What I've Learned From Plant Tours


What I've Learned From Plant Tours

By: Allison Grealis

Here’s the thing. During the past 15 years, I have visited more than 1,000 manufacturing facilities. From my experiences, I’ve learned three general truths:

1. Manufacturing plants are NOT dark, dirty or dangerous.

I have RARELY encountered a facility that fits the traditional manufacturing stereotype. Unfortunately, when many people think of a manufacturing facility, they think of three “D’s”—dark, dirty and dangerous. This could not be more untrue. Almost all of the plants that I have had the pleasure of visiting have been modern, technology-driven and impeccably clean. Manufacturing requires creativity and ingenuity; it would be almost impossible to design and develop products in an environment that is even remotely dark, dirty or dangerous.

This stereotype generally keeps women from pursuing careers in manufacturing. I am convinced that if women knew what manufacturing facilities were really like, they would entertain the idea of working in one. In fact, the women that I have met on plant tours highly recommend manufacturing for women. With the ability to utilize multiple skills and numerous advancement opportunities, the sector should be blossoming with female talent. 

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, which is why I founded Women in Manufacturing (WiM), an organization that supports, promotes and inspires women in the manufacturing industry. At WiM, we diligently work to ensure women understand that their expertise is vital to the success of manufacturing, while encouraging them to remain an active part of the industry and seek advancement opportunities.

2. People in the manufacturing industry love their jobs (and for good reason).

Manufacturing is the art of bringing a concept to life; it’s the perfect job for those who like to experiment with technology and solve a problem using a hands-on approach. There’s a reason manufacturing is one of the most sought-after sectors. People in the industry love their jobs. It doesn’t matter if a person is working on the shop floor or is head of the engineering design team, there is an equal respect and a tangible sense of pride for what is being made. Most folks that I have met during plant tours are genuinely happy to be there.

3. Plant tours are always a good idea.

When you have an opportunity to go on a plant tour, take it. Even if you are unfamiliar with the company or what it produces, make an effort to go check it out. You will never leave a manufacturing plant without learning something new. It is always worth it. 

Not only do you get to see how manufacturers produce their products, you get a first-hand account of whythey produce their products. For plant tours, ‘why’ may seem secondary to ‘how’, yet I have reason to believe that ‘why’ is more important. When I hear someone talking enthusiastically about why they produce a product, I remember why I chose to be in manufacturing.  Passion drives this industry, and it’s inherent in anyone who calls themselves a manufacturer. Only on plant tours are you able to see products being made by the people who are so proud to make them.

During our fifth annual Women in Manufacturing SUMMIT September 23-25, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN, there will be five plant tours held. Medtronic, Caterpillar, Ultra Machining Company (UMC), H.B. Fuller and Pentair have graciously accepted to host us. We invite fellow women in the manufacturing industry, as well as the men who support them, to join us in Minneapolis for this exciting opportunity. 

There you have it. After 15 years and over 1,000 manufacturing plants, I’ve narrowed my knowledge down to three key points. I hope that my insights will help clear the way for women to pursue manufacturing careers; they should see for themselves the opportunities that await them.