Parsable Research: COVID improved Gen Z views on manufacturing

July 28, 2021
There is increased interest in exploring manufacturing jobs, but misperceptions persist.

The majority of recently graduated 18-24 year olds (part of Generation Z) believe manufacturing is more important now compared to their perceptions before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research released by Parsable. The findings, however, also revealed the generation's lingering negative perspectives about jobs in manufacturing, particularly around salary.

With an expected 2.1 million unfilled US manufacturing jobs by 2030, resulting in a potential negative impact to the economy of more than $1 trillion, the industry's ability to attract and retain younger workers is a growing urgent issue.

“Parsable's research shows significant discrepancies between the perception of manufacturing among new job candidates and the reality of today's factory environment,” said Lawrence Whittle, CEO of Parsable. “Potential employees, both high school and college graduates, want jobs with a meaningful and rewarding future, including a good salary and the ability to have modern technologies at their fingertips for onboarding, training and professional development. The industry needs to highlight and educate our younger generations on the reality of frontline manufacturing work, which is actually very advanced and future-focused, in order to attract the best and brightest candidates.”

The pandemic laid bare manufacturing’s critical role in people’s everyday lives, with shortages of items from hand sanitizer and bath tissue to bottled water, notes Parsable. As a result, Gen Z respondents expressed a new appreciation for the industry:

  • 56% said their views on manufacturing changed because of the pandemic; of those, 77% said they view manufacturing as more important.
  • More than half of respondents (54%) said they had not considered frontline manufacturing as a potential career before the pandemic; of those, 24% are now open to exploring it.

Manufacturing work and salary expectations leave much to be desired

The findings, however, also reveal lingering misperceptions about today’s frontline manufacturing environment and opportunities among Gen Z, particularly around pay:

  • 52% remain neutral or disinterested in frontline manufacturing work; of those, 30% are concerned that it "may be a low-skilled, manual job" and 41% think "it does not pay very much."
  • When assessing priorities in selecting a career, “good pay” was the most frequently cited (64%) as a top priority.
  • 65% believe that entry-level manufacturing jobs pay less than the industry average. According to Glassdoor, the average manufacturing salary for a person with zero to one year of experience is approximately $60,000 annually. This is significantly higher than the entry-level salary across all industries (approximately $40,000 annually). 
  • Over one-third (35%) believe there is little diversity in the industry.

School-based manufacturing programs may help

A lack of manufacturing-focused programs at schools seems to play a role in holding back Gen Z from entering the field. Education and exposure to a modern-day manufacturing environment—as well as the technologies available to employees—help encourage them to enter the industry:

  • 59% said they might have been interested in manufacturing if they had access to related programs while in school; however, more than half (53%) cited not having such access.
  • 47% reported getting career inspiration from family; however, 55% do not know anyone who works in manufacturing.

Other survey findings include: 

  • 58% of recent four-year university graduates are interested in a career in manufacturing. This could be influenced by the availability of educational programs, as 58% of these respondents were offered access to them at school. 
  • 43% of recent vocational school graduates are interested in working in manufacturing; however, 39% have the perception that these jobs are low-skilled. 
  • More than half (57%) of those who considered a career in frontline manufacturing since the pandemic did so because they believe it is an industry important to the country.

Parsable conducted the online survey the week of June 28, 2021. The 1,000 US respondents who completed the survey were aged 18-24 years old and graduated this year from high school, vocational/technical school (2-year program) or a university/college (4-year program).