Inside Industrial: Inspiring the Next Generation of Talent

MaiiC’s inaugural ‘Inside Industrial’ business open house focused on the role of industrial companies in recycling and the circular economy.

Kara Napolitano sharing the work of Sims Municipal Recycling at Inside Industrial

In 2019, the NYC Manufacturing and Industrial Innovation Council (MaiiC) conducted a series of focus groups with students across New York City. As Baby Boomers begin to retire, over half a million jobs in manufacturing alone will be opening up across the United States, demanding that businesses fill the gap with a younger workforce. To ensure that businesses are connecting with Gen Z, Millennial, and other potential employees, these focus groups sought to understand young people’s perceptions of the industrial sectors and the career opportunities they provide. One representative response:

“Industrial? You mean like…the industrial revolution?!”

Sure enough, the focus groups revealed that students had minimal interaction with manufacturing, transport and logistics, or infrastructure services, or even with anyone who worked in them. The little that students did know about the industrial sectors came from history classes or outdated media portrayals. Their assumptions were that jobs in these industries are repetitive, boring, low wage, dangerous, prone to outsourcing, and major contributors to climate change and environmental catastrophe. Instead, students said, they are interested in jobs that allow for upward mobility, where they could solve problems using advanced technology, and that focus on community development and environmental sustainability.

Seeing a need to connect students with the realities and promise of industrial businesses, and inspired by the success of MaiiC’s 2019 Manufacturing Day events, the MaiiC Executive Board is excited to launch Inside Industrial. Inside Industrial will be a year-round series of panel discussions and live tours of industrial companies, conducted in partnership with the NYC Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education students and other non-profits serving young people.

On February 25th, 2021 students participated in the inaugural Inside Industrial: Recycling and the Circular Economy. Held on virtual livestream owing to in-person challenges from Covid-19, the event focused on how local industrial businesses are working to solve some of the city’s and the world’s major environmental concerns.

Students virtually visited the Sims Municipal Recycling materials recovery facility (mrf) in Sunset Park Brooklyn, the largest mrf in the country in terms of total tonnage processed – around 250,000 tons per year! Sims manages all of the residential curbside recycling in New York City, which is transported from sidewalks to area acceptance facilities, and then onto Sunset Park for sorting. Students saw how machines at the Sunset Park mrf—conveyor belts, magnets, air-jets, scales, scanners, disc screens—-automatically sort the plastic, metal, and glass, and bale them up for resale and reuse for whatever life the material will take next. All these processes are managed and maintained by a talented crew of operators, planners, quality control specialists, and other highly skilled workers.

We were also joined by Study NY, a clothing manufacturer and zero waste fashion consultancy run by Tara St. James. St. James spoke about the large amount of waste from big fast fashion brands—from dyes and other polluting raw materials, to fabric that’s wasted in the production process, and clothes that are designed to be thrown into the landfill after only a few uses. That’s why companies like hers are taking steps to reduce textile waste and reduce environmental impact. For example, Study NY uses pre-owned fabrics from FabScrap in its production, sources ethical materials when reuse isn’t possible, and even creates design templates that specifically waste less raw material.

You can view the full virtual tour and panel here

Bringing students and others inside the realities of industrial businesses is an important way to bridge the talent and awareness gaps. In the coming years, the young people of New York may well be at the forefront of the next industrial revolution.

If you are a business that’s interested in participating in an Inside Industrial tour and discussion in the future, and opening up your facility to inspire the next generation of talent, please email us at MaiiC@sbs.nyc.gov.