Manufacturing Month is a time to celebrate our current and future manufacturers as well as positively influence the common misconceptions around the manufacturing industry. According to The Manufacturing Institute, manufacturers seek to fill four million high-skill, high-tech and high-paying jobs over the next decade. Inspiring the next generation of manufacturers is crucial in helping to fill those gaps. At LyondellBasell, we take pride in empowering our employees to reach their highest potential and reward progress. Every day, our employees engage in exciting, innovative and meaningful work, from addressing climate change to finding solutions to sustainability challenges, like ending plastic waste.
Below are stories from our women employees as they share common misconceptions and their experiences working in the manufacturing industry.
When I first entered the manufacturing environment, I was a junior in college and I was starting my first co-op term with LyondellBasell at our Corpus Christi, TX facility. It was completely overwhelming. The facility felt expansive, the equipment was completely foreign to me, and there were hundreds of people that supported the unit. I didn’t know where I fit, what I would get out of my time there, or how I could possibly make a difference.
I had this vague concept of manufacturing facilities from driving past them along the Texas Gulf Coast on nearly a daily basis. I knew those plants made some things my family and I used on a regular basis, but I never realized the extent in which we relied on products from manufacturing facilities in our daily lives. It was exciting to be even a small part of something that provided solutions to real world problems; like producing the feedstocks and resins to go into packaging that keeps medical supplies sterile or maintains food freshness.
Learning the equipment and its function was fascinating, but what I really grew to love were the people. Not only were they committed to their jobs and executing those to the best of their ability, but they were committed to the community and to the environment around them. I helped out with Junior Achievement at the local high school; I was co-lead in the United Way campaign and raised money to benefit multiple deserving organizations; participated in Global Care Day where we did beautification of a nearby children’s home; and helped clean up our beaches. Those were just the big things, but this commitment to the community and environment was woven into everything we did.
It’s been over ten years since I first stepped foot into the Corpus Christi facility as a co-op but the impression I got nearly from day one of the company and the manufacturing environment remains the same. I am still amazed at the incredible people I get to work alongside daily. As new challenges arise, like reducing plastic waste or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our people continue to remain committed to finding solutions to these global issues because commitment to the community and environment is core to who we are.
Jessica Ditch, Polymers Technical Manager
When I meet new people, whether going out or doing my hobbies, I am often met with reluctance at first when I tell them where I work.
In many people's minds, the chemical industry is associated with negative things. I then enjoy showing people a completely different side of the industry.
Without the chemical industry, which is the cornerstone for so many other products, we would not have the luxuries we have in the western world. If no plastic is produced, no plastic parts can be made for many items in our daily lives such as the automotive industry, cell phones....
Often people are not even aware of the value our industry brings. In addition, the industry is always evolving and looking for ways to optimize the circular economy. This means using raw materials as often as possible and thus saving resources. LyondellBasell also has facilities where plastics are recycled. Here, the hydrocarbons produced from waste or residual materials are reused to make plastic. In this way, LyondellBasell is helping to save raw materials and promote recycling.
I like to tell people about this with the enthusiasm I have for the job, so I can convince many people of this point of view.
I am very happy to have taken this step in my early youth. 19 years ago, at the age of 15, I had to decide which path I wanted to take and send applications to different employers. In 2004, I started working in Münchsmünster. Now 18 years later, I can look back on a varied development.
At the age of 16, I started an apprenticeship as an operator and got to know different processes in the chemical industry. I then went into production as an operator on shift. At that time, it was still very new that women were also doing this job. But LyondellBasell made no distinction between sexes and offered everyone the opportunity to work in production. I was supported in my development by the company and was thus able to do further training in addition to my work. In 2019, I graduated with a bachelor's degree and was able to move from operations in production to occupational safety. After not quite two years, I now also have the opportunity to broaden my horizons further at another location within Germany.
