By Pedro Suarez, President, Dow USA at The Dow Chemical Company
Today is Manufacturing Day – a day set aside every year when the men and women who make the products that change the world, celebrate those who experiment, invent and create. Although for me and my Dow colleagues, every day is manufacturing day.
My story in manufacturing began when I was a young boy in Argentina, and since then has crossed businesses, borders, and even continents. It has led to a lifetime of being inspired by inventing and creating something new, something I could hold in my two hands; and by the diversity of experiences, cultures and challenges I experienced along the way. Yet today I see young people who don’t know that science, technology, engineering, and math careers are exciting, accessible, and full of opportunity.
The seeds of my career in manufacturing were planted a generation ago when my father, the first born in Argentina to a Spanish immigrant, began to work at seven years old. His education in the classroom ended early, but the lessons of the printing business helped him to support his family throughout his life. His work ethic inspired me. He was a “maker.” And he encouraged me to pursue math and science, because he saw a talent and an opportunity to go into a technical field and have a better life than he had.
That seed took root thanks to an elementary teacher who put chemistry in my hands as a young boy. Through a simple lab demonstration of distillation, I saw the magic of chemistry. My curiosity grew as I worked in a chemistry lab in high school. This set me on a chemical engineering track, and I’ve never looked back. A few years later, I found my way to Dow where my colleagues and I have shared different cultures and perspectives as we innovate our way towards solutions to the most difficult problems our world faces.
Developing solutions that make a difference in the world has captivated me from the time I was a young man working on solving challenges of the assembly of shoes. I’ve worked on dyes for the textile industry, seeing my labor reflected in the day’s fashions. I’ve worked in paper coatings and plastics. With chemistry, the work you do affects the world around you in clear ways. Pursuing this career, I’ve seen how the work I do makes the world better, and I’ve seen the world along the way.
Perhaps it is that young people today — or their parents — don’t think that manufacturing and science and math-based careers are accessible. They fear that they are too difficult, or that they are only for those who are mathematically gifted. I can tell you these careers are open to anyone. It takes people with different talents and skills to bring about waves of the future, such as the communications revolution we are living in today. Smart phones, the electric car, self-driving vehicles all are innovations that started with a student inspired by a teacher, supported by parents to make something that the world can use.
I see millennials drawn to work that is flashy and fashionable — business rather than engineering, banking rather than chemistry, the tech sector instead of the physical sciences. These are all worthy careers. But somewhere along the way, manufacturing was dismissed as dull work, and as jobs of the past or for those with limited options. The reality is far different. Careers in manufacturing are creative in the truest sense: you innovate as you produce. When you have a connection to making something the world wants or needs, you will know a deep satisfaction, like I have in my career.
Manufacturing careers are the key to a path of fulfillment for a new generation of young people who are tomorrow’s dreamers, inventors, and creators. And this generation understands our responsibility to our planet and can apply their creative talents to make manufacturing even more sustainable, and even more important in improving the lives of billions of people and the environment.
My parents in Argentina decades ago were really no different than parents today in the U.S. We all want our children to grow up to be successful, satisfied and responsible professionals. My parents knew the value of making something tangible and solving problems, and manufacturing today offers opportunities that my parents could have only imagined. So, as we in the manufacturing world celebrate this recognition of our industry and all that we do, I encourage you to look around you today. The gadgets you use, the clothes that you wear, the vehicle you drive — these are all possible because someone in the manufacturing world put their creativity, their passion and their talent into inventing, creating and building to make things that solve problems and improve peoples’ lives.