The Next Elon Musk is from The Hood
My name is Drew The MFG Crowe. As a young person, I came to a crossroads in my life and always chose the wrong road. But through introspection, listening, and learning, I gained skills that helped me overcome obstacles to become a bridge builder between the trades and the communities that need them the most. I went from being a teenage father, drug dealer, and gang leader to working as a skilled tradesman, thought leader, professor, and speaker.
My passion is igniting and energizing American manufacturing by exposing youth, political leaders, and underserved communities to this industry. My mission is simple – we need to put our best innovators, creators, and thinkers in spaces where they can thrive and grow. We need to provide access to careers that offer a good life while building communities and families simultaneously. Why?
Genius is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. The next Elon Musk is from the hood. She or he could be from a rural area, too.
Historically, communities like mine have been underserved and parents haven’t been afforded access to essential knowledge and resources to prepare their kids for successful careers in the workforce. Where I’m from, you’re taught that you can only come up through illegal activity, entertainment, or some kind of sport. You’re told that school will help you succeed, but most of our schools are underfunded and our teachers are unpaid, so kids aren’t sown into and are often told they’re not good at school.
Wherever the most need is, that’s usually where the most innovation is occurring. We need to meet people where they are. If we put them in an atmosphere where they can dream and create, they will thrive. That’s why I work alongside people from underserved communities and second-chance situations to help them find jobs, get mortgages and break generational challenges. I mentor young offenders to encourage them and support their reentry into the community. I inspire people by helping them see that they can become an engineer, a designer, or anything they want.
When I saw manufacturing happen for the first time, it sparked a passion in me. You can take an idea and a chunk of metal and make it something. I felt like I belonged, making me want to stay in this industry.
I went to college on a football scholarship as a young father of two, with no idea what I wanted to study. Nobody was investing in me. I didn’t have a plan. It was the height of the recession and I needed a way to support my kids, so I let people know that I was looking for work. It wasn’t long before someone helped land me an interview with a country old white man named Donny Ogul.
Donny didn’t know who I was or what I stood for, but he didn’t stereotype me or judge me when we met. He asked me about my life and treated me like a person. He recognized skills in me that he couldn’t teach, like drive and commitment, and it made me want to stay in this industry.
When I saw manufacturing happen for the first time, it sparked a passion in me. You can take an idea and a chunk of metal and make it something. I felt like I belonged. Before that, I felt like my existence didn’t matter. I didn’t feel seen. But this new work gave me purpose and dignity, and the money wasn’t bad either. I wondered how I could get more involved in this.
I became introspective and intentional. I thought about who I want to be and what I really stand for. I realized that I need to be true to myself and stand on my convictions.
I started coming into manufacturing shops and seeing how archaic the industry was. There were Confederate flags hanging on the wall next to Playboy posters, and the guys on the job called me racial expletives. It felt like locker room culture – I had to deal with my coworkers removing fried chicken coupons from the magazines and taping them to my lunchbox.
This industry disproportionately serves white men. Women and people who look like me have to work twice as hard for recognition and promotion. I saw that people who look like me aren’t being properly represented in manufacturing, and we deserve this opportunity as much as everyone else. This gave me the opportunity to put my people on. I started talking about what this industry needs to do better to serve the people that look like me who are increasingly joining the workforce. I named the discrepancies and flaws that are not unique to one company but, in fact, are industry-wide and called them out for letting things slide.
I became introspective and I became intentional. I asked myself “Who do I want to be?” and “What do I really stand for?” I don’t stand for bullying, I don’t stand for hate, I don’t stand for inequity. I’m a leader and I take care of my people.
With nothing to lose, I chose to speak up. Time and society are on my side, too. Our world is changing and this industry is slowly being forced to catch up – I’ve played an integral role in making that happen. Laws have started to change to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., but businesses don’t have the right people with the right skill sets to be effective in these jobs. Our industry will die if we keep trying to recruit the way we have – preserving a culture that caters almost exclusively to white men.
I’m breaking through the algorithm and the noise to show people and kids that this industry is different – it’s all-encompassing and it’s not your grandpa’s industry.
For three years, I served as an Instructor at Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, Missouri teaching Advanced Manufacturing Technology. As the host and co-judge of TV’s Project MFG, I inspire students across the United States to advance skilled trades through world-class competitions.
By partnering with Edge Factor, we’re developing a digital curriculum to spread this knowledge to anyone with an internet connection. This year, we embarked on the American Manufacturing Renaissance Tour across the country to spread the word about manufacturing.
I knew our industry wasn’t being as good as it can be, so I spoke up and made waves. Most businesses are struggling to find and retain talent. Manufacturing has been branded as an industry that’s dark, dirty and dangerous. I’m breaking through the algorithm and the noise to show people and kids that this industry is different – it’s all-encompassing and it’s not your grandpa’s industry. We’re equipping businesses with the tools to go into local communities and begin hiring people and teaching them the soft skills necessary to stay on the job and contribute to the work culture.
We’re making communities safer, we’re bringing families back together, and we’re making more taxpayers and homeowners out of people – this is a tide that lifts all boats.
Edge Factor is producing new media and interactive activities to showcase Drew’s story, the lessons he learned, and the barriers he overcame. The world premiere of the Edge Factor film, “Snakes & Ladders” featuring Drew Crowe will be launched on September 12, 2022, at the IMTS event in Chicago
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