Millennials in Manufacturing

How a new generation of young people have chosen to enter the manufacturing industry

By nora-poole
Saturday, May 23, 2015

Manufacturing in Minnesota has faced one major obstacle in recent years: attracting talent. Millennials simply aren’t flocking to the manufacturing industry in the numbers it needs. This has spurred an increase in educational and employment programs statewide geared toward attracting young people to manufacturing, from high schools providing robotics courses and machine shop classes to manufacturers offering facility tours and internships.

Yet there are exceptions to the rule. A number of young people are entering careers in manufacturing, and here are some of their stories.

Not by Design

Amy Alderete never expected that her long-time interest in the fashion industry would lead her to a career in manufacturing. That is exactly what happened, however. Last fall the 26-year-old from Minneapolis began working as a production assistant at Clothier Design Source in South St. Paul. Although it wasn’t in her plans, Alderete says she truly enjoys her job.

“I’ve been interested in fashion since I was twelve,” she explains. “I would always sketch and draw pictures of clothes and show them to my parents.” Alderete enrolled in the apparel design program at the University of Wisconsin Stout. After graduating, Alderete moved to Los Angeles to try her hand in fashion design. She worked for a couple of designers, both of which ended up going out of business.

Alderete then began experimenting with her own line of clothing, which, she says, got her more interested in the manufacturing and production side of fashion. “I just fell into [clothing manufacturing] out of necessity,” she explains. Alderete moved back to Minnesota and began working in the production department at Clothier Design Source last October.

The company provides clothing design and manufacturing services for small and private label clothing brands. Established in 2006, the company originally was focused on design services, but has since expanded to include a manufacturing department where clothing prototypes and small production runs are made. On a day-to-day basis, Alderete spends her work days prepping materials for production, performing quality checks on finished garments, and packaging and shipping orders.

“The recent focus on U.S.-made clothing has really allowed the company to grow,” Alderete says.

Parental advice pays off

When Katie Watrin decided she wanted to be an engineer, her parents weren’t surprised. Watrin comes from three generations of manufacturers. Her father and grandfather worked at Honeywell, and her great-grandfather was a tool-maker. When it was time to go to college, the Maple Grove native couldn’t decide whether to study engineering, or to become a math teacher like her mother. They both seemed like good options, so Watrin sat down with her parents and talked it over.

“My mom pointed out that engineering and manufacturing are always changing and there are always new things to learn, while teaching math would be relatively repetitive,” Watrin says. “It was so helpful to have different perspectives from each of my parents. They were a great source of advice.”

Secure in the knowledge that she wanted to pursue engineering, Watrin headed to North Dakota State University, which had a wide variety of options within that track. Watrin settled on industrial engineering. “It’s an industry that’s constantly changing, and focuses on continuously improving products and processes,” she says.

Watrin worked at three different manufacturing companies since graduating from college in 2011, and is currently a manufacturing engineer in the fabrication department of Talon Innovations in Sauk Rapids. Talon specializes in ultra-high purity components for a variety of industries, including medical devices, aerospace technology, and semiconductors.

“After deciding I was ready for a change while working at my last job, I asked around and heard a lot of good things from my coworkers about Talon,” she explains. “It’s been a great experience working there so far.”

Her parents are happy with their daughter’s career path. “We’re very proud of Katie,” says her father Scott Sable, “Engineering and manufacturing are very important, respected fields. It’s great to see young people, especially women, doing what it takes to pursue those careers.”