- For Your Industry
52 min read
Career Progression in the Manufacturing Industry
Today's manufacturing facilities are clean and modern workplaces that offer a variety of unique and exciting career opportunities.
Join our conversation with Joe Renaud from Amazon Robotics, as he shares his fascinating story of professional growth.
From humble beginnings at a local community college to growing a cutting-edge 3D printing company with Markforged, Joe knows what it takes to succeed in the industry and offers practical tips for people interested in starting or growing their manufacturing careers.
A full transcript along with additional resources are listed below.
- Connect with Joe Renaud| LinkedIn
- Solving The Manufacturing Skills Gap: Recruitment | Dozuki
- Massachusetts Manufacturing Mash-Up | Local Industry Meetup
- Empowering the Frontline Workforce | Podcast Episode
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute | Engineering Program
- Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership | NIST
Episode 7: The Voices of Manufacturing
Brian Sallee: Welcome to the voices of manufacturing podcast. I'm your host Brian Sallee. I'm excited to dig into a topic today that we haven't covered yet, career development in manufacturing. Joining us today is Joe Renaud, and Joe like many of us in manufacturing didn't go to college with plans to get into the industry. And so we're going to dig into Joe's career path and how he ended up where he is today, working at Amazon. So welcome to the show, Joe.
Joe Renaud: Hey Brian. Thank you. Happy to be here.
Brian Sallee: Joe, I wanted to dig in here a little bit on your background, you've got a pretty impressive background. You've worked for some pretty innovative companies, including Markforged and now you're currently at Amazon. But I wanted to dig in where you got started. And you mentioned some things to me about how you went to community college and really didn't know what you wanted to do with your career. What led you to manufacturing? How'd you get into the industry? What were some of the ways you got exposed to the industry?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, it's been a journey. And I think I think for a lot of us when we look at our careers, it's certainly never a linear path and often wanders. Yeah, the way I found myself into manufacturing is I don't know how common, but I hope folks can find their way into roles like this. Going through high school, never really had a clear sense of what I was looking to do professionally, but I was always interested in motorsports, whether it was wrenching on my ATV, racing, my bike, renting cars. I was always focused mechanically and I had this vision of going and getting a business degree and opening like a motorsports store and running a race team.
So I went to community college after high school. Wasn't uh, one of the highest performing students in high school. I'm happy to admit. And I went to a community college in Wecster at a school called Quinsigamond community college to get my associate's degree. And it was through a mentor actually that while it was a student taking a psychology class that helps get me to engineering.
I explained what I was interested in doing as we were going through classes and he challenged me which I didn't expect, that he challenged me. And he said, "What do you do in here, Joe?" And this associate's program. And I told them my vision for opening a racing store and having a motorsports team. And he chuckled at me a little bit. I think his message to me was that, "Joe, I don't know how an associate's degree in management is going to help you get there. And have you ever thought about going into engineering school?" And that was the real start of it.
Brian Sallee: And, I mean, community college, right? It's obviously less expensive than going to a four-year school. You mentioned, you really weren't the highest performer in high school. But I imagine, there's a lot of people out there who don't know what they want to do, and going to a four-year school might not be the best route for them; where they've got to choose a career or a degree program right out of the gate at a four-year school. What was the big benefit for you going to community college outside of, finding a mentor, and finding your path? What are the benefits that you see there?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, I'm a huge advocate of community college after going through it myself. I think a couple of the key benefits are one, very affordable and economical and regionally located.
There's a lot of community colleges close to folks and you can go to community colleges and gain some experience in areas you might be interested in. And a lot of these schools I've since learned, have internal pathways and a big focus for some, community college leaders, and their mission is to help people progress and create pathways. So when I went didn't want to commit to a four-year school from an investment standpoint was a little concerned about the risk of investing and Quinsig was able to roll some credits into a future school of my choosing.
So I knew there was going to be a path somewhere to a four-year college. Through my professional endeavors, I actually just recently I was at the Massachusetts Manufacturing Mashup, the first year for it. Uh, It was a meeting of manufacturing leadership in Massachusetts to help drive high-tech innovative manufacturing in the state. And we met some people from Quinsig, surprisingly, and they're launching a whole robotics program. So I'm actually gonna start engaging with them to get some of our teammates over there to create pathways. I think in summary, the community colleges are a great entry point for a lot of folks who might not be ready to launch into the daunting four-year school.
Brian Sallee: Yeah, no we're and I'm seeing the same thing in that a lot of community colleges starting to offer, internships and things like that, where they've partnered up with local manufacturers that are actually sponsoring. Students to be able to go through community college and pay for some of those expenses to be able to, develop their own workforce and, essentially a pipeline or a feeder for.
Joe Renaud: And you asked about the mentor as well. This individual and I found that folks in the academic world really look out for the future of a lot of their students. And he actually approached me and challenged me. So my philosophies on mentorship rather than uh, I try to seek people to help now and use my collective experience where he actually reached out to me and he said, "Hey, do you want some help?" And he extended the handshake and I had to step out of my comfort zone a little bit, but he said, "Hey, what are you looking to do? Can I help you?" And that started a relationship. I actually still talk to him and he helped me understand that there was a different path that I didn't know. Cause no one presented it to me. I was just a little naive to it. So that, that was my key spark right there.
Brian Sallee: Gotcha. And this mentor you didn't seek this mentor out, he found you, I'm curious to know, what do you think he saw in you and why did he, extend his hand and, offer to help you?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. What I found from him, he's helped other students like this as well. And when I look at the professional landscape for myself, or, an individual likethis professor, he wanted to see kids do well. And I think he recognized that some of the students coming into school might not be clear on their path. And it was his ethos to help his students find their path and challenge them a little bit.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. And you were mentioning in Joe now that, you've had this experience, you had a mentor helped you find your direction. Now you're doing a little bit of this on yourself, where you're reaching out, trying to help folks out. Are you mentoring folks that, you're coming across through these like the what'd you call the "Massachusetts Manufacturing Mashup?" Like, how are you finding people that potentially could use a mentor?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. One way that I'm doing this now is one, I've lived it and through kind of philanthropy and volunteering activities like attending days to drive a common mission and pulling people in with me. We were fortunate to bring some other colleagues to this event and I received a great compliment coming out of it which is, something that I didn't expect to come out of this.
I brought some folks on there and one of my intentions in bringing them was to help expose them to other things going on in the industry, help expose them to other opportunities. And this woman made a key contact with a Women in Manufacturing Group, and she's going to help start like a little woman in a manufacturing group at my current company. And she approached me after she said, "I've never experienced anything like that. And thank you so much for inviting me Joe, because I didn't know that existed. And that was just so worthwhile to know that by reaching out, creating an opportunity, it opened up a new pathway for somebody.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. I think that's really neat. I think that's obviously in an industry like manufacturing where, I think all of us are familiar with the perception of manufacturing, dark, dirty, cold long hours, things like that. For people who are in the industry, part of our job is to help bring awareness to people who aren't in the industry of the opportunities in it. It seems like these, get-togethers and kind of mashups, whatever alliances. There are a lot of them out there. Now, these are great ways to, like you said, extend a hand and invite people. Expose them to things they might not have discovered on their own.
Joe Renaud: Yeah. You said something that resonates with me about maybe some of the misconceptions of what manufacturing looked like in the past, but, today it's more of a digital factory; cleaner, higher-tech environment. Our Lieutenant governor, Karen Polito, offered a keynote to kickoff to the event. And one of the things that she said, which made me proud to be part of the manufacturing community is that is creating a lot of opportunities for folks to mature, develop their careers, and to get involved in safe, rewarding, and nurturing jobs that are gonna help them. Manufacturing is actually helping people up-level their skills and find more satisfaction. Whether it's financial aid, personally or what they're doing to contribute and the whole theme of the mashup was to help support and drive, taking more manufacturing into the state and into the country.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. I want to keep digging in here on your career journey. We talked a little bit about community college. You found this mentor, and then from there, I know you went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. And, what happened there? What, what degree program did you get into at that point in time? Did you realize that "Hey, I want to get into manufacturing," at that point? Or were you still trying to figure things out?
Joe Renaud: At that point, I did not know I wanted to get into manufacturing. What I did know is that my mentor helped me understand, "Hey Joe, like you're technically inclined, you're like math and science, you're like motorsports. Maybe going into an engineering field would one, find a good way to apply your skills, and two, help you earn a good wage and some good income so maybe someday you can start that motorsports team. So I'm like, "Alright this sounds good." And I'm a Massachusetts native and I laughed at him when he suggested that I could go to WPI, which I just didn't have that confidence in myself. And he helped me instill confidence in myself and helped me through the application process. What we call WPI as a mechanical engineering major. I went through that for a few years.
And one thing I learned at WPI, which is key, we have two pillars at WPI - theory and practice. Theory happens in the classroom and our practice happened in the shop. And a couple of years into my program, I found myself gravitating more strongly to the machining, the turning, the industrial engineering, and some of the more fundamental manufacturing disciplines. And I actually changed my major halfway through. And I mentioned that we're on a, we're always on a journey. So I changed to manufacturing engineering, which was perfect for me because it really tied to the theory of what we're learning from a scientific standpoint to the practice of actually, making parts and. The formula essay, your motorsports program really helped tie it all together. That was the big aha moment for me; when I learned that, "Wait, I can study engineering, I can design and develop parts. I can build a race car and I can race this thing?" That really helped me embrace and love manufacturing, and set it off.
Brian Sallee: I love that story. That's so neat because it seems like it was really the hands-on experience. You started machining your own parts, started building a race car. That's when you really realized, "Hey, manufacturing is potentially an awesome career opportunity for me."
Joe Renaud: I was blind to it. I didn't realize that there was so much complexity and opportunity within a manufacturing discipline. And that was just the basis of it. Isn't it? Undergrad student, I didn't really have a full grasp yet on even what my first job would be, but I knew I wanted to design products and want to build things, I want to get my hands dirty.
Brian Sallee: That's cool. That's really neat. And what I'm thinking about right now is, I know you've got, your experience with Markeforged, which we're going to talk about in a little bit here. You know you look at what's happened over the last decade and a half or so, really the last decade with like 3d printing. Now, you don't even have to be in college to discover where your interests might lie when it comes to building things. And, like you said, being mechanically inclined and I have an off-topic question here for you. Have you seen, through Markforged, 3d printers coming into the schools and the classrooms, are you starting to see more younger students show interest in, getting into manufacturing because they've been exposed to 3d printing?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, that's a good question. I think that The advent of a couple of things, right? One Lego's folks who love playing with Legos and putting things together. And then now tied with things like Minecraft. I have an 11-year-old son, so I'm always seeing him build these complex creations.
My first experience now with children and younger people getting into something so technical as 3d printing. I saw it firsthand with my boy when I joined Markforged. My boy was like six years old. I remember bringing him into the plant, showing them the printers and it blew my mind when I showed him the simple little software called TinkerCAD, where you can do simple extrudes, stacking. He designed his own little fortress, TinkerCAD, and 3d printed a part, and the kid's eyes lit up.
And at that point, I knew that I needed to start looking at, we collectively, these are looking have to get these 3d printers into schools. How do we start driving technology into the youth, through makerspaces and things like that.
So we are seeing more young people coming up who understand the technology. Today I was interviewing somebody who was talking about using a 3d printer and their tech school two years ago. Never would have been the case a decade ago.
Brian Sallee: Yeah it's really interesting what's changed since you were at school and to where we're at now, obviously for getting people exposed to manufacturing, but. Maker labs is another thing that we've seen a lot of, whether it's at a school or, just in the community, having a maker lab where you have access to all this equipment and different types of machinery that you just never would have had access to before. Again, just additional ways for people to get introduced to manufacturing.
Joe Renaud: Yeah. And I'll say, further anyone who's interested in getting exposure and support and a great way to, to volunteer a great way to support your time or even fund a project. There are a lot of makerspaces and a lot of labs within our own communities in our own students' centers that could require help whether it's like an hour a week or a couple of hours a month of folks who understand this to help teach kids what's going on and maybe spark that, that future opportunity professor Bart sparked in me.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. That's a great tip there. Moving on, we talked about, WPI, you got that hands-on experience that really unlocked kinda, the vision or I guess the desire to, to build things and to get into manufacturing. You got your first job at, I believe it was Incomm.
Joe Renaud: Correct.
Brian Sallee: And you're coming in as a new grad, and what tips do you have for someone who's coming right out of college, or right out of technical school and coming into manufacturing? Most plants are big and it's intimidating, new equipment, new machinery. You've got people who've been doing it a long time. What did you learn, in your first few years there, that helped you accelerate your career development?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, a couple of things there. One, one thing I did not do, actually I'll start with a little self-reflection, I wish in college, I leveraged internships a little bit more effectively. As a collegiate student, I was landscaping and having a ton of fun on summers which is great and as needed. But I see a lot of students coming through internship programs. So whether it's second, third, or capstone programs. Embedding in a local company is a great way to get your first exposure to a business. So whether it's, three months or two months internship, I highly recommend anyone who's interested and has the opportunity to leverage those internships to get some diverse and broad experiences out in the industry. Now taking that first year, it's very intimidating. You're in school for four years or more in my case, I'm trying to find your way.
Finding something that interests you; I always told myself, I didn't want to make pencils. I thought it'd be boring. I wanted to do something that was unique and technical. So you get to know yourself and what you're interested in. And for me, I was interested in technology and It was abstract. And I found a company called Incom close to home. It was a little comfortable, it was as close to where I grew up. But I found them at a career fair. Career fairs are extremely valuable. You have a whole consortium of all the local leaders trying to find talent. Poke around the career fairs, ask a lot of questions, do some research after and understand what the companies are doing. And. I wouldn't be too worried about finding the right fit the first time out, because we all move around in our careers and learn and develop.
I guess a lesson to take away would be, find something that motivates you out the gate and step into it because you will learn to take away something from that experience. And then once getting in, be curious. For me, my curiosity helps you invest in my growth because I see different things going on in different departments. And I know a lot of companies are always looking for help and they want their employees to show interest and be engaged, and be curious. Don't hesitate to say, "Hey, what's going on in that work cell next to me? What's Bill doing over there? What's Frank up to?" Cause by asking questions and I relate things to lean almost like a 5Y breakdown of, " Why are you doing that? How does that help the customer? Why aren't we doing it this way?" Bring your ideas to the table and share ideas. And that will create pathways for you within your own role and beyond.
Brian Sallee: Did it take you time to develop the confidence to ask those questions? Or was that something, you just naturally had? Cause I could see, situations whereas a new employee. Oftentimes, no one wants to ask dumb questions, and sometimes, that's how people perceive questions. It's somebody who doesn't have a lot of experience. So how did you build that confidence up?
Joe Renaud: That's a funny point. Yeah. Yes. Coming into new jobs. I just came into a new job a year ago. It's always a tough balance. Uh, Do it fast. This question. Do I discredit myself or do I get, do I come off uneducated? I hope our employers and our leaders are all empathetic and appreciate questions, but I know that's probably not the case everywhere. But I probably wasn't as comfortable at the beginning, but maybe that was unlocked from one of the guys that started me on my first job. And I'm starting to do this now is to.
If you're placing candidates in new roles. So say you're a hiring manager, right? And you're bringing a new employee, an employee out of school. Finding projects where folks have a broad scope and some flexibility I think could be really helpful cause they're going to have to navigate and program and figure out how to accomplish that first program and start diving deeper into that. And that can help build some confidence. For me, I gained that confidence through my first project, I got thrown a bucket of parts from a 1940s planarization machine that was used to build tanks back in world war two, and the guy said, "Here Joe, here's the parts, get this machine running in three weeks." And through that experience, I had to ask a lot of questions and I think probably subconsciously that helped me get comfortable navigating the structure and finding out my way to go.
Brian Sallee: That's interesting. So like the takeaway here for, anybody who's like a manager, hiring manager, whatever it is. When you're bringing on new employees, potentially, like you said, giving them a project, that's got a loosely defined scope. Not a lot of direction. Let them figure it out. Cause you're essentially teaching them how to, discover things on their own. Go ask people, ask the right questions, build a network within the company. And I could just see those skills, if you can teach that right out of the gate, those skills you have that foundation it's only going to grow from there. That's a great takeaway there.
Joe Renaud: Yeah. Keep checking in and nudge me and kinda see how things are going. But it really helped me get to know the broad inner workings of the group. And I think in manufacturing we're scaling, we're building new products, we're building new technologies. I think a lot of our jobs are like, anyway; as we're creating new things. So it seems a little inherent in the space as well. There have to be some guidelines, right? And some timelines, we don't want folks to get lost out there, but giving folks opportunities to explore is really important.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. That's a great tip. The curiosity, asking questions, not being afraid to ask, "Why is it this way? Why do we do it this way?" You moved up. I think you were there for eight years or something. As you moved up through the organization, how did you continue to develop your skills? And I know, some companies have like management programs and things like that to help employees out and develop skills as they grow. But what was your progression there on developing the skills you needed for the roles you were being promoted into?
Joe Renaud: And for us, it started with. Seeking feedback and talking to the frontline. There's a great book I read before going into my first job called, "First Break All the Rules." And one thing it taught me was that our frontline workers are people who are doing the job every day, they have a very intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the process - what's going well, what's not, and what they need. So starting there helped them locked a lot of doors for areas to look into and continue to investigate. Outside of programs that's something that I was, I always encouraged folks to do.
Now from a career development standpoint, at Incom, we're really fortunate that utilize some services from different state-funded programs to drive lean methodologies. A group called Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership actually funded by NIST. There's a lot of these organizations around the country. Finding some internal development programs that the company offered to us. And I always volunteered, because I knew coming out of high school I think I challenged myself to get more learning. Cause I felt like I undervalued my education in high school. So I always, I never really said no to an opportunity. And I found that Most of my employers, they've all embraced if there are learning opportunities, I'm taking three to five hours a week to develop myself, is generally embraced. And we should create that space for all of our team members. So we had that, which taught me a lot about lean manufacturing, Six Sigma.
And then Incom did a great thing is they launched a cohort program, which was fantastic. And I was seeking my MBA started my MBA work cause I wanted to I said some gaps in myself. I was highly technical. But my EQ is lower. I didn't connect with the program and the process as, as effectively as I knew I could, because if we think about our three key inputs in manufacturing, it's the people, the process, and the tools. And the people are the biggest components of that. Incom launched a Masters of Organizational Leadership Cohort with Nichols College. And I recognized that was going to fill some big gaps that I had through some performance reviews and some feedback from leaders in the org, but just from my own kind of reflections understanding, working with people and organizational structures was going to be critical to drive the types of programs we wanted to track.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. And just to dig on in, on that a little bit, it sounds like you were pretty self-reflective, but you also had, performance reviews that kind of identified some areas you can improve. Could you give an example of, situations where you realized, "Hey, I'm maybe not prepared as I need to be able to manage a team or to motivate people." Like what was it that, you needed to improve in?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. One key thing was. I understand that not everybody thinks or acts like me. When I was trying to run programs, as my programs became more complex I would have different stakeholders in the program. So I would have stakeholders from procurement, from finance, from engineering, R&D. And I always found it was difficult to align with some folks with my management approach and style. I would always use the same style for every interaction.
One of my major takeaways from my leadership program was learning to understand individuals and how they work. Curating unique and tailored approaches to different groups. And some of the ways that manifests itself, is giving some people more time to work on the programs and develop their solutions. Other ways like probing asking people some different program questions to help drive open mindfulness. And it really helped me navigate to help people to succeed and brought our team together.
Brian Sallee: And so you went back to school, you got this. I believe it was it MBA or MS degree in leadership or organizational leadership?
Joe Renaud: Masters of Organizational Leadership.
Brian Sallee: Got it. Okay. And as you mentioned, this helped fill some gaps but then, you ended up leaving the company. It sounds like, and, or I shouldn't say, "sounds like," you did. And you went to work for Markforged, which was a startup essentially at that time, I don't know how big you guys were. What were you thinking at this point in time in your career, going from a place where you have a ton of experience, they've helped you, obviously develop as a person and in your career, and then you're going to go to essentially a startup?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. When I found was while I was at Incom, is after going through my MOL, Masters of Organizational Leadership, I started generating a lot of ideas from the case studies and from some of the programs, and I wanted to make broader impacts and restructure how we do product development how we did team development, how we promoted from within became very important to me when I recognized the value that the people had and all of our success. I started looking for opportunities. I spent seven years at income, which is a long, I think, a long time for a first tenure job. You tend to see folks, maybe three to five years in their first job to get some different skills and moving around is great.
Fortunately at Incom, I could move around within the job. And I was in manufacturing. I was in R&D. I went through product development and end up launching a new business development line there. So diversity within one company is great. But I sought more, I wanted to build teams. I wanted to get into the sandbox a little bit, and I was very fortunate to get referred to a position at at Markforged from one of my colleagues and when I joined Markforged there were 35 people working out of a garage in Massachusetts. I was hired as as production manager and I had no idea what that meant during my interview I could only see about a quarter of the plant which was actually a garage.
So I couldn't see past another garage door. And they said behind that garage door that's our manufacturing quote, unquote manufacturing and coming from a company that was investing in career development, it was close to home, great people. I was very nervous. I was like, what am I getting into? Is this thing. Am I gonna have a job in six months? I had no idea, but I knew seven years into my career, I was like, take a chance. It's a risky chance. We might not all have that opportunity. I will learn something from this. This is what I told myself. And I took the leap of faith and started at Markforged and that, that really helped change things for me. Yeah.
Brian Sallee: That leap of faith, how did you have the confidence? Cause I think that's where a lot of. would get stuck, right? As your you've built up all the relationship set income, you've got the experience there. They're investing in you, know, you know, the company really well. And then here you are going to go work for a startup essentially, where, like you said, you might not have a job in a year. Where did the confidence come from? Did you just know that, your skillset was, desired enough that you're going to be fine. No matter what happened at Markforged, is that what gave you confidence to make that move?
