While Jake Hall might not tout the same beastly social media metrics as some famous American socialites, he considers himself a rare influencer in the manufacturing industry.
His approach seems to be working, too, and could set a blueprint for an industry that is facing a serious shortage of talent and general production workers.
“I would say the automation and manufacturing industry is very underrepresented when it comes to video content and sharing it,” said Hall, who curates and creates manufacturing-focused content online as The Manufacturing Millennial.
“All these other companies in industries out there, they got their commercials down and their branding down,” he said. “I think more (manufacturers) are realizing that putting together a nine-and-a-half minute video that is pretty much just reading off a data sheet on why their sensor is good doesn’t attract people. You need to share a story and I think that’s what I’ve done with my content.”
A product of survival
Hall, 31, went to work for Grand Rapids-based industry technology and automation specialists Feyen Zylstra LLC in September as a business development manager. As part of his duties, Hall works with machine builders and end users to help implement Industry 4.0 technologies to create more efficient manufacturing processes.
Before that, he worked for Industrial Control Service Inc. in Zeeland, which sells automation equipment. In a single work week during a normal year at Industrial Control, Hall would find himself consulting with dozens of manufacturers and their engineers.
That in-person interaction stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic crept into the picture. This pushed forward an idea that he had been kicking around for more than a year: To shine a spotlight on an industry that isn’t necessarily known for fast-paced, flashy videos or other content that resonates on social media.
“I said, ‘I need to find a way to get content out there and let people know I’m still available,’” Hall said. “I just turned to LinkedIn.”
The Manufacturing Millennial’s LinkedIn page is Hall’s content-sharing hub, where he currently has 13,000 followers and 2.4 million views to his content. He also has a standalone website, which he hopes to further build out in the future.
Hall shares video content that he finds interesting and timely, even if it highlights a manufacturing process for something mundane. For instance, around Thanksgiving, he shared a video that showcased a high-speed vision inspector for green beans because green bean casserole is his favorite Thanksgiving dish.
His aim is to garner attention to all forms of automation and manufacturing. Another example of this is when Hall shared a video that outlined the manufacturing process used to create pencils, which drew more than 50,000 views.
“Everyone holds a pencil but they don’t realize how that pencil was made and it’s really cool to highlight these manufacturing processes,” Hall said. “I think it gives people a better understanding.”
Making manufacturing fun
Outside of curating content for the general amusement of viewers, Hall said he enjoys highlighting manufacturing specifically in Michigan, a state where most people associate manufacturing with the automotive industry alone. Hall’s approach to promoting machine builders, automaters and their latest innovations stands as a template for getting a new generation excited about manufacturing.
Hall pointed to companies like Tesla Inc. and SpaceX as examples of manufacturers that have placed an emphasis on showing the world their innovative manufacturing processes.
“Why is Tesla attracting so many of the newest, youngest and brightest?” Hall said. “Why is Tesla’s median age 25 years younger than Ford’s?”
“They made manufacturing fun again,” he said. “You go to work for Tesla because you know you’ll be dipping into the latest and coolest manufacturing processes and what’s new in the industry.”
Cindy Brown is on the frontlines of the regional talent pipeline challenge in her role as vice president of talent initiatives for West Michigan economic development organization The Right Place Inc. She is also a member of the executive team for Discover Manufacturing, a regional network of manufacturers.
Brown is active in events like Discover Manufacturing Week and MiCareerQuest, which serve as hands-on opportunities for students to get a first-hand look at manufacturing.
On the digital front, Brown said manufacturers have been making strides.
“I think manufacturers have done a really good job of not just moving to Industry 4.0, but also getting the word out regarding the culture of the organization as well as the equipment they will be using,” she said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s behind the times — I think they’re doing the best they possibly can.”
But, she added, “That’s a big task — having someone like Jake out there is fabulous because it’s helping spread the good word.”
While a company’s strong roots and tradition in the community might not be flashy, Brown said it does help sway some talent.
“For some students, the stability of a company being here for 100 years is important to them so that they don’t get laid off and they don’t lose their jobs,” she said. “I think that’s partly in the back of their heads — they find it important. But I also know that they want to know what they’ll be doing.”
Still, it is important for manufacturers to start engaging with students at a young age — a demographic that is very much plugged into social media.
John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, has done plenty of hand wringing over the growing talent shortage. He emphasized the importance of reaching workers years before they enter the field.
“There are some stats that show if you can capture a child in middle school and spark their creativity in manufacturing, that’s when you can really root an interest in the career,” Walsh said. “I think we’re doing pretty good on at least generating interest but we still have a lot of work to do as an industry and as a state to change the overall perception on a career in manufacturing.”
News coverage in the manufacturing section of MiBiz is made possible by advertising support from The Michigan Economic Development Corporation. MEDC markets Michigan as the place to do business, assists businesses in their growth strategies and fosters the growth of vibrant communities across the state. This advertisement has no effect on editorial consideration in MiBiz.