Fireside Chat with Angela Accurso, 2024 Next-Generation Leadership Award Finalist 

Each year, The Manufacturing Leadership Council (MLC) hosts the Manufacturing Leadership Awards to honor manufacturing companies and leaders that are shaping the future of global manufacturing.

Angela Accurso, Director of Workforce Programs at MxD, has been recognized as a 2024 MLC Next-Generation finalist. This category honors remarkable manufacturing professionals 30 years old or younger as of December 31, 2023, who embody leadership qualities required in the Manufacturing 4.0 era. Finalists pioneer and execute winning strategies, inspire and manage high-performing teams, and raise awareness of the positive impacts of manufacturing on society.

We sat down with Angela to discuss what it means to be a next-generation leader, why it’s an exciting time to be a woman in manufacturing, MxD’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives, and her advice for young students exploring manufacturing careers. 

Here is our interview with Angela, edited for space and clarity.

A: I am the Director of Workforce Programs at MxD Learn, a department within the workforce arm of MxD. In my role, I have the privilege of executing and implementing all our key funded workforce programs, from engaging new learners who are excited about a career in manufacturing to upskilling current workers who want to gain a new set of skills to keep pace with technology adoption.

Q: Congratulations on being a finalist for MLC’s Next-Generation Leadership Award! What does next-generation leadership mean to you?

A: Being a next-generation leader is picking up the baton from leaders who have advanced manufacturing over the past few decades and continuing to advocate for advancement in the industry. I think part of being a next-generation leader is inspiring your teams to also advocate for the industry and the workforce, and how that drives impact within the United States and globally.

Q: What qualities have you seen in individuals who hand off that baton and leaders you look up to in your life?

A: When I think of leaders handing off the baton, I think of a new generation of manufacturing leaders—individuals who have embraced innovation and ingenuity throughout their careers and are excited to see where this goes. I think leaders who hoard all the information or don’t want to see this path continue won’t find as much success as leaders who are excited to see where all of this goes.

The qualities and characteristics of leaders who have influenced my life may look different than the typical characteristics that we associate with leaders. It’s really the soft qualities of leaders that have played the biggest influence in my life. I think anyone can motivate you with intensity, but the leaders who have valued me as a person wanted to get to know me as a person, what drives me, all about my family, and what my passions are. Those leaders who really bring those soft qualities to leading—and empathy and passion to their work—are the ones I continue to think of even after I’ve long not worked for them.

Q: What is it like to be a young woman leader in the manufacturing industry?

A: It’s an exciting time to be a woman leader in manufacturing. We get to see this in our daily lives at MxD. MxD’s network has so many women leaders who are looking at innovation across all the industry, whether they’re leaders of business industry, small business owners, or leaders in government. It’s incredible the powerhouse women leaders who speak at MxD across the government, or educators or technical experts. Women today are not shy about taking up space and advocating for representation across industry and it’s exciting to be a part of that.

Q: What future projects, skills, or challenges are you interested in tackling?

A: I’m passionate about our current work in expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the manufacturing industry. Expanding our definition of what a worker in manufacturing looks like and what they bring to the table will be key to filling the talent pipeline. It’s a missed opportunity if we’re not expanding manufacturing career opportunities to folks who have never been granted them. We’re missing out on top talent and folks who could support us in innovating across the industry. 

We’re not just preparing individuals for the workplace, but we also need to prepare the manufacturing industry to receive workers who perhaps haven’t been represented in manufacturing before and make sure they’re doing the work to create inclusive work environments. It’s incredibly necessary that we tackle both at the same time because we get a lot of pushback from future workers within manufacturing that say, “I did the work, but when I went into that environment, I didn’t feel it was for me” or “I didn’t feel represented in there.” We must start to flip the mindset because employers have a piece of this work, too. Manufacturers must put in the work by saying, “I’m here to create an inclusive working environment where you feel safe and valued and where you are free to innovate.”

Q: What accomplishment at MxD are you most proud of?

A: Being able to steward new and innovative programs has been an exciting part of the work I’ve been able to do. Programs such as the Manufacturing Workplace Accessibility Program and Curriculum and Pathways Integrating Technology and Learning (CAPITAL) program, so thinking through innovative program models that aren’t necessarily in the ecosystem right now is something I’m proud of. We’re able to create those innovative programs because we have leadership here at MxD that is okay with us taking a risk and trying something new. Many of those programs are in pilot right now, but in the future, I’m excited to see them become a regular part of our programming and be pervasive within manufacturing.

Q: You mentioned future workers and representation for people interested in a career in the manufacturing industry. Do you have any advice for them?

A: I would say take the leap. Before joining MxD, my experience in manufacturing was really limited. I spent most of my career in Human Services and knew that manufacturing was certainly a viable career option that produced family-sustaining wages and good benefits. I was unsure what it would look like for me, jumping formally into the manufacturing industry, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised about the day-to-day learning I get to do.

If you had asked me five years ago if I would be sitting on panels about AR and VR, I would have scoffed and been like, absolutely not! So, if you are nervous about not being a technical expert or jumping into an industry that you don’t necessarily have experience with, my experience within manufacturing is that it values innovation and a go-getter mindset. If you bring that to the table, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Q: MxD Learn frequently works with students, hosting school programs and tours of the facility. Do you have any advice for young students interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing?

A: One of the benefits of being able to view the implementation of high school programming is just getting to see students’ eyes light up when they see what the possibilities of a career in manufacturing look like: Could they work with innovative technologies? Can they work in cybersecurity thwarting cyber attacks? It would be helpful for students to ask school administrators, counselors, and others about what their programming could look like and the potential for a career in that space as well. Just keep your mind open to what the possibilities of a career can look like.

Also, reach out if you’re interested in learning more about organizations such as MxD or other community-based organizations that can help fill any gaps where you’re looking to learn a little more about potential careers. We’re excited to advocate for careers in manufacturing, so if there’s information you’re looking for to supplement some of your knowledge, we can certainly support something like that, too. 

Be curious. Be open and innovative. The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, so be excited about all the innovation that’s to come!

Q: Spring and warm weather are right around the corner! Are there any fun trips or activities you’re looking forward to?

A: There is really nothing like a Chicago summer and being able to be in the Midwest and hang out at a beach. I’m very, very excited about beach days and patio days and going on long walks along the lakefront just to thaw out from what was a very long winter.

Congratulations to Angela Accurso, MLC Next-Generation Leadership Award finalist, for her outstanding contributions to advancing the manufacturing workforce. Her dedication inspires us all, and we wish her continued success in inspiring the next generation of manufacturing professionals. 

The winners of the 2024 Manufacturing Leadership Awards will be announced at the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Gala on June 5, 2024. Follow us on LinkedIn for updates as we cheer on Angela and three additional MxD project finalists.