Joe Renaud: You could call it a confidence or foolhardiness but I go back, I'll go back to mentorship again. I I had a guy Scott, Business Development Manager at Incom. I traveled with him. We went to trade shows and expos. He'd give me good candid feedback on interacting with customers. And he ran these, internal development cycles within our teams. And I always looked up to Scott and I saw Scott as a mentor actually. So that was one area. And Scott helped me get this job. I'll tell you that story, but I always looked up to Scott because I recognized through my experiences like, wow, this is, seeing different people performing. I was like, I want to emulate different pieces of these people. So if I look back in my career history of I probably over-indexed, at one point, I may have emulated Scott too much. Sorry, Scott.
But Scott and I joke about this, but and I've learned to absorb different pieces that kind of fit my philosophies as I've gone through. But I approached Scott and Scott had left the company at that point, but I approached her. I said, Hey, I got the software, this company, I was mark forge 35 guys. They've received $20 million in funding. They're working at a garage. And I'm really interested. I want to take a jump and I'm concerned. I'm nervous. And Scott was great. Scott actually gave me the confidence, Scott. We went on his boat and drove around the lake. Explained to what was going on. And he goes, "Listen, Joe if you don't take this opportunity, you're stupid because you're gonna be exposed to so many different things in such a small business and a startup environment like this, that you're gonna learn a lot. And I've seen that you ask questions, and you don't take yourself too seriously, and you listen, you take feedback. "He's like, "Do it. You're not going to get everything right. You're going to make a lot of mistakes. But if they're starting up a company like everyone's giving the mistakes, you guys I'm sure will support each other."
And I was very pleased to find that was the case. And I took the job with Scott helped. My now wife helped as well. When I was kinda, I got a job, what did we do? What if this thing fails? And I had a good support network at home, too.
Brian Sallee: What motivated you to make that move? What did you see at Markforged that made the work, the risk worth it?
Joe Renaud: 3d printing sexy new and very exciting. But also I wanted to have an opportunity to try. I've failed a lot along the way in my journey and. I've been an athlete and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and, but you learn from it, you get up you learn from it. And I knew that it would teach me some things. It was extremely challenging. One of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life, my five-year tenure there, but I wanted a change. I really wanted to change and I wanted to see if I could succeed in an environment without those kind of leaders that coach me, it's kind of Nick Saban and Bill Bellacheck-esque kind of stuff. Like, I'm going to go do this myself. Brian Sallee: Do you think your five years at Markforged, is that the most amount of growth that you've experienced, in your professional career at this point?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, hands down. Without a doubt, when we started, we were a loosely organized team of production staff. I remember my first day working on the job. It wasn't quite like undercover boss, but I remember got on the line. What time do you come into work? And how are you trained? And how were you taught about this position? Where are your work instructions? I remember poking around some things that seem very natural and standard to me.
And I learned very quickly, in the environment, that those things didn't exist. I had to really get out of my comfort zone. Cause I had a lot of that put together at Incom and I had to work with it and I had to figure out how to build systems, build teams, develop complex organizational structures, influence financial decisions and, very tightly manage a startup environment. Through scaling and developing business plans and growth plans, really challenged me in ways I never anticipated, I didn't realize what I was getting into. But in hindsight, Extremely valuable and rewarding.
Brian Sallee: Yeah it's one of those situations, you don't know what you don't know, right? Until you get into that situation. For people in our audience that, might be considering going to work for a cool, innovative manufacturing startup, or whatever type of company it might be; what's one piece of advice you'd give them, when they maybe are, fearful of that, they've never built a team before. They've never had to, build processes from the ground up. What's something that, you can share here that gives them some confidence?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. I think one of the biggest things that I latched onto was, there are a lot of people going through the same thing as well. And to go into a space that has a very vague mission, you're not quite sure what the future direction might be. You can get in there and help craft that mission and seek advice from your customers and your stakeholders to learn what is valuable to the relationship, whether it's a customer relationship or the team relationship, and latch onto that. If you put the relationship first with the customer and with your team everyone's going through this with you from a customer and from an employee relationship. And if you focus on those relationships those experiences, I think you'll find your true north.
