by Lara Copeland, contributing editor
Leadership development is crucial for any industry. Future success or failure is dependent on how effectively young talent is equipped with the necessary tools to one day assume a leadership role. Yet, many companies do not have a leadership talent development program in place.
Industry associations are stepping into the gap to help members prepare their younger employees. The Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP) is one such association, launching the YP (young professionals) Network in 2017.
“At that time, the lack of participation from the younger generation was apparent at most MAPP events,” explained Ashley Turrell, MAPP membership and analytics director. She said that even though up-and-coming leaders in the industry existed and were interested in participating, there just wasn’t a focus on engaging that demographic.
Due to rapid changes in manufacturing methodologies and an aging workforce, a heightened sense of urgency to prepare young professionals for leadership roles permeates the industry. “We often talk about the ‘Accidental Supervisor’ phenomenon, where people who are great at their job get put in charge of projects, people, teams or whole departments, but end up not being great leaders,” Turrell shared. And so, the YP Network was launched.
Creating an engaging program
The association wanted the young professionals (YP) group to be a place where this generation, regardless of their job titles or career level, was provided the opportunity to explore their leadership strengths and areas of challenges. MAPP sees the value in providing the opportunity for the younger generation to learn from others – both senior leaders and peers – how to become more effective in their roles.
“Senior executives within MAPP understand the importance and value of being highly engaged in industry associations and creating strong professional bonds through networking and sharing,” Turrell revealed. Creating a space and network for young professionals to connect, find resources that impact them at their career level, and facilitate training and leadership growth spurred MAPP to draft its YP Network initiative.
Led by an executive board, YP board members receive board and leadership experience while keeping the group’s goal at the forefront of every event and initiative. As the network grows, Turrell said it has become important to be laser-focused on the group’s vision, “which is to create a community of young leaders with a common goal to encourage one another, propel their respective businesses forward and challenge manufacturers to improve and prepare for the future.”
The YP group events are a means to expose young professionals to new places, people and ideas to challenge their thought processes and push them out of their comfort zones. “We look for opportunities where young professionals are forced to speak up and be the leaders in the room,” Turrell emphasized, “but we also bring in successful company presidents and owners they can learn from.”
An extension of this idea is one of the group’s newest offerings – available for the first time in 2020 – the mentorship program. “This program provides the opportunity to learn from someone with a vast amount of experience but who is outside of the YP member’s company so these younger industry leaders can start their professional growth,” Turrell remarked. “We also emphasize that ‘leader’ isn’t a title but rather an attitude, and that an individual can lead from any role. Furthermore, ‘leadership’ isn’t a final state, but instead it is an ongoing journey that is engaged in for personal and professional growth.” Every aspect of the group is looking to build up those skills and assist emerging leaders along their journey.
Chair of the YP board and Project Committee Zach Bloodworth, is excited for the mentor program to take off. “We want to match young professionals within MAPP with a senior leader to provide a new platform to discuss challenges, ideas, career aspirations and the like,” he explained. Bloodworth is the director of operations for Par 4 Plastics in Marion, Kentucky.
MAPP Project Manager Tony Robinson said that both mentees and mentors have filled out surveys voicing what they hope to get out of the relationship. “We see people wanting to learn from the generation above to improve upon weaknesses, see what it takes to run a company and move to the next level in their career,” he remarked. They also want to increase their knowledge base, grow professionally and improve their skills.
He further explained that this program adds a platform for accountability. “You have managers keeping you accountable at work, but typically you don’t have anyone keeping you accountable as far as taking the steps to improve and prepare yourself for the next role you’re interested in,” he said.
Acknowledging the disconnect that sometimes may occur between senior leaders and lower-level leaders – or what Robinson identifies informally as millennials and boomers – opportunities exist for the mentors to grow within the relationship, too. The mentors, he said, “want to know how these younger employees operate and what’s important to them, so they know how to best communicate.”
Themed events and initiatives
The group centers nearly everything it orchestrates – aside from the mentorship program – around its quarterly themes. These themes are evaluated and chosen by Robinson and Turrell before they are presented to the YP board for approval. The themes this year are: change management and innovation, communication and persuasion, people management and culture building, and strategic planning and preparing for the future. These themes lend themselves perfectly to one of the group’s newest features – the book club.
