take place on April 21 and will be presented by Jiajun Liu, Ph.D., and Lisa Chapman, Ph.D., both of North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles.