This millennial found a career in manufacturing: ‘I fell in love with it’

Jon Foley, 34, is set to become DRMA chairman in 2020

Millennials have typically shunned manufacturing, leaving companies to struggle to find qualified younger workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers.

Those companies may need someone like Jonathan Foley.

At 34, Foley is a millennial is in charge of daily operations at Moraine’s Rack Processing.

And as Dayton Region Manufacturers Association first vice chairman, Foley will become DRMA’s chairman next year.

DRMA leaders point to him as an example that the right young people can find a good life in manufacturing.

Don Clouser, current chairman of DRMA’s trustees, calls Foley “a good guy.”

MOREQ&A: Everything you wanted to know about Dayton's water outage

“He’s one of those people who gets it,” said Clouser, vice president and general manager at Champion GSE in Springfield. “He gets manufacturing. He understands the thrill of manufacturing, of creating something.”

Manufacturers are struggling to fill 2.5 million to 3.5 million job openings — hastened by the retirement of Baby Boomers — and one study says only 30 percent of parents would consider guiding their child to industry.

DRMA member have consistently identified the search for qualified workers as their No. 1 priority. In the association's annual surveys, members have singled out that priority as their top concern for six years running.

MOREVECTREN: No immediate plans to change Dayton Air Show name after new ownership 

“There aren’t a lot of people who took this path on their own,” Foley said. Millennials grew up being told that college is the path for them.

“You go to high school, you go to a four-year university, you get a degree,” he said. “We’ll all become doctors and lawyers.”

Not Foley. He did take the college route, attending Sinclair Community College and Morehead State University in Kentucky.

But he also grew up wanting to work with his hands, first eyeing construction as a possible career — until he landed a part-time job at Select Industries in Dayton at age 20.

That was all it took.

“I fell in love with it,” Foley said.

The allure of operating machines, of crafting something that lasts, took hold right away.

“You can say, ‘Hey, I built that,’” he said.

“Manufacturing is everything,” he added. “Everything is made.”

MOREOhio voters purged from rolls have a new shot at registering 

Foley filled in for a boss at a DRMA meeting several years back. He found himself sitting next to Angelia Erbaugh, DRMA president.

The need for right employees came up right away in conversation.

“She (Erbaugh) just kind of laughed,” Foley recalled. “Little did I know who I was talking to — or what I was getting myself into.”

Erbaugh had a simple question for Foley: “Would you like to do something about that?”

“Jon is young, bright, and energetic,” Erbaugh told the Dayton Daily News. “He brings a different perspective to the DRMA board, which further enhances the effectiveness of our great leadership team.”

Soon enough, Foley was knee deep in DRMA events and committee work, including a committee devoted to helping members create the next generation of workers.

Dubbed the “Growing the Workforce Pipeline” committee, the group has worked at putting manufacturers in schools and bringing educators and students into shops and businesses to show them what manufacturing is today.

Foley was leading that committee soon enough, chairing it for five years.

Foley believes he had been able to relate to younger people. “They’re more likely to pay attention, listen to, hear what I have to say, versus someone who’s 60 years old.”

His message to students is simple: With hard work and the right skills, you can make a decent middle-class living in manufacturing. And you don’t need to shoulder tens of thousands in college debt to get these jobs.

Clouser says Foley is good at bringing people together.

“He has a natural leadership style that works,” Clouser said.

About the Author