EXPERT’S OPINION: Hire part-time and ask, “What DO you have?”

By C.A. Lawton | January 12, 2022
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The C.A. Lawton Co. periodically publishes input from professionals within the foundry industry and outside the casting world. These Expert Opinions may be casting-related, Continuous Improvement (CI / LEAN), Operational Excellence (Op-Ex), or just working through the challenges of today’s business environment. The goal is to present you with differing viewpoints on how our guests adapt, adopt, and improve. Today’s expert is Ann Franz, Executive Director of Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance (NEWMA). We welcome your input on any of these topics. Contact us at for details. Thank you for visiting! (Video and text versions of the interview are available below).

Interview of Ann Franz, NEWMA

Could you tell us today about yourself, your background, and NEWMA?

Well, if you would’ve asked me 16 years ago if I would be running a nonprofit, I would say, “You’re crazy.” But it’s really evolved. I was hired initially to meet with CEOs about their current and future workforce needs. And one of those first meetings was with a company called EMT International. The owner there said, “I’m so sick and tired of having all these great job openings and nobody wanting them.”

Then we asked, “Is there any organization trying to change the image of manufacturing?” So, long story short in, June 2006, we brought 12 companies together to form the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance. And now, 15 years later, we have over 300 members, 200 being manufacturers throughout Northeast Wisconsin that employ over half of the manufacturing workforce in the region.

View Ann Franz’s LinkedIn profile

Learn more about NEWMA

It sounds like this was an unexpected path for you. Could you tell us where you came from before joining NEWMA?

My background is in public relations. I started my career selling clothes. Then I sold encyclopedias door to door. After that, I worked for a staffing agency. Then I worked for a chamber of commerce and also did event management. Sylvan learning center was the job before NEWMA.

My job has many components, from helping people find employees from the staffing agency to big events to working with schools. It’s incredible how everything has come together with all those past jobs.

With your diverse background, do you see any particular education, mentorship, or a program that applies to what you do today?

I think it’s being open to trying new things and being available to do lots of different things. My job is definitely not doing the same thing every day. You never know how your skills are going to be transferable.

What is something that you wish manufacturers knew or were doing today, particularly in our area?

One is being open to hiring part-time employees. So many companies only want to hire full-time. And there’s this huge group that only wants to work part-time that is being ignored. And especially when we look at the hospitality and retail industries being contracted because of COVID. There’s this group of people that would be great. Yes, you’ll have to hire two or three people compared to the one full-time person, but that huge group is not being tapped.

The second is industry 4.0. Companies need to move forward into digital transformation. They’re not competing with the guy down the street, but globally. People are so focused on getting their widget done, and they’re not investing in industry 4.0. They need to, though, because that’s where our world is going. They’ll be able to do more with fewer people. Companies should invest in learning about how technology can help.

What do you predict for manufacturing for the near future, for 2022, and the next few years?

We had over a hundred companies take the Manufacturing Vitality Index survey (link opens PDF) in our area, and here are a couple of highlights. Our companies are hiring. Unfortunately, trying to find that talent is a huge issue. In fact, we’ve done the study over the last 12 years, and this is the highest percentage of companies saying they can’t find the talent.

Another thing that we saw in the study is that companies are very bullish on 2022 for sales. They see that market share, customer penetration, and sales are increasing significantly. So that’s all good.

Many companies responded that they have supply chain constraints. That’s going to be a huge issue in 2022 still. Companies are going to need to be thinking differently. Work with your suppliers, and ask, “What do you have in your inventory?” Or check with other manufacturers and see if you can help find things through non-traditional means.

Would you be okay with these companies calling you and asking you questions about how they can be flexible in their manufacturing or how to work around their supply chain issues?

Most definitely. We want to be a resource. We want to be the go-to place that if you have a question, come to us. If I don’t know the answer, I can help you find the answer.

Use NEWMA’s contact form to ask your manufacturing question.