April 20 2023


A New Way of Approaching the Skilled Labor Shortage

An Interview with Ed Dernulc, Director of the Foundation at the Fabricators and Manufacturing Association

(Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs)

Why the Skilled Labor Shortage Matters to Manufacturers

In the United States, the manufacturing skills gap could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, resulting in a cost of $1 trillion to the industry that year alone—but there’s hope. Meet Ed Dernulc, Director of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), the charitable foundation of the Fabricators and Manufacturing Association (FMA)—his team is looking to solve this labor shortage by inspiring the next generation and promoting the hiring of professionals with disabilities. 

We spoke with Mr. Dernulc about his connection to the manufacturing industry, his team’s work with NBT, and how businesses can help and benefit by embracing disability inclusion.

Meet Ed Dernulc

After 22 years in banking, including commercial lending and private banking/wealth management, Mr. Dernulc began serving on a feasibility study committee for a hospital foundation when asked to join the organization. He accepted the challenge and joined the Alexian Brothers Medical Center’s foundation. What followed was a long career serving philanthropic foundations, landing at the FMA in 2018 to lead Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs.

He was familiar with the industry’s importance as he grew up near and toured steel facilities in the Midwest. His banking background allows him to understand business owners, amassing a network of potential donors with his genuine curiosity for people’s businesses and informed questions.

“I never understood the definition of impact until I got into the philanthropic world. We’re all called to serve, and we’re all called to make an impact in people’s lives.”

Ed Dernulc

He noticed FMA members called out their number one issue as not the supply chain or cost of raw materials—but human resources. The challenge is employment and retention, finding talent to address their day-to-day operations, production, building backlogs, sales, and other needs. NBT offers a solution to this challenge by inspiring teens to pursue careers in manufacturing.

Nuts, Bolts &Thingamajigs–Introducing the Next Generation to Manufacturing

NBT offers two ways to make a difference in manufacturing’s future long and short-term: 

  • The summer camp program for teens 12-16 years old brings awareness to industry opportunities and offers a long-term industry impact.
  • The scholarship program awards students pursuing degrees or certifications toward manufacturing careers, providing quicker impact by financially supporting those entering the industry in the next two to four years.

Many of today’s young adults don’t understand the vital part manufacturing plays in our economy. The traditional summer camps look to change that with a week-long entrepreneurial curriculum with a micro/macro approach. The micro-approach includes designing, producing, manufacturing, and marketing a product. Along with this project, they get the macro-approach by visiting facilities and talking with manufacturers. Imagine making one clock or coffee table for the first time, then going into the plant that manufactures hundreds at a time. 

Local high schools, community colleges, universities, and fab labs host these summer camps and set a foundation for long-term change in manufacturing and communities. In a recent impact study conducted by NBT, a connection is made between participants receiving career pathways via host schools, which partnered with local businesses to provide an employment pipeline. The community at large then benefits thanks to the retention of talent driving the local economy.

A team of six individuals at NBT under Mr. Dernulc is paving the way for the future of manufacturing with donations, fundraising events, camp coordination, and grants. Five years ago, there were 34 traditional summer camps with $160,000 in funds raised. Last year, there were 239 summer camps, with nearly $1 million in funds raised. 100% of all funds raised and grants awarded go to the NBT programs.

NBT offers Inclusion Camps for teens with disabilities.

NBT Inclusion Camps

It all started with a large grant from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, which concentrates on individuals with disabilities and organizations with inclusion initiatives. NBT raised the additional funds needed to make these camps happen. Last year, NBT launched its Inclusion Camp program for young adults between 12-16 years old and agnostic to helping anyone with any disability looking to find work. These teens go through a four-week program to learn various skills that will make them employable to manufacturers.

The camp has two stages, the first focusing on soft skills like resume writing, interviewing, and adjusting to the work culture. The second stage is like an internship program, working with local manufacturers and providing candidates with hands-on experience.

The feedback has been positive, and progress has been instant, seeing participants in one camp in Appleton, Wisconsin all hired at the end of the four weeks. This program gives young adults with disabilities a path their parents may not have considered. It offers a form of independence—earning a living wage, contributing to the larger economy, and entering a work culture of historical significance.

An Untapped Pool of Talent

With the need so great for talent and retention, hiring workers with disabilities expands workforce development, broadening your talent pool and potentially allowing other employees to move into other areas of your organization. All it takes is a few shifts in interviewing and training.

For example, consider an individual who may be non-verbal, only communicating through sign language or an assistive technology device, but possesses incredible technical skills. Or consider an individual with autism who cannot make eye contact but can work a line just as fast as someone without a disability. This mentality focuses on skills, utilizing this sector’s talent and potential. If you have questions, you can connect directly with NBT to get help with your inclusion initiative.  

How Inclusion Improves the Labor Shortage and Employee Retention

Bringing on these individuals is transformational for their families and the company hiring them. The NBT team has seen that inclusion hiring boosts company morale as these individuals are often hard-working and dependable, doing their work despite their limitations and affecting those around them. These individuals have good retention and reasonable salary expectations, often needing part-time hours. Studies have even more to say about the advantages.

Source: https://www.nam.org/2-1-million-manufacturing-jobs-could-go-unfilled-by-2030-13743/?stream=workforce

Your Business Benefits from NBT

As NBT helps inspire young people to enter the workforce and introduces inclusion initiatives to address the labor shortage, your business can help them help you. Many of TopSpot’s Clients are members of FMA and are smaller shops with revenue under $10 million a year, but no donation is too small. Additionally, the foundation needs more than donations to programs and scholarships. You can support NBT by volunteering and donating supplies.

Not only can you help the labor shortage, but your company. Thanks to promotional tee shirts and foundation press, any donation or aid is a marketing opportunity. Plus, you can take to social media or blogging about your efforts and investments in the future of manufacturing, letting your partners and customers know that you are a forward-looking and solutions-oriented company that is making a difference.

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