Manufacturing work doesn’t mean low pay, Gwinnett students find

Vice President of Operations Chris Fann (right) shows a product to high school students at Lund International in Lawrenceville on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

Vice President of Operations Chris Fann (right) shows a product to high school students at Lund International in Lawrenceville on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

To increase student awareness of the multitude of jobs in today’s market, Gwinnett County Public Schools’ department of career and technical education celebrated National Manufacturing Day last week by sending students at three high schools to tour local manufacturing facilities.

The AJC caught up with students from Meadowcreek, Dacula and Maxwell as they explored Lund International’s facility in Lawrenceville. The global company designs, manufactures and markets branded automotive accessories mainly for light trucks and SUVs.

When Chris Fann, vice president of operations, asked the students if they’d considered a career in manufacturing, not a single hand went up.

“Maybe I’ll show you something that will change your mind,” he said.

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As the students saw how sheets of vinyl and aluminum were transformed into some of the coolest after-market add-ons, many became intrigued.

Mukhtar Suleman, a junior, asked about internships and other entry-level opportunities.

“I’m not sure if this is what I want to do,” he said. “But I’m glad we got to see what some of our options are.”

Fann told the students about the range of jobs that don’t require a college degree and the ones that do.

“We offer competitive pay for positions in production, maintenance, engineering and administrative support depending on the job and skill,” he added.

The company employs people who are required to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a variety of departments: engineering, management, design, human resources, finance, purchasing and planning, Fann said. He added that many of those positions aren’t unique to his business.

But jobs such as production workers, maintenance (it does require a certificate from accredited technical school), CNC programmers (who write the instructions for the computing module used to run computer numerical control devices that control, automate, and monitor the movements of a machine) and quality inspectors don’t require a four-year degree.

Many of these positions are in high demand and while they start as low as $30,000 annually, experienced workers make upwards of $90,000, especially in competitive markets like Georgia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“These are good jobs that don’t require a lot of skill up front,” said Fann. “We’re constantly training and enhancing our production.”

Throughout the tour he pointed out new equipment and processes that had been online a year or less. Although some jobs are eliminated because of automation or technology, there’s always a need for people.

“In our industry if you don’t change, you die,” he said. “We’re constantly coming up with better ways to do things and we look for people who are creative and passionate.”

In workforce lingo, those are what hiring managers call soft skills. Fann didn’t hesitate to point out that if he had to choose between promoting an employee who was technically savvy but had a bad attitude and one who had energy, came to work on time prepared and is eager to learn, he’d go with the latter every time.

“We can teach you everything there is to know about doing this job effectively and safely,” he said. “But we can’t teach you how to be respectful and coachable and willing to go above and beyond.”

Dustin Davis, Gwinnett career and technical education coordinator, agreed.

“That’s one of the greatest lessons students need to learn,” he said. “Even with low unemployment, nobody wants problem workers.”

Davis was glad to see several female students on a field trip focused on manufacturing.

“I’m just trying to get out of class,” joked senior Juliana Filiace. “But seriously, this is interesting. People think they have to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer to make a good living. But everyone I saw here looked like they enjoy what they do.”

Employee satisfaction is a big part of Lund’s success, said Fann.

“Being part of a great team and corporate culture that allows our employees to grow and succeed in their job and career aspirations is the best part of working here.”

Automotive accessory market

The global automotive aftermarket was valued at $369.2 billion in 2018 with the lion's share of money spent on accessories. The demand is anticipated to grow about 3.9% annually from 2019 to 2025. The market is driven by drivers' desire to enhance their vehicles' exhaust sound, speed, and appearance, according to Grand View Research, a California-based market research company.