Millennials are poised and ready to take over the manufacturing labor force in the not-so-distant future. Here’s a look at how to recruit, train, and work alongside Millennial workers to come out a step ahead.
Let’s be frank: The Millennial generation – the future of the workforce – isn’t flocking in droves to the manufacturing sector. Statistics on unfulfilled jobs range from 300,000 to 2 million, but no matter the number it’s clear that there are thousands of skilled jobs out there and a lack of skilled and motivated young workers to fill them.
Part of the challenge with the manufacturing skills gap is the poor perception many young people (and their parents) have of manufacturing. A Manufacturing Institute 2014 study shows only one in three parents would encourage their children to pursue jobs in manufacturing.
Another challenge is the changing and evolving skills necessary for manufacturing positions. Today’s manufacturing is less about physical strength, and more about automation, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), personal flexibility, and constant innovation. These are skills that need to be nurtured well before a person joins the workforce, or require extensive on-the-job training.
“Over the next decade, nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled,” a Manufacturing Institute/Deloitte study notes.
So the question then becomes: How can the manufacturing sector change the tide on these statistics? How can we as individual organizations and as a collective group address these challenges to attract and retain highly skilled workers?
It starts with not only the recruitment of Millennials, but paving the road to gain the skills necessary for their success in the industry. Let’s discuss some strategies:
Recruit: Prime the Pump
Getting Millennials interested in manufacturing starts with changing the perception of what the industry is – and isn’t – in the 21st century.
Manufacturing is increasingly driven by technology. The dirty work environments and whistle-blowing shift changes that may have been prevalent perceptions in the past have been replaced by clean, sleek, and innovative workspaces and production systems.
But manufacturing’s overall image is only half the battle.
A new survey reveals parents have misconceptions about the manufacturing industry, which may be affecting the next generation’s interest in the sector. While 87 percent of parents believe STEM education is essential for economic success, 34 percent do not think manufacturing or trade industries require college or higher education. Furthermore, 89 percent of parents estimate the average hourly wage of manufacturing jobs to be less than $22; in reality, $34 is the average hourly wage.
Raising awareness about the opportunities in manufacturing by liaising with colleges, high schools, and vocational schools is a start. Education in the STEM areas, as well as developing programs and other training opportunities keyed in on the skills needed in the workforce, will help cultivate the next generation of workers.
More than that, manufacturers need to spread the word at how and what positions are available to utilize STEM knowledge and skills. Knowing a stable and well-paying job is available with a certain skill set is a great incentive and attraction for Millennials who have lived through the recession.
“Just as every company engineers its product lines, its supply chain, and its production process, you can engineer a talent pipeline,” says Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute. “Manufacturers can no longer afford to wait for an educated and trained next generation of manufacturing talent. They will need to do more to develop their talent pool, and the same old approaches no longer apply.”
Train: Give Workers the Framework for Needed Skills
Companies no longer have the luxury of taking the backseat with their talent pipeline. Identifying the current and future needs of the organization and working with appropriate agencies, higher education, and other existing frameworks to build out programs that are tailored to the jobs the industry has or will have available is something that should be done now.
The key is to paint an accurate picture of the very real opportunities available in manufacturing (job security, competitive salary and benefits, and the ability to work in an innovative and growing sector), then ensure there are programs for top talent to gain the necessary skills and expertise.
While on-the-job training is essential, candidates have to come to the table with certain skills and expertise. Offering an internship program to high school and post-secondary schools (vocational programs and colleges), gives companies the chance to showcase all the industry has to offer.
Development: Working With Millennials
There are distinct differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials, but this should be considered an asset rather than a detriment. Baby Boomers have a wealth of knowledge about their job that they can and should impart on the younger generation. On the other hand, Millennials have grown up in a connected world, surrounded by technology, and can bring a sense of innovation to the workplace.
Establishing a mentorship program for the ongoing development of younger workers is a good start. Studies have shown Millennials, like all workers, want to feel valued and empowered to contribute to a greater goal.
Mike Twitty, Western Territory Manager for RWM Casters, says his company has had an influx of younger workers and they’re finding ways to adapt.
“It’s kind of like the new ship is coming in and it’s different. But that presents a real opportunity: We’ve had new people come in and soak up information from those who’ve been in the workforce for decades. At the same time, we’re learning from and catering to the Millennials, the future of the industry.”
The manufacturing industry has survived many ups and downs and is poised to enter a new era of change and development. Industry leaders have an incredible story to tell to a new generation of workers.
Millennials are great in number, but they need the tools, skills, and motivation to be able to positively contribute to the future of manufacturing. Every step taken to attract and retain Millennial workers is an investment in the longevity of the industry as a whole.
Scott Stone is the Director of Marketing for Cisco-Eagle, Inc., a provider of integrated material handling and storage systems for industrial operations. Scott has 25 years of experience in industrial operations and marketing.