Shinola exec: Solve manufacturing talent shortage by making work spaces beautiful

SOUTHFIELD – If American manufacturers want to solve the talent shortage on their factory floors, they’ve got to make manufacturing work something people aspire to, not settle for.

That was the word Friday from Jen Guarino, vice president of leather goods at Shinola Detroit, speaking at a Small Manufacturers Roundtable at Lawrence Technological University, sponsored by the university’s LTU Collaboratory business accelerator.“We have to change the skill gap by changing the value gap,” Guarino told her audience. “We don’t value these jobs in our culture, so people we don’t want those jobs.”

Part of the problem is also the nature of the manufacturing workplace. “My desk is in the factory,” she said. “I don’t have an office. But our factory is beautiful.”

Of manufacturing workplaces, she asked, “Why can’t natural light be involved? Why can’t there be plants? Why can’t there be music? … We in industry have to be responsible for creating an environment that people want to work in.”

Guarino also noted the unique nature of fashion manufacturing involving leather, which she said is organic, with every piece being different. She said the retained auto workers initially hired for Shinola’s leather goods manufacturing sometimes struggled with making judgments about whether or not an individual piece of leather presented to them for work was up to Shinola’s quality standards – something they didn’t face when dealing with identical metal parts. And she described Shinola’s struggles in finding domestic suppliers so its goods could meet the legal requirements to be stamped “Made in U.S.A.”

She also described the changing nature of fashion manufacturing, with the fashion companies of yesteryear “putting all our cash flow on the shelf” and then trying to convince consumers to buy, vs. tomorrow’s online, custom-order fashion industry.

Guarino also urged the manufacturers attending the event to tear themselves away from operations so they can attend training and networking events, which she said is an integral part of the job of the manufacturing manager.

She also said robotics is coming to all forms of manufacturing: “We don’t want our people to be afraid of robots. We want them to run the robots.”

Guarino also praised schools that combine design training with manufacturing training, so that designers “don’t design things that are not feasible or practical to manufacture.”

The next quarterly Small Manufacturers Roundtable will be held Friday, March 16. Check the events page of the LTU Collaboratory website,, for details on this and other Scale-Up for Success events.

The LTU Collaboratory is on a mission to accelerate the growth of Southeast Michigan’s small manufacturers and hardware entrepreneurs by providing access to key resources specific to their unique needs. The Collaboratory provides leaders of these businesses with access to mentors, workshiops, cutting-edge technologies, corporate connections, college students, events, work space, and a collaborative community of peers. Additionally, Collaboratory clients will soon have access to a 6,200-square-foot business accelerator featuring additional work space, training facilities, and a manufacturing technology lab.

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