As the President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in the US, Jay Timmons represents 12.8 million industry workers and 14,000 member companies. For Timmons, working in manufacturing is more than a career. It’s a way to help shape a more stable, prosperous and inspiring way of living and working, now and well into the future. “I was very passionate about public policy, strengthening democracy, and empowering people,” says Timmons. “That drew me to politics from a very early age.”

After years spent working for various members of US Congress and then as Chief of Staff in the Virginia Governor’s Office, Timmons took that passion to NAM where he was hired as head of the organization’s policy and government relationships operation. Five years later, he was named President and CEO. “It’s been an incredible journey.”

We talked to Timmons about the life-saving role manufacturers have played during the pandemic, bringing much-needed diversity to the industry, and how NAM is working hard to inspire the next generation to join the industrial workforce.

"Innovation is the absolute heart of manufacturing."

— JAY TIMMONS, President & CEO, National Association of Manufacturers

Accenture: How do you view innovation in manufacturing today?

Jay Timmons: Innovation is the absolute heart of manufacturing. Pre-pandemic, I travelled the country during our annual State of Manufacturing Tour to see those innovations firsthand: 3D printing, virtual reality, augmented reality. None of these technologies are futuristic anymore; they’re almost commonplace in manufacturing. Innovation in manufacturing has also literally saved lives during the pandemic. Manufacturers developed new technologies and procedures that enabled COVID-19 vaccines to be created within just one year. That was down to manufacturers’ research and development.

That’s innovation! Manufacturers are saving the world right now. And once the world is saved, we’re going to go on to create incredible new products and inventions that we haven’t even contemplated yet. And it will allow us to continue to improve the world and raise the standard of living all around the globe.

Accenture: What can companies do to differentiate manufacturing as the industry to be in?

Jay Timmons: Manufacturing provides that solid quality of life we all strive for today. My own grandfather left the family farm during the Great Depression and stood in line every day for six months, waiting for a manufacturing job. His dedication allowed my family to become part of the emerging middle class. Today, there are opportunities in manufacturing for so many people across the country, and it distresses me to think that not enough people know that those opportunities exist. Today, there are 500,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing. In the US, we differentiate ourselves in manufacturing by paying the highest level of salary and benefits compared to every other sector of the economy.

I also see manufacturing as the future, and a way to develop that more perfect union we always strive for. The pandemic has shown how manufacturers can be a part of the solution and help society. Whether it’s product development or dealing with complex issues, manufacturers are always at the forefront of helping build a better society. You see it in our dedication to closing the opportunity gap and helping bridge divides by taking action to increase equity for underrepresented communities. We can’t wait around for others to solve challenges; we must be part of the solution.

Accenture: What is the industry doing to attract digitally savvy talent?

Jay Timmons: Manufacturing is the greatest story that is rarely told. When I gave an address at the University of Kansas, I asked the room of 1,000 students, “How many of you have contemplated a career in manufacturing?” Not one hand went up. Then I said, “Who in this room wants to be responsible for making the next great invention, like the iPhone, that will be utilized all over the world?” Almost every single hand went up. That’s our story, but sometimes we’re not so great at telling it.

Manufacturers are too often reluctant to open their doors and share their story. Obviously, we don’t want to lose our intellectual property and trade secrets. But we must do better at telling our story. Because when we do, we inspire people; we inspire the next generation of the manufacturing workforce. For example, Creators Wanted, a joint campaign between the NAM and the Manufacturing Institute, tells our story and invites young people to see what manufacturing is all about. Manufacturers are often pretty humble about our contributions to the greatness of this country but, boy, it’s an inspiring story! And that’s how we will attract talent in the future.

Accenture: How is the NAM making diversifying the workforce a priority?

Jay Timmons: Inclusion and diversity have always been key drivers for our sector. A diverse workforce makes us better; we need different perspectives at the table. This came into even greater focus with the murder of George Floyd, and other terrible events of the past few years. The George Floyd murder forced a reckoning for people across this country. I could not be more proud to lead an organization where the executive committee of the NAM, made up of CEOs of iconic manufacturing companies large and small, announced our Pledge for Action in June 2020. With the support of our Board of Directors, we’ve taken several steps, together with our manufacturers, including pledging to take 50,000 tangible actions to increase equity and parity for underrepresented communities by 2025. We also intend to create 300,000 pathways to job opportunities for black people and all people of color. Manufacturers across the country are putting that pledge into action right now; some examples include creating Employee Resource Groups (ERG), developing internship programs that focus on a diverse community, encouraging Courageous Conversations, offering diversity training, utilizing diverse suppliers, reviewing job postings for inclusive language, and working with diversity organizations to identify additional opportunities in the community. Companies are committing to these tangible actions that are going to change lives.

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