Why Manufacturing Leaders Must Invest in Workforce Development
The manufacturing industry is facing a workforce development crisis.
A study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte estimates that by 2030, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled if more people aren’t inspired to pursue modern manufacturing careers.
The shortage could cost manufacturers $1 trillion in 2030 alone.
That’s why Peerless Precision’s president, Kristin Carlson, is investing her time and money to create opportunities for Western Massachusetts youth to discover a different, exciting side to manufacturing.
Her story uniquely positions her to be a force for change as she works to change the narrative around technical schools and careers in the manufacturing industry.
After all, Kristin wasn’t always the president of a multi-million dollar MA machine shop and the Western MA NTMA chapter.
She had to take the long way to get there.
The Long and Winding Road to Precision Machining
Kristin didn’t plan on pursuing a manufacturing career.
Sure, manufacturing was the family business. Her father, Larry Maier, bought Peerless Precision when she was a sophomore in high school. All the tell-tale signs of a future machinist were there: she loved shop class, home economics, art—anything that let her work with her hands.
Plain and simple: Kristin loved making stuff.
But when it came time to cement her plans after high school, Kristin’s father was adamant that his kids go to college—not technical school. It’s ironic, considering he was the owner of a machine shop.
Kristin enrolled in a business administration program, but lectures, textbooks, and passive listening didn’t work for her. She learned by doing—she wanted to get her hands on something and figure it out.
“I went to college because everyone told me I was supposed to,” said Kristin, “not because I wanted to.”
So she dropped out.
Rewriting the precision machining narrative
As Kristin moved into the working world, she held several roles and even worked as a buyer for a fire alarm contractor. However, the pressure of other people’s expectations and the stigma around technical vocations like manufacturing followed her.
When her journey brought her back to Peerless Precision, Kristin found herself in a position to start changing the narrative around manufacturing jobs. She joined the leadership board of her local NTMA chapter and began searching for ways to invest in the local workforce in her community.
“My goal is getting the next generation of students interested in what we do,” Kristin said. “We need to change the negative perception of the manufacturing industry and show students how awesome it is to make stuff for a living.”
Industry Leaders Must Invest in Workforce Development
Kristin often uses a fishing metaphor to describe the future of the manufacturing industry’s workforce:
“We’ve got this small pond with a limited number of fish that we’re all fishing from,” Kristin explained. “If we don’t start putting fish back in there, what will happen? We have to find a way to boost that population.”
In recent years, the emphasis on standardized test scores and increasing college enrollment came at the expense of hands-on classes like shop, home economics, and art. Meanwhile, the message from many teachers, parents, and guidance counselors remains: vocational jobs are the ‘lesser’ choice.
Many kids have lost the chance to discover the joy of making things with their own hands—and the realization that, yes, you can make a living doing just that.
Investing in manufacturing workforce development is pretty simple for most shops: all you have to do is find a way to empower and enable young people to create. Whether that’s donating to a local innovation center, hosting a field trip at your machine shop, or offering apprenticeships to high school students.
It’s time for manufacturers to take matters into their own hands and repopulate the pond.
How Workforce Development Helps Shops
When shops invest in workforce development, they benefit just as much as the people they’re inspiring. For example, these investments are a great way to combat employee shortages and pull ahead of the competition.
Thanks to Kristin’s investments in her community and demonstrated commitment to the future of manufacturing in Western MA, she never has to look too far when hiring a new Peerless employee.
“When I’m part of the change, I am the first one schools reach out to,” Kristin said. “When they have students looking for co-ops or internships, or if there’s a training program in our region for unemployed and underemployed adults, they reach out to me and ask, ‘Who do you want to take?'”
But for Kristin, workforce development is about more than just bringing new people into manufacturing. She’s ready to shape them into the best machinists—and people—that they can be.
“In every job I had before I started running Peerless, my employers always saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Kristin said. “They gave me opportunities to become more than the college dropout that I was. And now, I’m paying it forward.”
Workforce Development Investments in Action
Here’s how Kristin and the Peerless team have recently invested in their community:
Funding the local Junior Achievement center
In October 2023, Kristin used her late father’s memorial education fund to sponsor the building of a Career, Innovation, and Leadership Center at their local Junior Achievement Center.
The new center promises exciting opportunities for students outside of a traditional school curriculum. One of the center’s standout features is the manufacturing room, a tribute to the robust manufacturing heritage in Western Massachusetts.
The fund sponsored a Cricut machine and the Cricut starter bundle to empower kids to start making things for themselves. In the future, Kristin hopes also to sponsor a 3D printer and a mini-mill machine to bring tangible machining tools to the center.
“I’m always happy to support initiatives like the JA center,” said Kristin. “It warms my heart to see my father’s fund help make this innovation center possible.”
Speaking on a panel at MA Tech Collaborative
Investments don’t always have to be financial—manufacturing leaders can offer their time, too.
Kristin recently spoke on a panel at the MassMakes Innovation Challenge, whichcombined hands-on manufacturing, engineering projects, and Q&A sessions with industry leaders. Over 300 students from across Western Massachusetts attended and heard Kristin speak about her non-traditional journey to precision machining.
“After the panel, students asked us for advice that we wish we’d gotten when we were students,” Kristin said. “I said, ‘Look, have fun. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and realize that nothing is a straight path.
“It’s okay to take the long and winding road to find out where you’re supposed to be.”
Workforce Development Is Our Responsibility—Let’s Act Like It
In manufacturing, change often starts at the top. It’s up to the presidents, CEOs, and VPs to do the legwork and usher in the next generation of manufacturers and machinists.
“As industry leaders, investing in workforce development is our collective responsibility,” Kristin said. “You can either sit back and wait for someone else to do it, or you can be part of the change.”