Brian Sallee: Great. And one other question for you, Joe, in this, journey going to work for again, a startup and I think this applies to other roles as well. If there's no one there that's been there done that before, and you're the one having to figure it out, who do you learn from, where do you learn? Were there outside resources that you used? You've had mentors in your life, so I'm assuming there was some mentorship going on, but what are some suggestions for people who are going through this now that, they don't know what they don't know. And they're trying to figure that out. Where do they find that information?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, there's. There's a lot of different ways that LinkedIn, surprisingly to me I started getting involved in LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a lot of great areas to join affinity groups or join some. Just a plant manager, groups and supervisor groups. So I remember early in my career at Markforged I relocated to Boston. I was kinda on an island there trying to rely on my coworkers who were all in my age. I think our median age was 29 years old when I joined the company. So we didn't have a bunch of gray hairs around to, give us Sage wisdom and bless us. I went on LinkedIn, networked and found some district groups and post questions on boards. I've been a long-term supporter of the United Way. And then throughout my career, in the United Way, I've actually met people who have helped me.
I know one thing that helped me to with Markforged, I joined a little bit in that way, volunteer on the board of, at some people in manufacturing, got some connections and insights from them. And then, Paying for trainings and bringing trainings into your organization I think is the biggest way to really help build a core team. I've done this multiple times. I'm doing that right now. Again is finding partners, like I mentioned, the Massachusetts manufacturing extension partnership, or you might look on.
And NIST, Nationals Institute of Science & Technology, they have a lot of resources in every state and bringing in some leaders and focusing on things like for manufacturers, thinking about our lean principles or lean methodologies are our very core. And I think about what kind of leadership opportunities we're kicking off a supervisor cohort to help train some of those same skills that I learned along my career. And if you can drive that to your frontline workers and get that education as close to the front line as you can. What I found is that builds a high engagement directly from the factory floor up, and those people become your future managers and they will carry that torch and they'll take ownership and drive your business to levels that you never thought possible.
Brian Sallee: That's a really great takeaway. So pushing that development to your frontline workers, giving them opportunities to develop themselves with outside training or in internal training, but it's really that investment in those frontline workers that could help feed your pipeline of future supervisors, team leads, managers.
Joe Renaud: Yeah. Yeah. And it's not only the training, it's the decision-making also. Give them the authority to make decisions right. And support them and failure just like you'd support them in success, because we're all paving the way here. Whether it's a new startup work cell, a startup company in a large, multi-billion dollar organization, you might have MPI programs. You're going to go through this kind of cycle of forming your team, norming your team. There's healthy conflict in there. And then you get through that performing stage. You're going to go through those cycles. As you bring your team members in, as you bring your products in, as you restructure so that this is cyclical. And I think we will all continue to go through this in phases.
Brian Sallee: Great. Joe, just one other question for you before I jumped into it, got a little rapid fire here, we'll ask you a few questions. This last one, you left Markforged after five years. You're now at Amazon. How did that experience at Markforged prepare you for the role you're doing currently at amazon?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, I I wasn't sure how it would prepare me and now that I'm a year ahead and I've I've got a great sense for being open to change and myself being open-minded as well. Large companies, small companies, we all I think have that entrepreneurial and startup nature in us if we're fortunate enough to be growing. And I find my experiences here very similar in that, we're constantly developing where, we're constantly building new structures and new skills. I think of Reid Hoffman's podcast, Masters of Scale, he talks about every 10X of scale you have to reinvent all your mechanisms and processes. So by going through that experience at Markforged I'm not surprised when we have to work through ambiguity and figure out how to retool ourselves as leaders and support our teams to continue to innovate and approach things differently.
Brian Sallee: Now we're in a pandemic. So we're all approaching things differently now. And the biggest microcosm of the startup is Hey, we all are figuring out how to work and balance and navigate this separately. And I don't see joining a new job in a differently, like we're all approaching things for the first time collectively. Great. Will do I appreciate that walkthrough of your career progression here and I've just got a few other questions for you before we wrap up call this our rapid-fire section here. One of the things I know every manufacturer that I've been talking to is dealing with this, and it's a skill shortage where, they're just not able to find people with any experience in manufacturing at all. And, the people they are able to find, maybe they were working at Walmart previously or in retail or food. How are you seeing manufacturers adapt to this challenge?
Joe Renaud: Yeah. Yeah. You touched on a couple of things there with the retail and food industry, as as we've gone through this change in our economy and our lives here jobs are changing and manufacturing jobs I think have generally been in high demand and. Now, manufacturing is ramping up. People are scaling, people are hiring, and we're having to look for folks who are coming to us with no prior manufacturing experience and. I think four years ago, if I looked at a resume for manufacturing jobs that didn't show "manufacturing," I might not have considered it. But today we're actually seeking out those types of candidates because folks who are looking for more opportunity to grow, more stable income than they may not have been finding in some of those other industries that we're starting to pull from.
