Mike Vale — President of 3M’s Safety & Industrial Business Group

Could you describe the “3M culture” and what its current perception is as it pertains to workforce development and trade skills?

At 3M, we know our employees want to grow and access development opportunities – and we want the same for people around the world.

Among our people, we offer diverse opportunities for continued education and enrichment, from ongoing training and certifications to resources for language learning and skills development.

Beyond our walls, we are working to help younger generations receive adequate training and opportunities through education. In 2021 we set a global, education-focused goal to create five million unique STEM and skilled trades learning experiences for underrepresented individuals by the end of 2025 – which includes scholarships, internships, and robust student services, varying experiential learning opportunities, monetary investments, and volunteerism.

How are mentorships established within 3M, and how does this program support mentees once the mentorship is completed?

3M works with schools, universities, community colleges, and trade schools, and other community organizations around the world to encourage students to pursue a STEM or skilled trade career, while also increasing their access to the tools, resources, and knowledge they’ll need to succeed.

For example, our 3M Manufacturing and Academic Partnerships (MAP) program introduces students to careers in manufacturing. We started this program when we noticed a significant shortage of skilled trade workers primed and ready to fill roles that were being vacated by those retiring from their careers – and that’s something we’re committed to changing. MAP connects students to careers in manufacturing through grants that support robust mechatronics curriculum, as well as 3M employees as guest educators.

Additionally, our 3M TechTalks program brings 3M volunteers into classrooms to provide students with the opportunity to meet and interact with role models who enjoy technical careers. Through these and other ongoing programs, we hope to further develop the skilled trade talent pipeline and show younger generations that these careers – and success – are relatable and attainable.

According to 3M’s State of Science Index, 90% of Americans agree there’s a lot of opportunity for jobs in skilled trades. However, while 71% say they respect people who pursue skilled trades, those same people would not pursue one themselves. Why do you think this is? And why is it vital to work toward changing the perception of what this skilled labor means to attract a new, modern workforce?

When nearly three-quarters of Americans say they wouldn’t pursue a career in the field although they respect people who do, it appears the trades have an image problem. 3M sees this as a major barrier to replenishing the skilled trade talent pipeline.

There are many pervasive misperceptions about skilled trades – from the type of person who should pursue a trade to the jobs that qualify as trade careers and whether you can make a decent living. On a positive note, 3M’s 2022 3M State of Science Index – an annual global research study exploring trust in science and its relevance to everyday lives – found that nearly all Americans (94%) believe the workforce needs more skilled trade workers. The survey also showed that 90% agree there is a lot of opportunity in skilled trades, and 77% believe they would earn as much money in a skilled trade as they would in a career that requires a four-year degree from a traditional four-year university or college – further validation that trades can provide many promising, and profitable, career opportunities.

To combat misperceptions around skilled trades, the many educational and career paths available need to be highlighted and young students need to be supported in their pursuit of a trade education.

For example, 3M’s Safety & Industrial Business Group is committed to raising awareness of skilled trades as a viable career. We want to help solve the skilled trade labor shortages our customers are facing, while also building equity in our communities (Black Americans and U.S. Hispanics continue to be underrepresented in the trades). We’ve collaborated with middle and high schools in both Austin, Texas, and the Twin Cities in Minnesota to provide information on trade careers and schools. We know students start to form an “occupational identity” – thinking about what’s possible for them to do as a career – as early as middle school, so it’s important we start to raise awareness and focus education at that level.

What does “upskilling” mean to you, and what is 3M doing in this area as it relates to encouraging people to pursue science and industry?

Upskilling means taking the skills you already possess to the next level through additional education and training. It is an important part of career development and growth – especially as more people desire to keep up in a job market that is becoming increasingly dependent on digital skills.

According to our 3M State of Science Index, Americans are expecting their employers to provide upskilling support and opportunities – including financial support or reimbursement. More so, as younger generations continue to see the impact that digitalization is having on their everyday lives, they understand that digital skills will only help them to grow their careers and expect to be increasingly reliant on digital skills in the years to come.

Within 3M, we offer several programs for employee growth and development, including:

  • A commitment to helping employees find at least one hour per week to learn, with supervisors encouraging them to block time on their calendars.
  • A team of learning partners for our business groups and functions to connect learning needs to learning opportunities. We’re also working to provide personalized Learning Tracks that meet employees where they are and help them grow.
  • Thousands of on-demand courses that employees can access at any time recommended courses and training, informal and formal mentorship programs, and a tuition reimbursement program.
  •  We also offer the Performance Everyday program, which empowers 3Mers to think about their career performance beyond mid-year and year-end through transparent, frequent conversations. It creates a continuous feedback culture through one-on-one discussions between managers and employees to fuel meaning and purpose in everyday work, improve performance, discuss development, adjust priorities, learn from feedback, share recognition, and celebrate results.

Part of your drive toward innovation involves the “15 percent rule.” Could you expand on that?

Our 15% Culture program has been an integral part of 3M’s innovation process for decades, and it’s a core element of our work environment. Rooted in the pursuit of scientific exploration and cultivating creative ideas, this program encourages employees to spend 15% of their work time pursuing innovative ideas – regardless of how it relates to their current role. While it is also important to ensure day-to-day responsibilities are executed upon, allowing employees the space to try something new, think creatively, and challenge the status quo gives them the freedom to innovate and solve meaningful problems.

While 15% Culture has a long and fruitful association with our laboratory and technical employees, 3Mers from all roles can take advantage of it. This is one of the strengths of our company and an integral part of the culture that makes us unique. It is a tradition that speaks to the value our leadership places on innovation, idea sharing and the value of curiosity.

How are diversity and inclusion achieved at 3M?

Diversity and inclusion are key values at 3M and vital to helping us build a healthy, creative, and respectful culture where all voices are valued and heard. As a global company, we strive to represent the diversity of our customers, suppliers, and communities. This means supporting leaders who are diverse across a wide spectrum of dimensions including gender, nationality, race/ethnicity, disability, U.S. military veterans, and LGBTQI+.

Diversity is a competitive advantage for 3M. That’s why we’ve made ambitious commitments across our company to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces, business practices, and communities.

We are proud of our culture of belonging at 3M – having all our employees thrive by feeling valued, respected, and heard for their unique perspectives. We have a community of nine Employee Resource Networks – employee-led groups that champion diversity and the life experiences of underrepresented employees at 3M. They give 3Mers the opportunity to focus on leadership development, collaboration, and community service.

3M builds our equity goals directly into our business practices. In 2021, our four global business groups established goals that would use their unique capabilities and resources to advance equity in our communities. The company is implementing strategies to double our supplier spend year-over-year with women- and minority-owned businesses, and among its many initiatives, 3Mgives (3M’s community investment arm) is investing $50 million over a five-year period to address racial opportunity gaps through workforce development initiatives.

About the Interviewee

Mike Vale is the president of 3M’s Safety & Industrial Business Group, which includes personal safety, adhesives and tapes, abrasives, closure and masking systems, electrical markets, automotive aftermarket, and roofing granules.

He was most recently head of 3M’s Health Care Business Group, and prior to that led the company’s Consumer Business Group. Mike joined 3M in 1992 and over the years, his career with the company has sent him abroad four times for varied roles, including research chemist, manufacturing director, and general manager.

Mike serves as a member of the board of directors of The Toro Company and is a former trustee of the Science Museum of Minnesota. He can also be found running, antiquing, reading science fiction, and spending time with his family.