The book club is a community for people within the YP Network who want to learn how to become more effective and productive manufacturing professionals while reading, networking and participating in group discussions. “Members of the network had mentioned wanting a book club a few times during the past year. When I joined the MAPP team in August, Ashley and I agreed it was time to get it started,” Robinson noted. About 20 people have signed up for the club and plan to meet once a month in person or through video-conferencing software. “We hope to hammer home as many lessons and takeaways from the books that we can,” he added. The book chosen for the first quarter’s Innovation and Change Management theme is John Kotter’s “Leading Change.”
Also following the quarterly theme schedule are the plant tours the YP Network organizes throughout the year. “Being able to see how other companies run their operations is very beneficial to someone – whether experienced or new to a management role – because it broadens their perspective and helps them gain experience,” Robinson said. The 2020 plant tours also will feature a workshop and/or keynote. “For the first quarter, we are looking forward to getting everyone to come together to brainstorm different challenges and solutions to everything that comes with innovation,” he noted. “This is such a big part of manufacturing, and we’re hoping it’ll be beneficial.”
Casual and formal peer networking events also are offered before and after the plant tours as a safe zone for everyone to discuss their issues. “They’re sharing their challenges, weaknesses, strengths, career paths or whatever they need to talk about with people outside of their company who may be experiencing similar issues,” Robinson explained. The night before the event, members typically gather in a relaxed environment for dinner. Additionally, a formal networking opportunity is offered immediately following each plant tour. “We offer conversation starters and topics focused on the theme for small groups to discuss,” he said. “Both formats help everyone brainstorm and have proved to be quite valuable to our members.”
Since beginning the YP Network, “We are seeing many more young people getting involved, reaching out and showing a strong eagerness to grow,” Turrell said. She relayed a story about a young man’s perspective after attending his first MAPP event (prior to the formation of the YP group). “He felt out of place and didn’t feel totally comfortable sharing his experience or thoughts because he was surrounded by so many people who were seemingly older, wiser and more experienced,” she said. However, once the YP group was formed and he became an active participant, his outlook changed. “He doesn’t have that feeling anymore because he has a huge pool of peers that he can reach out to,” she added.
Turrell said that member companies are urging their young employees to get involved in the association, and she is witnessing the development of important relationships that are impacting members long after an event. “Once we started the YP Network, I had emails coming in from senior leaders asking how they could get their high-potential young professionals involved,” she said. “Not only are the young professionals meeting at quarterly events, they are communicating and problem-solving afterwards.”
Recently, a CFO in the group was taking on more human-resource-related responsibilities and reached out to a contact he’d made to help find resources. “It stopped being about networking and really became an opportunity for people to create a vast, lasting network that actually impacts their company’s bottom line,” Turrell concluded.
Bloodworth and his colleague at Par 4 Plastics, Chuck Beavers, have served on the YP board since the group was founded. Bloodworth noted the encouraging side effects witnessed in the industry since the YP Network was established.
“Senior leaders show more willingness to loosen the reins a little bit and let some of the young professionals drive improvement within the company and industry,” Bloodworth said. “When they see us benchmarking with other companies and other young professionals – and see us being an integral part in moving the industry forward – they see what our value is.” He further commented that this builds trust between the generations. Beavers agreed and added that their trust provided the younger generation with momentum to continue moving forward and looking for leadership opportunities.
On the horizon
Looking to the future, Turrell envisions a highly engaged collective of young professionals all working to become better and invested in helping their peers become better as well. As the group continues to grow each month, new opportunities are being explored. “We are focused on core competencies in professional growth to help our YP Network become a catalyst for change in their organizations, in MAPP and in the plastics industry,” she said.
Furthermore, Robinson said, “We really want to focus on engagement as we move forward, giving our members the highest quality opportunities.” Bloodworth and Beavers elaborated on this idea, saying, “We want people coming to events, attending webinars and giving input in online forums.”
Currently committed to training and preparation to one day assume leadership roles, Beavers said the young professionals are building relationships with people they’re likely to be working with 10 years down the road. “Our group has started preparing ourselves to be the next MAPP board,” he concluded.