And now it changes the equation for us as manufacturers, because we need to now build very robust manufacturing processes that have Poke Yokes, that have a clearly articulated language bilingual language, oftentimes, robust training programs with training buddies and people who are helping to coach and shadow those young people, which is something I learned in a Training Within Industry (TWI) training and Incom where, when you're bringing on new employees especially on the manufacturing line you're going to spend a couple of days with them. You're going to show the process to them. You're going to have them demonstrate it to you. You're slowly going to taper off your training.
So our training mechanisms and feedback processes become very important now because. Taking someone who worked at the machine shop next door and bringing them into our machine shop retraining with all new processes. And I think our technologies are so different to o. where, if I found someone in textiles, it's completely different than robotics, it's completely different than 3d printing. So even within manufacturing, relatable skills between manufacturing jobs are always there.
Brian Sallee: Great. So a lot of it, a lot of investment in training, it sounds. Next rapid-fire for ya. We talked about this just briefly and you mentioned the Governor of Massachusetts calling this out, but this perception that manufacturing is old, dirty and unsafe; what can we do? What can folks in the industry do to dispel this myth? And what are you seeing from manufacturers, as they're trying to recruit people to showcase that it's innovative, it's clean, it's safe now?
Joe Renaud: Recruiting is interesting to the extent we can, from a recruiting standpoint, showing videos or any content to the candidate about what's actually happening in our factories, I think can be very impactful. Cause folks do come in with preconceptions. And I think a lot of times those preconceptions are welted metal and castings and stamping and rail cars driving through. But manufacturing doesn't look like that today. I know when I was fortunate to work on a team to build a factory, to build Rekha for Markforged, I wanted white epoxy floors and everyone thought I was crazy. And I said, no, we got to think about our cleanliness and organization. And I see that more and more when I'm walking through factories is, polished, concrete floors. Clean, nothing on the floor. From a health and safety, productivity, and efficiency standpoint, manufacturers are embracing clean, open, and high-tech environment.
Manufacturing today looks very different. You have lift assist, you have different tools to manipulate products. You have improved lighting. You have digital work instructions and in front of people. Dozuki is doing great things with digital work instructions. To tie the process to the person on the line, gives you all the tools that you need in there. And we're training workers. For folks, they might be intimidated to come in and work in our factories. And I think, one big thing I'd like to do, and I advise to breakthroughs, talk to our candidates that we're trying to recruit that, "Hey, we have the tools and systems in-house, to train them and educate them. And we are going to keep you safe." I think that can help break the barriers that folks might have.
Brian Sallee: Yeah. I really liked that takeaway though pictures and videos, like on your careers page. Give people an idea of what it's like to be in your factory. I've seen a few manufacturers do a day in the life type of videos on YouTube and things like that. And those are great as well. Excellent.
Joe Renaud: One thing to add there. Sorry to interrupt. We do need to think also about benefits and, if you bring in workers and train them and they leave, it's sometimes you may think about that as a lost investment, but I think it could be the biggest compliment ever if you bring somebody in, you train them, and they move on through their career.
Communicating to the extent that you have those structures, the educational opportunities, or even if you're running a little classes or seminars within your factories your digital factories or your workplaces; let the candidates know that. Cause more often than not, I think people want to learn.
Brian Sallee: Yeah, opportunities for advancement. That's something we talk about quite a bit. Great Joe, this has been a deep dive into your career progression, which is again, very interesting background that you have and, obviously working for some really innovative companies, I appreciate you coming on. And if people want to reach out to you, pick your brain, maybe they've got, questions about how they could progress in their career or how they might help mentor other people. How could they reach you?
Joe Renaud: Yeah, I would I would love that. That'd be great. I think LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I think I am actually listed on LinkedIn as somebody you can reach out to for career advice, but you can find me on LinkedIn and I'm happy to find other ways to connect as well.
Brian Sallee: We'll throw your LinkedIn profile link on the podcast page. And then yeah, if anybody else wants to get in touch with you, obviously LinkedIn has your contact information so they can reach you that way. Joe, thanks for your time today. And best of luck to you.
Joe Renaud: Thank you, Brian. It's been great to be invited on the podcast and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for manufacturing in the states here.
Brian Sallee: Awesome. Thank you, Joe
Written by Dozuki
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