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Release Date: 
Thursday, March 30, 2023

HawkStrong: Gabriel McDonald is a fierce advocate for manufacturing and trades

Headshot of Gabriel McDonald.
Gabriel McDonald, who earned his Process Technology – Basic Certificate of Achievement from HFC, spoke at HFC's Partners Breakfast on March 16.

An HR specialist for the BASF Corporation in Wyandotte, Gabriel McDonald is determined to remove the stigma surrounding the skilled trades and manufacturing industry.

“What we hear from our parents, our teachers, our counselors, etc. greatly influences how we will perceive the world. Companies that utilize trades need to show the parents, the teachers, the counselors, and others that these aren’t the "dirty" manufacturing jobs they saw their parents or their grandparents doing. These careers require the same level of knowledge and skill, but with an added emphasis on emotional intelligence and digitization,” explained McDonald.

Feeling recharged

His personal contribution to removing that stigma is connecting with various communities and engaging them to increase awareness of opportunities at BASF and in the industry more broadly. McDonald spoke at HFC’s Partners Breakfast on March 16 about his career.

“It was wonderful to be able to tell my personal story and offer the industry perspective at the breakfast, but my favorite part of the event was the networking,” he said. “When I saw that huge room filled with people who are all passionate about creating opportunities for students, who understand and see value in pathways other than four-year degrees, I felt recharged. And if events like this aren’t enough to convince you that there’s a need for people who can build and make things, look no further than the new construction that’s going on at HFC’s Technology Building!”

"Gabriel McDonald is passionate about sharing his professional journey and experience. You don't meet a lot of people who started at their company at a young age and are looking to offer other people the same opportunity they had. BASF is lucky to have him leading their Workforce Development initiatives and speaking to groups throughout the Metro Detroit area," said HFC School of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development (BEPD) Project Manager Kenny Nichols.

18 years at BASF

A native of Marquette, McDonald lives in Flat Rock with his wife and two children. After graduating from Flat Rock Community High School, McDonald earned his bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Phoenix. He also earned his Process Technology – Basic Certificate of Achievement from HFC.

McDonald has been at BASF for more than 18 years. He began as a temporary worker at one of the Wyandotte plants simply because he was on his own and needed a job to pay his bills.

“I quickly realized BASF was an incredible company to work for. I eventually landed a full-time position and held various production operator roles for the first nine years of my career,” he said.

McDonald completed HFC’s P-Tech certificate program in 2009 as part of operator training.

“Not only did it help me become a better operator, it also helped me quickly determine the program we would use for our operator apprenticeship,” he said. “BASF was building a new plant at our Wyandotte site, and the initial team of operators went through the program together over the course of a couple of months. I had already been an operator with BASF for four years, and that training was still immensely beneficial. Little did I know I was also vetting the program for our future apprenticeship!”

BASF changed his life

McDonald’s responsibilities at BASF include:

  • Workforce development
  • Digitalization of HR processes
  • HR data management
  • Customer experience analysis for BASF’s Performance Materials division in North America

“I oversee the BASF Wyandotte apprentice programs, but the real mentors are our operators and maintenance technicians who spend every day with our apprentices. They’re without a doubt the most integral part of our apprenticeship programs,” said McDonald. “Seeing apprentices succeed and grow not just in the program but as people is very rewarding. Many of them share how the program and employment with BASF has changed their lives and – being someone who can say the same – that really makes me feel good about what I do.”

HFC has true experts in the classroom

He spoke highly of his education at HFC.

“Nobody can teach something quite as well as someone who’s done it for decades,” said McDonald. “It was clear to me as a student that the instructors knew the material inside and out, and that’s still true 15 years later. HFC has set its students up to succeed by putting experts in their classrooms. The College has provided its partners (like BASF) with a dependable talent pipeline for many years.”