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September 29, 2021

Becoming the Next Generation of Manufacturing Leaders

Rashmi Vadlakonda

Rashmi Vadlakonda's bold move opened avenues to her next job, and now she's paying it forward.

Whether she’s pushing the envelope on adopting new technological advancements in our Trane Commercial HVAC factories, questioning stereotypical gender norms or curating creative ways to engender the manufacturing industry for the next generation of thinkers, Rashmi Vadlakonda is all about being bold.

The manufacturing engineer with a passion for 3D printing and volunteerism also set Trane Technologies abuzz during a company-wide event by asking CEO Dave Regnery on the steps the company is taking to bring more women into manufacturing leadership roles – leaving the global employee audience feeling energized and inspired by her question.

Pursuing the path less taken

For the last five years Rashmi has focused on additive manufacturing, helping the company adopt and operationalize more innovative, cost-effective technology. Though a more traditional career path would be to continue in an expanded corporate engineering role, Rashmi felt drawn to the hustle and bustle of our manufacturing sites. She hoped to continue advancing her capabilities in that environment while building her leadership skills, and had already been in discussions with her manager about possible next steps.

As those thoughts circulated in Rashmi’s mind during the employee event, another employee asked about the progress of our diversity and inclusion goals – prompting her to step to the microphone with a follow up question.

“I am very passionate about demystifying manufacturing for the next generation, especially young girls. I find inspiration from seeing someone who looks like me, in a leadership position, but I haven’t discovered a lot of that in our plants,” she said. “If I imagine 10 years into the future, I want to think that I could be that leader. What are we doing to bring more women into plant leadership roles?”

Rashmi’s question was met with animated applause, a hearty discussion and colleagues reaching out from all over the world. Shortly after, a meeting with Keith Sultana, Trane Technologies’ senior vice president of supply chain operations, and an offer to take her talents to our Columbia, SC facility followed.

“I did not anticipate the amount of feedback I received!” she says. “But I’m committed to making a difference in our company and I hope many women see my efforts as motivation for themselves as well.”

Rashmi is well on her way to achieving that goal, and has already made a significant impact in her new role.

“Rashmi challenged the status quo before she even began working at our site, questioning another engineer during her interview process as to why only one part was running on a machine versus two,” says Gregg Krick, Columbia’s plant manager. “It was a defining moment, and of course we offered her the position! Rashmi jumped right in when she joined our team, and has already made progress on several strategic projects that aim to improve quality. Her personality and high energy are infectious, and we are very happy she is here in Columbia.”

Getting creative for the next generation

While Rasmi undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of her at Trane Technologies, she’s also making an impact on the industry at-large by actively volunteering with groups like Women in 3D Printing. Earlier this year Rashmi was tapped to lead the group’s NextGen youth initiative, teaching middle and high school students about the manufacturing industry through unique and fun ways.

“Attracting the next generation of manufacturers means getting creative,” Rashmi says. “We’ve started tapping into different social media apps like TikTok and Clubhouse to reach them on platforms they find more engaging, with more resonating content for their age group.”

Rashmi also played an integral role in forming the group’s young professionals mentorship program earlier this year, connecting more than 70 women undergrad and graduate students with additive manufacturing leaders from Trane Technologies and other companies, including Nike and NASA. The program’s second cohort launched recently, with several mentors from the first round participating again.

“Our goal is to help these students realize they can do anything they want in our industry, with endless possibilities,” she says. “Unfortunately, a pervasive gender norm still exists when it comes to teaching young people about manufacturing or other STEM careers. Boys are often encouraged to build and take things apart which can lead to the assumption that they are naturally better at those things than girls are, and it’s simply untrue. I really want to demystify that notion.”

It all comes down to passion and diversity

When asked what advice she’d give to young people thinking about a career in manufacturing, or those already a few years in, Rashmi says it all comes down to passion and embracing diversity. “Try different things and give whatever you’re doing 100% effort,” she says. “Be authentic. Go where you feel accepted, where you can thrive. If you’re in a place where you aren’t, explore another option.”

Embracing diversity can’t be understated either.

“Changing the world’s perspective on manufacturing requires more representation,” she says. “We don’t just need women in manufacturing, we need women leaders in manufacturing. We need people who look like us, people who have been through the same things we have. That will make a huge impact on the next generation.” 

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