Even though technology usage in production industries is on the rise, a lingering perception of industry is still
having a negative impact on young workers. Millennials are not interested in working in manufacturing plants or industrial settings. Manual labor is not what Millennials view as modern work. Simultaneously, the Baby Boomers who kept factories running for decades are concerned about what happens as they retire.
It’s a valid concern. And I will speak for my generation here…we need to change our expectations of work. The good news is that industry is not as dirty as it has been. Throughout school, Millennials are exposed to images of industry that date back to the Industrial Revolution or the industrial boom during WWII…exhausted people covered in soot.
Thankfully these images do not depict modern manufacturing. Not even close. The modern factory is semi-or fully automated, many employing elements of the IoT to increase efficiency. So why aren’t Millennials getting on board?
Industry is not properly recruiting them.
Because Millennials were raised with technology, the internet and social media, they tend to be more collaborative. They (we) are better at learning new technology as well as finding new ways to use technology to make adjustments and become more efficient. Millennials also tend to be more competitive; in a recent report CEB found that 58% of Millennials list competition as their primary professional motivation. (This compared with 48% of baby-boomers.)
Work-life balance and flexibility are important to Millennials. Many industries are currently unable to enable employees to work remotely (although VR and AR could change that in the future). This makes those jobs less attractive, pushing Millennials to fields like web development, programming, digital marketing and other work-from-anywhere jobs.
So what’s the fix? Well, Millennials are highly attracted to automated technology. Anything that’s doable on a computer or console is superior to manual labor, which is often viewed as a punishment. Without a significant rebranding, labor-intensive industries will have trouble finding talented millennials to take over and provide leadership.
Portraying a realistic view of industry will have the greatest impact. Much manual labor is now performed via industrial automation. Industrial robots are replacing human workers in the most dangerous environments, while the humans work from a safe, comfy office, operating these robots using industrial augmented reality(IAR). We’re not all there yet, but within the coming years “manual labor” will consist of using a joystick or moving your hand to control a robot via virtual reality.
These things will lure Millennials. Then we have to give them reasons to stay. My generation is mobile. In the US in 2017, Millennials are 50% more likely to relocate and 16% more likely to switch industries for a new job than non-Millennials. Just 41% of Millennials expect to be in their current job in two years. This means that when employers hire Millennials they must keep them challenged and educated. As soon as things become monotonous, they may start looking for other opportunities.
More good news—there are organizations that train Millennials and inspire them to join mainstream industrial jobs. ISA, The Automation Federation, and the MCAA (Measurement, Control and Automation Association) work with educational institutes throughout the world to encourage students to choose industrial jobs over the (sometimes) more lucrative corporate ones. Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) majors are the primary targets for these programs.
While the challenges are great, the future is bright. Once the antiquated image of industrial jobs changes, once STEM students discover the opportunities that industrial jobs offer, we will see an uptick in Millennials in industry.
Greg Conrad is a writer for Ax Control.