Manufacturing 'mission-critical' equipment at Hillenbrand

Aneesha Arora from Hillenbrand, discusses manufacturing 'mission-critical' equipment, women in STEM & the necessity of a degree in modern manufacturing

Aneesha Arora is the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at automation machinery manufacturer Hillenbrand

“The manufacturing industry is one of the largest and most impactful industries in the world. For me, it was a great place to start my career because I love technology and innovation and enjoy thinking about how things are made. You know exactly how your work impacts the world around you when you work in manufacturing. The products are real and you know the real-world applications and how they fit into our everyday lives.” 

Arora has had the benefit of enjoying a long, rewarding and exciting career in manufacturing - here, she tells us all about her journey. 


Manufacturers foregoing college degrees

Arora has more than two decades of experience in human resources. 

“Prior to Hillenbrand, I spent 19 years of my career with Honeywell International Inc. (“Honeywell”), a diversified technology and manufacturing company. Throughout my career, I’ve held a diverse set of roles that covered all aspects of the HR function – from compensation and benefits to talent management to HR business partnering and more. I’m also a mom of two beautiful kids and am active in my community in a number of ways.”

Hillenbrand manufactures 'mission-critical' equipment, systems that would adversely affect business and society if they were to fail. 

“Hillenbrand’s Operating Companies manufacture mission-critical equipment and systems that provide solutions for a wide variety of applications, such as durable plastics, food and recycling,” said Arora. “An example would be an extruder from our company, Coperion. Extruders are machines used in manufacturing processes to shape and form raw materials, typically by forcing them through a die (also known as a mould) to create a specific shape or size. These complex machines can process a wide range of materials, including durable plastics, rubber, food, pet food and pharmaceuticals – all of which play a critical role in society and support our customers' production needs with increased productivity, improved product quality and uniformity, and reduced energy consumption.”

In the modern manufacturing sector, Arora feels that a degree is no longer necessary for a successful career, but continued learning is essential.

“Manufacturing does not require a traditional four-year degree, however, what most people don’t realise is that manufacturing is a highly skilled profession that requires workers to operate complex, high-tech equipment and undergo continuous education and hands-on training. As technologies change, manufacturing professionals can complete continuing education training to support their professional development. 

“Manufacturing encompasses a wide range of industries, including industrial, consumer products, durable plastics, electronics, chemicals, food and beverage, and others. This means that no matter where your interests lie, manufacturing has a place for you.”

College enrollment has declined by about 15% in the past decade. There are several factors, including the high cost of higher education and an increase in competition for post-high school pathways for example in the leisure and hospitality, construction and manufacturing sectors that often require additional training, but not college degrees. 

“It’s no secret that many industries are experiencing workforce shortages and the manufacturing industry is no different. Our industry could see 4m unfilled jobs over the next decade. We have a unique opportunity and responsibility as industry leaders to target this pool of skilled talent and encourage them to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing.”

One route to expanding the manufacturing workforce is to educate communities about modern manufacturing.

“Raising awareness in your local community about manufacturing careers and the benefits they offer is crucial. As manufacturing leaders, we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to think more strategically and creatively about up-skilling Americans with manufacturing jobs while tapping into candidate pools that have been previously overlooked.”

There is a common misconception that manufacturing is a ‘low-skill’ field of work, yet we know that it presents endless opportunities for people pursuing the field to gain practical skills while working in a fast-paced, growing and innovative industry.

“The corporate social responsibility committee from Milacron, one of Hillenbrand's companies, collaborates with local schools to provide STEM-focused programmes. Volunteers assist with activity booths where kids engage in hands-on STEM activities while learning about the environment and using VR headsets and 3D printers. Participation in the community stimulates interest in manufacturing jobs at an early age and supports industry education for the next generation.

“By working together through community education and partnerships, we can change the public's perspective of our industry and better define the narrative.”

Arora suggests that industry leaders should create partnerships with trade organisations and career centres because these groups work directly with students who are focused on jobs in skilled trades. 

“These partnerships are vital as they help build a talent pipeline for students preparing to enter the workforce. Career centres often serve as pathways to apprenticeship programmes that allow students to gain necessary skills through hands-on experience. According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor data, registered apprentices have risen 64% over a decade.”

By partnering with trade schools and career centres, manufacturers can reach students and educate them on how viable and rewarding a career in manufacturing can be. 

“Milacron has also established a strategic partnership with the Grant Career Cente in Ohio to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Program. Graduates from Grant learn a firm foundation in manufacturing through hands-on experience in machine mechanics that could transfer to full-time positions at one of Milacron’s neighbouring facilities. Partnerships like these provide students with a direct line to future potential employment opportunities and firsthand experience in the industry, without the time and cost that comes with a traditional four-year college.”

Initiatives like this, two-year trade schools and other educational partnerships, provide valuable hands-on experience that is vital to a career in manufacturing. 

“It allows the individual to directly practise what they learn, retain knowledge through repetition and network with the full-time employees they’re working beside. It is common for apprentices to then end up working for that company full-time.” 

Investment in these individuals can guarantee a company a pipeline of skilled talent who is ready to work and is easily adaptable.


Women in STEM 

Currently, women are underrepresented in the manufacturing field. Despite making up over 57% of the labour force in America, women only hold 29% of manufacturing jobs

“Women constitute manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent in the United States. Career options in this field are diverse for women, regardless of whether they hold a four-year degree or not,” said Arora. “It is critical that manufacturing leaders make a conscious effort to collaborate with groups like Girls Inc., one of Hillenbrand's strategic partners. Through education, they work to empower young female STEM leaders. Their initiatives help them discover, pursue and succeed in STEM-related careers beyond high school. Girls who receive this kind of exposure and education may decide early on to pursue careers in manufacturing.”

Impactful strategies for developing and advancing women such as flexible work practices, formal and informal mentorship, or sponsorship programmes and improving the visibility of senior leaders who serve as role models, like our CEO, can help attract and retain women. 

“As a woman working in the manufacturing industry, I’m aware of my unique ability to advocate for closing the gender gap in our field, and I am passionate about championing women to join the manufacturing industry.”
As a global pure-play industrial company, Hillenbrand’s focus is always on providing highly engineered, mission-critical processing equipment and solutions to its customers. Manufacturing plays a critical role in creating products, but it is also a far-reaching profession that allows for unique career experiences for those wanting to pursue this field. 

“Whether someone is interested in sustainability or technology, manufacturing is a field focused on collaborating with the global population to design, make and deliver products our world needs to thrive.”


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