Fifty years ago, in the movie The Graduate, a recent college grad named Benjamin Braddock is wallowing in uncertainty and unsure what to do with his life, when a family friend comes up and offers him a word of advice. “Plastics,” the middle aged man confides to the young one with a mix of smugness and middle-aged certainty. Mike Nichols, the director, and Buck Henry, the screenwriter, meant the moment as one of irony at both the meaninglessness of many adult pursuits and the wide gap between the priorities of the two generations. But the simple fact was, that one word would have turned out to be good financial and career advice, had the young Mr. Braddock chosen to take it.
With that in mind, let me take a stab at offering this year’s graduating class a similar bit of one-word advice: Manufacturing.
If I had to do my career over again, or if I were coming out of school right now, like you – high school or college – and was trying to find something financially and emotionally rewarding, I would make the exact same decision today, but for entirely different reasons.
When I first got into manufacturing, it was something of a family birthright. My dad and uncle were in the business, and the old man taught me from the outset the joys of working with metal, of shaping things from raw materials, and of the camaraderie and oneness that can exist on a cohesive shop floor. And I not only fell in love with those things, I never looked back.
But the manufacturing of today is so different, and is now so richly diverse in choices, opportunities and outlets for an array of interests, that truly, I’d not only do it again, I’d be even more excited this time.
The reason being, of course, is technology. Technological advances, software, and digitization have added a layer of career and human possibility to the industrial sector that, frankly, it never even dreamt possible in my father’s day.
In fact, and I say this with certainty, there is likely no sector of our economy these days any more hi-tech or cutting-edge than U.S. manufacturing.
Gone are so many belching smokestacks that once defined our sector, along with the grimy conditions, drudgery, and hours of repetitive work. Those aspects of American industry have been long displaced by an historical technical revolution, one propelled forward by such things as computing, innovation, optimism, youthful energy, marketing savvy, new product development, global thinking, and, above all, human imagination.
What’s more, what had once been a largely male-dominated sector, if only for the nature of its work, is now being fueled by the talents and dedication of almost as many women.
You a video gamer? Product development and design these days is video gaming with real world implications.
You like solving puzzles? The same thing applies.
You enjoy forging things with your hands and getting a little dirt under your fingernails? Or would your rather create using only your imagination, your fingertips and a keyboard?
Doesn’t matter. In today’s manufacturing, you can do either.
You know that age-old white/blue-collar dynamic? Well, that distinction no longer applies. Because manufacturing is no longer the bastion of blue collar work and blue collar thinking. Today’s professionals wear blue collars, white collars, even no collars. No matter what type of work you like to do, or no matter what type of work fulfills you, it’s being done by people just like you in companies just like mine.
And, speaking of which, do you see yourself working for a large, international corporation, or a small, nimble one? It doesn’t matter, because today’s industry has got both – and everything in between.
U.S. manufacturing, you see, is no longer just a handful of giants in a select few company towns. Today, along with such industrial giants, manufacturing is comprised of thousands of specialty fabricators all across the land, entrepreneurial enterprises that can retool in a matter of weeks and can pop up to fill a need like mushrooms in a forest.
And that’s not to mention the quality of the sector’s compensation packages.
I could go on, of course, but I think by now you’re starting to get the idea.
Congratulations, dear graduates, on all your hard work and for achieving all you’ve achieved. But your task is merely starting. Now comes the hard part. Now comes the time when you must take inventory of yourself, inventory of today’s job market, and inventory of our future as an economy.
At that point, you’ll have to make a decision. But whatever you do, do not get caught up in mob thinking. Do not panic because you’re not where you need to be in life. And, above all, do not leave doors closed just because you think you know what’s on the other side.
Remember, just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you’re through learning. In fact, just the opposite. Those of you who will likely go farthest in this life are those among you who’ve already committed to becoming lifelong learners and to always honing and adding to their skill sets.
That’s why I offer this one word of advice and urge you to look beyond yourself, beyond your biases, and beyond your own horizon. And even if that word requires you to go back and get extra training, or it makes you consider a career you’d never even dreamt of before, don’t be afraid of it. It’s a powerful word, and it’s a word rife with personal growth potential.
I’d tell you what it is, of course, but I think you already know it.
Best of luck, my friends. Here’s to good things for you, and bountiful days ahead for each and every member of the Class of 2018!