Here's today's quiz: “How long has the rubber industry been struggling to get young people interested in entering the business?”
Five years? Perhaps 10? Maybe even 20 to 25?
How about at least 45 years. I base that assumption on information and a comic book—yes, a comic book—passed on to me by a guy who has been in the business that long, consultant Jim Barnhouse.
Barnhouse, late of Eaton-Aeroquip, made his full-time entry into the business back in 1968, at B.F. Goodrich Co. He continues his vocation by providing his broad expertise to a couple of companies. He also pursues his avocation as a proponent of convincing young folks that rubber is a good profession to enter.
Hence the comic book, “Wonder Book of Rubber.”
Barnhouse has hung onto this little treasure since his early days at BFG. The tire and rubber giant was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin Goodrich's relocation from New York and his creation of the first rubber manufacturing business west of the Atlantic Seaboard, turning Akron into the Rubber City.
The comic book isn't full of superheroes doing amazing deeds to save humanity. Instead, it relates a rapid-fire history of rubber from its introduction to Europeans to the debut of the radial tire. The last half of the book tells how tires are made and gives a rundown of the many products in which rubber plays a vital part.
It's a clever little public relations instrument, and actually doesn't go overboard on BFG's achievements, of which there were many.
The point Barnhouse makes is the Wonder Book of Rubber obviously was aimed at the younger set. Even a half-century ago, leaders at rubber companies apparently recognized they had to sell their industry to youth.
The rubber industry today, of course, is much changed from 1970. The need to encourage young people that the business could be a good career track is even more vital, especially for a science and technology-based industry that has to compete with “sexier” professions.
Rubber companies, trade and technical associations do make efforts to promote the field to young minds. Barnhouse doesn't feel it's enough, and more should be done.
His pet peeve is when noted people in the field state “all the major rubber discoveries have been made.” He doesn't believe it—how do you define “major”—and complains that is no way to sell a business.
Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.