Is your company cool enough to attract millennial employees?

MillennialsAnalysts at Deloitte estimate that some two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the next decade. A vast number of workers lacking the skills required for advanced manufacturing is one of the causes of this labor shortage, but it’s also precipitated by the public perception of manufacturing—dank factories; repetitive, mind-numbing tasks; and low wages—which historically has led legions of young people to seek a career elsewhere. Changing that obsolete perception is critical to growing the labor pool. One way to achieve that is to “make manufacturing cool,” says Andrea Olson, CEO and founder of Prag’madik (Davenport, IA), a strategic marketing and communications consultancy for industrial manufacturing organizations. She will participate in a panel session devoted to maintaining a multi-generational workforce and overcoming the skills gap at Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Cleveland on March 30.

“You might remember a recent commercial that shows a young man who goes to his parents and tells them he got a job at GE,” says Olson. “His parents respond by saying, ‘well, we’ll give you your grandpa’s old sledgehammer since you’re going into an industrial job,’ when really he’s going to go in as an engineer or chemist or something along those lines. There is a big gap in perceived brand identity of what manufacturing is today,” says Olson. Where large OEMs have the tools and resources to counter that perception, the challenge is much more difficult for small to mid-size manufacturers, which are more likely to have a coolness deficit.

Andrea Olson will lead a conference session on 10 business assumptions that can kill your company and also will participate in a panel discussion on maintaining a multi-generational workforce and overcoming the skills gap at Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Cleveland. In addition to an extensive conference schedule, ADM Cleveland will showcase hundreds of exhibitors in five zones—packaging, automation and robotics, design and manufacturing, plastics and medical manufacturing. The event comes to Cleveland, OH, on March 29 and 30, 2017. Go to the ADM Cleveland website to learn more and to register to attend.

“If they want to attract millennials, smaller companies have to embrace new technologies in the broadest sense of the term,” says Olson. It’s not just about automation and 3D printing, she adds, but technology also needs to have an impact on front-of-the-house infrastructure, communication styles and company culture. If you’re running Windows 98 and faxing orders, for example, you are going to have a rough time finding skilled young employees to replace workers who are nearing retirement.

When considering a job offer, young people will want to know what portable skills they will be learning, says Olson. “Knowing how to use a multi-value database and being able to write DOS code that plugs into a proprietary platform are not portable skills,” she stresses. "How will that serve me, they will ask, and not just for my personal future but for the company itself?"

Understanding this dynamic and modernizing operations accordingly is a question of survival from a recruitment and, indeed, a business perspective. Young people bring new perspectives and ideas and will help move the company forward.

“Larger organizations are moving away rapidly from the old way of doing business,” says Olson. If smaller companies don’t catch up in some measure, “they will die off very quickly or they will be absorbed for their assets alone,” warns Olson.

Survey: Millennials have a more positive view of manufacturing than previous generations

On an optimistic note, various industrywide initiatives such as Manufacturing Day as well as efforts by forward-thinking companies to engage in outreach programs to local educational establishments appear to be bearing fruit. A recently released survey commissioned by digital manufacturing company Proto Labs found that the perception of manufacturing is changing among millennials.

According to the online survey, which polled 1,023 adults 18 and older, 37% of millennials see manufacturing as a high-tech career choice, and 49% believe that engineering is a needed skill in today’s manufacturing sector. This is a significant uptick compared with the attitudes of the Generation X and baby boomer cohorts: Only 27% and 23%, respectively, of those generations saw a career in manufacturing in a positive light.

Almost half (47%) of the millennials surveyed also believe that there will be enough qualified professionals to respond to the demand for skilled labor in the next 10 years. That is undoubtedly driven in large part by the growing realization that today’s manufacturing jobs pay well. According to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the average U.S. manufacturing worker earns more than $70,000 per year.

That is encouraging news, especially the recognition of the importance of an engineering mindset: Manufacturing doesn’t just need a fresh labor force to fill those looming job vacancies—it needs a skilled labor force. Millennials and, perhaps more importantly, the next generation, steeped in STEM programs, may yet make manufacturing great again.

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