Influential Women in Manufacturing: 6 Questions with Rep.-Elect Haley Stevens of Michigan

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Haley Stevens is a member of the history-making class of 42 women joining Congress in January, having been elected in November to represent Michigan’s 11th Congressional district. But this won’t be the suburban Detroit native’s first go-round in Washington – or her first time “rolling up her sleeves,” as she says, to work on U.S. manufacturing policy at the highest levels of government.

In 2009, Stevens (then in her 20s) was chief of staff on a Treasury Department task force working on the federal rescue of Chrysler and GM. She also helped create the White House Office of Manufacturing Policy under President Barack Obama. In 2014, Stevens  joined UI Labs’ Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) in Chicago, eventually becoming the organization’s director of workforce development and manufacturing engagement.

Stevens says that advocating for U.S. manufacturers – and, specifically, for the digitalization, skills-gap solutions and industry collaboration critical to ensuring the sector remains globally competitive in the years ahead – was a key motivator of her run for Congress and a top priority as she heads back to Washington. She spoke recently with IWIM co-founders Christine LaFave Grace, Erin Hallstrom and Alexis Gajewski about the opportunities she’s looking to seize in Congress and what it means to her to be part of what the largest group of women ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives – as well as advice she’d offer for women looking to advance their careers in (or outside of) manufacturing.

IWIM: What have you learned about efforts you future colleagues are engaged in to advance manufacturing? What opportunities do you see?

HS: I won a Midwestern district in southeastern Michigan, a suburban district with a rich manufacturing sector, and I have particularly enjoyed meeting colleagues who are also representing manufacturing-rich districts. (Republican) Bryan Steil from Wisconsin – he’s got a manufacturing background similar to me, so we’ve had a chance to talk about our manufacturing economy, what we want to do in terms of meeting the skills-gap needs for our manufacturers, particularly our small and midsize companies, and how we want to harness innovation opportunities. Abby Finkenauer (a Democrat) from Iowa’s first congressional district, she’s very close to the labor movement and focusing on skilled trades and on infrastructure. Our focus is on a set of cross functional policy topics that will deliver for our regions.. We want to support the built environment and advance innovation. I believe this new Congress can support an infrastructure guarantee  ensuring in partnership with state governments the maintenance and repair of our roadways…so that our manufacturers can build their products wherever there’s demand for them.

IWIM: That’s an interesting point – where do you see the intersection of, for example, infrastructure and workforce?

HS: There’s a great intersection between those two. In particular, there’s a demand for a technical and nimble workforce in suburban districts like mine. I want to make sure people can get to employment and job training opportunities. There’s a manufacturer with whom I’ve worked located in my district – we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on public transportation opportunities as well as mobility and technology opportunities, (so that) you can access a training facility and then access a job. Michigan’s 11th district maintains a really strong network of job training opportunities from Oakland Community College to Schoolcraft College, and Michigan Works, all of which support the advanced manufacturing sector. We need to continue to strengthen partnerships starting before students get to grade 12 and work with employers for on-the-job training opportunities and continued educational advancement. I’d also like to see apprenticeship programs recognized for college credit.

IWIM: How are you aiming in Congress to promote manufacturing education and manufacturing as a career opportunity?

HS: This is a passion topic of mine, and it’s one of the reasons I ran for Congress. I want to shine a light on our manufacturing sector, on the skilled trades opportunities, whether you go into a four-year degree, get that engineering degree, or you do something else—welding, computer-aided design, running computer-numerical controls machines. The partnerships begin early; and they begin in our schools.

I have created STEM education initiatives, working with middle schools and high schools, and even as a member-elect, I am spending a lot of time with our schools and the next generation, focusing on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and particularly in a region like mine where there’s a big emphasis on creativity and there’s a lot of opportunities for cross-functionality and innovation and design, so I want to put those training opportunities and the jobs of the future in front of our students, and I also want to continue to incentivize collaboration, so I’m looking to bring our industry leaders together with our educators and our nonprofits.

My district has strong representation from a lot of great organizations that have been working on the educational opportunities, that have been focused on STEM education – the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, as well as SME, formerly known as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, two great organizations that have a strong presence in Michigan, that are located in Michigan, (and) we’re coming together to not just talk about the next generation, which is certainly important, but also to harness the on-the-job training opportunities or making career changes for individuals.

I’ve spoken to people who are in apprenticeship programs who were doing other things and then found their way to the skilled trades, and they’re meeting a lot of the available needs in our labor market. (In my district) we’ve got a best-in-class workforce that has those partnerships; I want to strengthen opportunities in our high schools and support the next generation of technologists who will propel our future economy. I believe our manufacturing future is bright.

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