Woman to Watch in Manufacturing: Julie Shontz, Rockwell Automation

This week is an exciting time for manufacturers because October 5, 2018, is Manufacturing Day, a national holiday where manufacturers around the country use MFG Day as an opportunity to inspire and recruit the next generation of manufacturers. What I love about Manufacturing Day, which people celebrate throughout the month of October, is that American creators are showcasing what modern manufacturing looks like to students and the general public. When most people envision a manufacturing environment, they picture a dingy factory with men in hard hats and safety glasses frantically working on the line.

Modern day manufacturing looks drastically different from old school manufacturing of the past. The new wave of manufacturing is innovative; utilizing automation, Internet of Things, robotics and cloud computing. While manufacturing is still male-dominated, according to The United States Census, women make up nearly one-third of the manufacturing workforce in the United States. Women can be found in a number of roles in manufacturing from working on the production line to running their own manufacturing businesses.

Throughout the month of October on Slaydy, I will highlight the incredible powerhouse women that are building the products you rely on every day, supervising production, and running companies. My first feature is on Julie Shontz, Warehouse Supervisor, at Rockwell Automation. At 29, Shontz is a woman to watch in manufacturing, overseeing the materials department for the industrial automation and information products company’s Cleveland location.

From Commercial Banking to Contract Manufacturing

After graduating college, Shontz worked as a Branch Operations Team Leader at a regional bank. The Technology House (TTH), a contract manufacturing, production, and prototyping company, was her customer. Throughout her nearly two years of working at the bank, she developed a friendly rapport with the Gear family who owned the company.

When Chip Gear, President of TTH, was looking to expand his team, Shontz was top of mind. Shontz’s positive customer service driven personality and ability to multitask, made her ideal candidate. She joined the team as a project manager in 2013. While Shontz possessed all the qualities to become a great project manager, the transition from banking to manufacturing had its challenges.

“I was brand new to manufacturing and there was a huge learning curve. TTH did a wide variety of projects and I had to learn the processes of injection molding, cast urethane, CNC, and 3D printing”, says Shontz. 

During her first two weeks at TTH, Shontz shadowed all different departments, spending a few days in each to get a better understanding of what they did. Shontz not only had to learn the processes TTH utilized to produce parts, but also had to learn the intricacies of the verticals TTH served; such as medical, automotive, and aerospace.

An experience Shontz will never forget is comparing her first 3D printed part to what she remembered seeing in CAD on her screen prior to printing.

“I saw on the screen via the measurement tools that what I was building was only going to be about 2-3 inches in size.  When I held the finished product in my hand, it was such a revelation that what I had looked at on the screen was converted to this small, tangible, and intricate part.  I was hooked”, said Shontz.

Photo taken at the Rapid 2017 tradeshow in Pittsburgh, PA. Left to right: Franco Harris (retired Steelers player), Julie Shontz, Owen Timlin (Sales at TTH), and Joe Green (retired Steelers players).

Photo taken at the Rapid 2017 tradeshow in Pittsburgh, PA. Left to right: Franco Harris (retired Steelers player), Julie Shontz, Owen Timlin (Sales at TTH), and Joe Green (retired Steelers players).

Shontz’s Insatiable Drive

It took Shontz a full year to learn the company and its processes. When asked why she believes she was promoted three times in the four years she worked at TTH, she credits her drive.

After working at TTH for a year, Shontz felt she had a handle on what she was doing. Shontz approached Greg Cebular, the VP of Sales and Project Management and told him that she felt she had learned everything in her current position and wanted exposure to more projects.

“Working for a small company gave me unique opportunities that I probably would not have had at a larger company. I was able to lead projects and initiatives because we were a small team that had to wear many hats. I went from Project Manager, to Senior Project Manager, and then Director of Project Management, a position the company created for me, because I strived to continuously learn and put my best work forward”, says Shontz.

Shontz Seeks a Challenge

While Shontz loved her role at TTH, she craved exposure to the operations side of manufacturing.

“At TTH, I was dealing with customers which was great but I wanted to be more hands-on in the operations process. I wanted to be on the manufacturing floor, interacting with the people who build every day and have great ideas to improve efficiency”, says Shontz.

Shontz went from overseeing 5 project managers at TTH, to 45 employees at Rockwell Automation. As Warehouse Supervisor, Shontz oversees the materials department and has employees on all 8 shifts.

A challenge Shontz had to overcome was interacting with a 10-year workforce who were stuck in the mindset that they should ‘stick to the status quo’.

“Being on the plant floor is different. At TTH, I wasn’t met with too much adversity. The customers I dealt with on a daily basis were very open and willing to work with me, even when I was new to TTH. The majority of the workforce at Rockwell has been there for 10, 20, or 30 years. I had to deal with a lot of judgement that I had not anticipated being a young woman in an authoritative role. I had to really push the envelope and not back down in order to earn respect”, says Shontz.

Rockwell Automation Materials Department, Production Department, and Supervisors celebrating a major milestone for their Controllogix Processor after producing their 2 millionth unit.

Rockwell Automation Materials Department, Production Department, and Supervisors celebrating a major milestone for their Controllogix Processor after producing their 2 millionth unit.

Creating Solutions for Manufacturing Challenges

One of Shontz’s biggest challenges coming into her role is finding talent and retaining employees. When she started in her role, her entry-level employees in materials would regularly leave to work in production because production made $2 more an hour.

“I worked for several months with management to push for plant-wide wages for entry-level employees. When I started working at Rockwell, I was frustrated because I would work hard to train my entry-level employees and then they would leave to make more in production. Recently, it was announced that starting wages at Rockwell are $15 an hour across all departments. That is a huge victory for my team”, says Shontz.

Shontz’s goal in 2019 is working with management to create a work environment that is appealing to millennials and generation z candidates.

“We have had challenges retaining millennial and gen z employees. We have a strict attendance policy and a 10-year staff that are old school and do not want us to make work environment changes. We understand that in order to be competitive and recruit this new generation of candidates, we need to be more flexible. We are working to develop creative solutions to recruit the new generation, but also honor our 10-year staff that have been loyal to us”, says Shontz.

Shontz has contributed so much in her 5 years in manufacturing and is an inspiration to women looking to make an impact in a male-dominated field. She is a member of the leadership team for the Rockwell Advance Cleveland group, an internal group of driven young professionals who strive to encourage and promote leadership, innovation, and career development. Shontz graduated from Case Western Reserve University’s Leadership Lab for Women in STEM in November of 2017. When she is not on the factory floor, she serves as Financial Officer for Women in Manufacturing’s Ohio Chapter. Recently, she started a book club, where like-minded women meet monthly to discuss a business book written by an inspiring women. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn

julie shontz infographic.png