The chemical industry has more facets than you might think, and at LyondellBasell employees are also supported in their development. Potential is encouraged, and versatility is seen as an enrichment rather than a problem. And in a company of this size, you are offered so many opportunities.
Sarah Henrici, Safety Engineer
I spent the first seven years of my career adapting to "plant" life. Listening to the perspectives of my fellow engineers from all disciplines, and working with my operations and maintenance teams to understand the lifeblood of our manufacturing facilities. I was always stimulated by the fast pace challenges of being a unit engineer, and knowing that my work could render tangible results. Most importantly, I loved that these results required me to work with a team of people from all different backgrounds. It allowed me to learn new skills and embrace new interests from my colleagues that I would not have otherwise been exposed to.
Along the way, I spent much of my non-professional life explaining to those unfamiliar with manufacturing about how crucial the manufacturing plants are to our everyday lives. It was not too difficult to explain how the changes we make in a plant impact the products they buy and use on a daily basis. However, what was more challenging was to help them understand is how much of what we do in our plants is to ensure responsible operation of the processes so products can continue to be safely produced.
Having transitioned to the CO2 reduction team, my perspective is now shaped by my previous years of learning. It has been personally rewarding to leverage my technical and practical experience to consider new designs with the goal of mitigating the negative environmental impacts of our industry. Now, the biggest misconceptions that I encounter regarding sustainable operations are the same whether I'm speaking to my colleagues in the plant or my friends and family outside. Those unfamiliar with manufacturing often assume that the only sustainable future for our plants is to stop producing chemicals. My colleagues in the plants also often assume that "sustainability" does not translate to continued operation. I cannot stress enough that this is not the case. In actuality, this effort cannot be to simply cease operation, but to change operation. To do so we need to truly understand our existing technologies, and embrace new ways to improve them. It is exciting to see how manufacturing will continue to evolve in the years to come!
Allison Hu, CO2 Reduction Program Engineer
One of my earliest memories includes driving past LyondellBasell and watching the lights inside the unit light up the plant; providing light on a dim back road as I returned to my hometown of Morris, Illinois.
I never envisioned myself working at LyondellBasell. After all, to me it was a place where people who loved science worked- engineers, chemists, technicians, mechanics. Not me, I wanted to be a journalist.
The idea of telling other people’s stories has always intrigued me.
So as I sit behind my desk at LyondellBasell, a global leader in the petrochemical industry, I never thought I would find myself in public relations, telling other people’s stories. Especially not here. But as I navigated my personal career path, I found myself in manufacturing in a regional role where I get to spend time with those engineers, chemists, technicians and mechanics and tell their stories on a very broad scale to the local media.
The perceptions of manufacturing are changing. In fact, according to the Illinois Manufacturing Association, the annual average wage for careers (yes, careers) in manufacturing is $74,000. Illinois manufacturers directly employ more than 662,000 men and women (myself included).
Investment in manufacturing is strong, including at the local level. The LyondellBasell Morris Plant recently invested $55 million in a state-of the art, 89,000 square foot operations center featuring a control room, maintenance shops, offices and a testing laboratory. Our employees are able to work on some of the latest equipment and technology available within our field.
With around 350 people onsite at the Morris Plant, LyondellBasell is one of the largest manufacturers in Grundy County. The plant manufactures ethylene, the world’s most widely-used petrochemical, which is then made into polyethylene plastic resins. Our customers use these resins to make countless products such as leak-proof and shatter-proof containers and packaging that protects our food from spoilage and contamination.
It is very possible the products you purchase at the grocery store are packaged in plastic that was produced in Morris, Illinois. (My kids think that is cool).
Manufacturing facilities employ people from many different backgrounds including accountants, human resources, health and wellness, environmental specialists, administrative assistants and so many more. People with a vast array of educational experience and those who receive on the job training are employed in manufacturing.
I live locally. My children go to the local school and I support my family on a career within my backyard. It turns out there is a place for people like me in manufacturing.
Megan Borchers, Sr. Communications Advisor