Participant, Young Manufacturers Association
Mandrell Davis heard about the Young Manufacturers Association (YMA) from a pastor in a local church near where he lives in south suburban Robbins. YMA is Manufacturing Renaissance’s network and program for young adults aged 18-29 who are pursuing careers in manufacturing, are in-between jobs, in training, or are interested in starting a career in manufacturing.
Before he heard about YMA, Davis says, he had “no clue” about this kind of program. Now, YMA has helped lead Davis to a full-time job with Berry Global, a plastics company in Alsip. He’s a stacker for the company, and his job includes operating a machine that helps load and unload the company’s products.
“I want to do this”
Davis remembers a phone conversation he had with Torres Hughes, Program Coordinator for Manufacturing Renaissance, when he first learned about YMA. “I always liked to learn how to do hand-on things,” says Davis, who graduated from Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights. “When I talked to Torres over the phone, I thought ‘I want to do this.’”
“This program taught me so much about manufacturing. I learned about different types of metals, machines, methods, material safety, and how to read the sheets,” he says.
He adds that the program not only teaches what he needed to know to help get a position with a manufacturing company, but helped him navigate the process of finding a job. Davis worked closely with DeeDee Jones, Industry Coordinator for the Renaissance. “She helped me with my resume and mock interviews, and made sure I was in the right spot,” he says. Davis worked in a couple of jobs before landing at Berry Global. “Now,” he says, “I’m using skills in my job that I learned in the YMA program, like how to read instructions on a blueprint or read a work order.”
The YMA program was offered online when Davis took it in 2020, because of the pandemic.
Davis’ story counters a misconception about how young people can enter the world of manufacturing. One common but dated narrative about manufacturing is no longer true: It’s not accurate to say that the sector is in such decline that there are few job opportunities for skilled workers. Data (from a survey conducted at the University of Illinois Chicago) confirms that there are more than 58,000 skilled positions available in manufacturing in the Chicago region alone.
For young people like Mandrell in the program, taking the next step is not something they have to do alone. It takes a student and young adult-focused team that understands the challenges a young person faces, knows what specific technical and job-seeking skills they will need to get a job, connects with employers, and works closely with young people to navigate the ups and downs of entering the workforce for the first time.
Mentorship and exposure opportunities are key to what the Renaissance offers in its Career Pathways Services programs. In addition to Young Manufacturers Associates, the Manufacturing Connect program prepares and supports in-school youth, ages 14-18, for careers in manufacturing.
“It’s all about the steps – being persistent and not giving up,” says Jones. “Young people often don’t know how to navigate the adult world of work. It takes a mentor to check in and ask open-ended questions to get that young person to explain what happened to them and what kind of support they need.”
Jones says that “Most of the people we serve have not had many exposure opportunities to anything, They need to be exposed to the possibilities that privileged folks are exposed to – like career opportunities. But they are absolutely bright kids.”
Learning new skills
Brence Turner, Senior Machining Instructor, says he recalls a moment when Davis shared what he had learned in the program. “Halfway through the program, he showed me this elaborate sculpture he had made in his home using his hands and measuring instruments he’d learned about in the program. He had learned to apply a specific skill.”
“At the end of the day, skills are talent are great, but what Mandrell has is the drive to learn and succeed.”
Hughes adds that his own experience in the Renaissance program has helped him understand how to work with program participants like Davis. “I was in a Manufacturing Renaissance program in Austin, and I tell young people what benefits it had for me. I tell them the story about how when I started the program, I had never known about manufacturing. I also know that just like anyone else who never worked in manufacturing, it can take a little while to find your way. There’s a structure and language to this work, and you have to be able to get along with people from different backgrounds. And you want to be in a company that wants to invest in you.”
Meanwhile, when Davis considers his future he says he may go to technology school. In the short term, he’d like to get his own place and a car. For now, he says, “The main thing is I get shown how to do something and then I get it done. It makes me feel good to operate different types of machines. The job keeps me moving – and learning.”