Millennials - the Future of Manufacturing?


Millennials  - Manufacturing Day 2014Many have said, with the current and upcoming workforce skills shortage, the future of manufacturing hinges on Millennials.  There is no more accurate statement.  Now...How to attract Millenials and preserve the future of manufacturing.

Millennials Defined

 If you Google the term, you get 3,190,000 results!  There has been a lot of discussion and analysis about this group, which includes people born roughly from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s, according to Wikipedia.  Many have said, with the current and upcoming workforce skills shortage, the future of manufacturing hinges on this generation.  There is no more accurate statement.

The Numbers Are Scary

According to a Census report entitled, “The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States:  2012 to 2060”, published in May of 2014, states by 2029 (only 14 short years away), the baby boomers will all have turned 65 and will account for 20% of the population of the United States.  If you extrapolate this statistic to manufacturing, you can envision the mass exodus to come over the next 15 years. 

The problem lies in the fact there is little backfill for skilled jobs from the generations after the baby boomers.  Part of this is due to the inaccurate perception of manufacturing as a low paying, dirty career choice and the reluctance of high school teachers and counselors to promote manufacturing careers.  Most high schools are not teaching Industrial Arts due to funding cuts and are instead preparing students to progress to college after graduation.  However, some young people do not want to go to college, and are left with few career options and, often, a lack of direction.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( there were 248,000 manufacturing job openings in the United States in February of 2014. This seems to be a great opportunity to capture the attention of the students who feel that they have few desirable options after high school.  

Who Is Going to Fill the Jobs?

According to a March, 2012 Time Magazine article written by Dan Schwabel (an expert on the millennial generation) approximately 10,000 Millennials (also called Generation Y) turn 21 every day.   By 2025, three out of four people in the workforce will be a part of this generation.  It looks like the Millennials will have to come to the rescue to save American manufacturing!

Wait a minute!  Are we talking about the same people who have grown up in a world of instant information and gratification?  Who seem to have the patience of a gnat for any one task, based on their skills at watching TV, playing games on their phone and texting friends, all seemingly simultaneously? 

Yes, that is the future of manufacturing.  And, it is not as dire as our perceptions above would indicate. 

Consider the strengths of the Millenials generation (according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Millenial Report):

  • Millennials are technology savvy (the report called it a “digital sixth sense”).
  • Millennials are optimistic.  41% of the people in this generation were satisfied with the ways things are going in this country, compared to only 26% of those over 30.
  • Millennials excel at multi-tasking.
  • Similar to earlier generations, Generation Y cares about those in need, and this population desires a strong family life. 

How Do You Attract Millennials?

So, how do you attract the Millennial population to manufacturing careers in great numbers?  You first have to know what they value.  According to the “No Collar Study”, conducted by MTV in 2012, the millennial population has the following characteristics:

  • Millenials require your immediate attention and feedback. No 6-month reviews for them.
  • Millenials want a casual workplace, they don’t separate their personal and professional life.
  • Millenials work when they want to work.  As long as they get their work done, the amount of time they are there doesn’t matter.
  • Millenials aren’t all about the money (they value liking the job and being challenged over the pay).
  • Millenials want transparency and honesty.
  • Millenials like a flat organizational structure that promotes collaboration, not hierarchy.

Note that nowhere above does it say that the work has to be clean, or pretty.  In fact, the casual nature of many manufacturing facilities would seem to be of value to Generation Y. 

The best news is that manufacturing careers can be both high-paying and exciting for the Millennial population. This was proven by an Industry Week study showing 87% of manufacturing professionals are satisfied with their careers and 42% said they are very satisfied.  According to this same study, pay for managers in the manufacturing sector averaged $111,480 per year in the past year, which is an $8,000 increase over the previous year.  So, Millennials can get the best of both worlds - good pay and job satisfaction. 

How Can New or Advanced Technologies Attract Millennials?

Millennials didn’t grow up playing Pong or PacMan.  Video games are more like movies (and seemingly more real in some cases).  Millenials are attracted to innovative technologies and love to use them in a collaborative environment.  Here are some examples of new technologies that would appeal to Millennials:

  • Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) - Some Millennials even have these printers in their schools and homes.  To see their application in the manufacturing workplace would be exciting for many in this generation.  The idea of designing something and seeing a model of that design within minutes fits with the Millennial generation’s desire for immediate feedback.  Creating design teams using additive manufacturing resources also appeals to their need for collaboration.
  • Nanotechnology - This involves taking material down to a minute scale, making changes to its “DNA” and building it back up into a product.  For example, a motor oil can be reduced to nanometer proportions (smaller than an atom) and manipulated to create better gas mileage for a car, then made back into a better motor oil.  The products resulting from this technology exhibit greater wear, fire resistance, and better engine performance.  The real world applications would certainly be publicized and truly excite a millennial, thereby creating great job satisfaction. 
  • Programs/Apps That Promote Collaboration and Communication- Program and applications such as Basecamp and Nozbe allow for easy collaboration with colleagues. It is easier than ever, thanks to advances in computer technology, to send an idea out to a group from anywhere and get instantaneous feedback (which appeals to Millenials).  As a manufacturer, you can easily embrace a collaborative environment on the manufacturing floor by creating process improvement teams, and using tools such as SharePoint to share ideas, Value Stream Maps, data and project documents.  The more information is shared, the more those from Generation Y will feel transparency in the environment.

How Can You Get Millennials To Work For Your Company?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  You know how to attract them, and how technology can excite them, but how can you actually get Generation Y’ers to work for you ?  After all, you will need the help, according to statistics! 

Here are some tips for marketing your firm as a great place to work for the Millennial generation:

  • Participate in Manufacturing Day 2015 -  Manufacturing Day 2014 will be held in October of 2015.  Versatech is proud to be an active participant in the Effingham, IL event, where manufacturers open their doors to students, parents and educators from throughout the area in the hopes of improving the Millennial generation’s and their parents’ perception of manufacturing.   Showcase your facility, your technologies, and your collaborative and open environment, and you will attract the attention of the next generation of manufacturing employees!
  • Partner with local schools and colleges to host plant tours and speak at events - You don’t have to wait for Manufacturing Day to host smaller groups of high school and college students potentially interested in manufacturing careers.  You can also speak at student organization events about new technologies you are using.
  • Ask Millennials you hire to recommend friends in need of a job - Many times, the best resource for new employees is current employees that are happy with their job.  Ask your current young employees to encourage their friends or classmates to apply for jobs at your company. 
  • Institute an internship program - Work with local high schools and colleges to offer summer internships for those in technical disciplines. This provides an opportunity for students to see the “real world” of manufacturing and allows you to see if the person is a fit for your organization.  This can also be a great and inexpensive way to get projects done!

Versatech is working actively in the Effingham community to attract the next generation of manufacturing employees.  We truly believe the appealing traits of this generation noted above will propel our company into the future!

Do your part to preserve the future of manufacturing by embracing the unique qualities of the Millennial generation!