The Point of Pride

April 2, 2024, 11:00 am Peter Bigelow

Returning to a focus on soft skills will help industry find responsible employees.

For well over a decade, the number one question, complaint and concern I hear from businesspersons, regardless of industry or company size is: "Where is industry – any and every industry – going to find all the people necessary to actually build stuff?" And yet despite this serious workforce void, businesses continue to plan on a combination of reshoring product from distant lands or growing organically – which requires expanding their workforce. But how can you expand your manufacturing when the most critical ingredient – employees – is nowhere to be found?

Academia, from the earliest contact in elementary school to high school and right through university, has become misaligned with the real-world skills and education needed for a balanced and thriving economy. Yes, society needs doctors, lawyers, engineers and other more academically focused professions, but society also needs people with the interest and skill to touch and build product. In addition, there are real skills, education and training that together enable a worker to operate the complex and simple machinery and processes that successfully produce a multitude of technologically advanced, viable and sought after products. Maybe it is time to recalibrate our focus to some of the traits and skills that lead to success regardless of profession but appear to be currently missing in the workforce.

The first is promoting, developing and rewarding something called work ethic. From elementary through graduate school, teachers should instill in students that while the grade is important, it's how you work toward getting a grade that is the arbiter of future success. Acknowledging the effort made even if by way of saying "well done" to someone who is giving a task everything they have, even when they fall short of an "A+." Being motivated promotes a strong work ethic. In my career, I have worked with many "C+" people who through hard work and dedication – work ethic – have outperformed their classroom "A+" peers. How? They simply worked harder, took the task at hand seriously, and continually strived to improve. I fear academia is often too quick to stress the grade when the more important life skill is developing and maintaining a strong work ethic.

Developing a strong work ethic, of course, requires another increasingly rare trait: persistence. Too often people when challenged will stop, retreat and move onto something different and easier rather than working diligently to find a way to "nail this!" Developing persistence requires a parent or teacher with much patience. Applying persistence when challenged contributes to building self-confidence as well as a strong work ethic.

Clear communication is another lost skill – despite all the advances in technology and social media developed expressly to improve communication. Being able to text is great, but in the workforce – and life – being able to verbally communicate, face to face, concisely and with mutual respect is critical. "Hey bro ..." may be a fine way to open a conversation with good friends, but it is not an appropriate way to address a coworker or supervisor. Equally important are basic writing skills. Work often revolves around emails, which means creating concise, to-the-point emails that address a question, problem or thought that is being distributed or copied to a wide spectrum of people who may or may not be familiar with the topic. Clear, concise writing, along with articulate verbal skills, are critical for success in any work environment.

Getting along with different types of people – read: coworkers – who may have very different backgrounds, interests and opinions is equally critical. Respect for others and the ability to work with those whom you may not personally like – but professionally must work with – is necessary to thrive in life. Those who have not been taught how to interact with different or difficult people, including interacting professionally day in and day out, will most likely have difficulty in whatever they pursue. I have seen too many young people quit a job simply because they do not like a coworker.

Taking personal pride in what you do is one of the most important traits that too often is missing by people entering the workplace. Much like work ethic, it is caring that what you do is completed well, finished on time and delivered with no mistakes – the first time and every time. Pride makes people shine in comparison to those around them. Pride defines who you are, what you do, and most of all, what others think of you. Pride is also demonstrated by little things, such as showing up to work early and being the last to leave.

Which brings us to responsibility. When you combine a strong work ethic, persistence, the ability to communicate verbally and in writing, the flexibility to work with others no matter how diverse, and take pride in your work, the result is a responsible person. Every manufacturer I have ever known has "be a responsible person" at the top of their list of desired traits in employees. The sad reality is that when looking for employees, you can find people with intelligence and who have potential skill but show symptoms of lacking responsibility. Symptoms such as not showing up for work on time every day, bristling when being challenged or taught basic work tasks, copping an attitude with people they do not like, and not taking pride in the work they do is regrettably too much the norm.

Employers must stress to schools, academia and youth to recalibrate the lessons of essential personal and professional traits and skills in order to have a balanced and available workforce to meet tomorrow's challenges. The next generation needs to focus on developing a solid work ethic, persistence, interpersonal communication skills, and most of all, pride. For those who do so, abundant and lucrative career opportunities lie ahead – especially in manufacturing.

Peter Bigelow is President / CEO of IMI... Email is:

About IMI Inc.

Founded in 1971, IMI is a leading provider of commercial and military, technologically-advanced printed circuit boards with significant expertise in fabricating on all types of PTFE/Duroid, polyimide, and more traditional FR-4 based laminates as well as mixed construction applications. Based in Haverhill, Massachusetts, IMI is MIL certified, ITAR registered as well as AS9100/ ISO9001 registered and focuses on leading Aerospace, Military, Medical, RF/Microwave and Industrial electronics OEMs and contract manufacturers from its Haverhill facility. For more information, visit