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How to Host a Virtual Manufacturing Day Event

City Map on a digital tablet screen
Credit: iStock/dem10

Given the limitations with public gatherings and social distancing practices prompted by the current pandemic, it’s uncertain whether manufacturers will be hosting traditional on-site tours of their facilities on Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) this October. But as we have learned with so many other aspects of our lives, a virtual option awaits.

And while there is no replacing the sensory experience of watching a manufacturing process up close for the first time, there may be opportunities with a virtual event to increase community engagement and collect data on visitors who are interested in a career in manufacturing.

MFG Day is October 2nd this year (the first Friday in October), but hosts are able to schedule their event at any time. More than 325,000 students, teachers, and parents participated in MFG Day 2019, which consisted of more than 3,000 events held across all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

MFG Day is an initiative of The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). As one of the original co-producers of Manufacturing Day, the MEP National Network continues to promote MFG Day on a state-by-state basis.

MFG Day resources and toolkits will be uploaded and updated on the Creators Wanted website throughout the summer. Here are some considerations and suggestions for hosting a virtual MFG Day event. If you need any help planning your virtual event, you can always contact your local MEP Center.

Start Planning Three Months Before Your Event

Many of the early preparations are the same for a virtual or on-site Manufacturing Day event, so you can begin planning now without having to make the decision of whether to go virtual. The Manufacturing Institute produced a comprehensive Manufacturing Day Host Toolkit, A Guide to Successful Manufacturing Day Plant Events. They suggest beginning planning three months out and including several members of your staff, which may change as you determine the format, content and technology needed. If you have event partners, bring them in on the planning right away.

It’s not clear if or how requirements for hosting a Manufacturing Day event may change in the coming months. Current requirements include:

  • The event must be open to students, parents and/or educators.
  • It should include a tour or demo at a manufacturing facility or manufacturing-supporting site such as a design office or innovation center.
  • It could be a manufacturing-related jobs fair or career day.

Determine What You Want to Accomplish with Manufacturing Day

Start your planning process with a goal — what you would like to achieve — and then work backward to design the event. Manufacturing Day is meant to increase visibility into manufacturing and inspire the next generation of creators but drilling down to a more specific objective can help you build a steady pipeline of future workers.

Identify potential new relationships, such as with high school guidance counselors, economic development agency staffers or hiring firms that might suggest your company to job prospects. Play to your strengths to attract the most potential prospects, or perhaps address a gap in your workforce by highlighting a certain job description as part of the event programming.

Again, depending upon your desired outcomes, this could be an opportunity to expand your invitation list to include key stakeholders from city staff, workforce boards, chambers of commerce and other civic organizations.

Design the Event With Your Goals and Objectives in Mind

Bear in mind that a virtual event may have more limitations than a traditional on-site event. For example, even a short tour of a small portion of a facility might not be feasible given video technology or costs. It might be better to instead build your programming around a couple of process demonstrations or a series of testimonials and a question-and-answer session with key employees involved in engineering, automation, 3D printing or other areas of interest to technology-minded prospects.

It would be good to know if students will each have access to a PC or if they will be watching on a shared classroom display. You might be able to add some kind of interactive session, such as with CAD design tools or software for 3D printing. It might be possible for participants to answer questions in a survey format about what they are most interested in related to manufacturing, which could lead to qualified job leads.

Last year, Discovery Education and the Arconic Foundation produced a high-end 20-minute virtual tour of Arconic’s advanced manufacturing hub in Alcoa, Tennessee, which continues to serve as a recruitment tool. While a fully produced piece may be too expensive for most smaller manufacturers, you may be able to mix previously recorded videos with live streams on the day of the event to hold your audience’s attention.

Research Technology Platforms: There Are Plenty of Options

A big factor in planning a virtual event is choosing the technology platform. A few months ago, many people didn’t know what a Zoom video conference was, let alone were comfortable with the format. But now there are many other video formats being widely used.

There are as many technology options as you can imagine for hosting a virtual event, with varying complexities and price tags. The research and selection process does not have to be exhaustive, but it will take time.

Many manufacturers have conducted webinars, which, if you think about it, is its own kind of virtual event. A simple virtual event can be streamed for free on Facebook Live. There are numerous “video events in a box” solutions that include features for networking, polling, Q&A and even gaming.

You can hire companies to produce the event as well. You may be able to partner with a high school or community college with a video-based curriculum or organization.

Need Help? Ask Your Staff or Your Local MEP Center

The video platform selection is another reason to start planning early and to gather input from your staff. You might be surprised by the tech knowledge and video talents of your workforce and how eager they may be to show off your company.

Additionally, your local MEP Center can help plan your event, engage your community or simply navigate Manufacturing Day’s online event registration process. Find the MEP Center in your state and reach out.

About the author

Anthony Diaz

Anthony Diaz is a Strategic Partnerships Manager in the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). He supports MEP’s mission by developing and strengthening key private and public partnerships that support U.S. manufacturers.

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