The perception of the manufacturing industry by younger generations, such as Millennials, has been misconstrued to be a work environment that is antiquated, dirty and dangerous. This perception needs to change in order for Millennials and future generations to enthusiastically join this workforce.
What can the manufacturing industry do?
The manufacturing industry needs to keep up with changing worker expectations in order to attract talent. It is well-known that the manufacturing industry is relying on younger generations to fill the shoes of skilled employees who have worked long within the industry. However, it may not be that easy as 84% of industry executives have agreed that there is a shortage of talent within the US, according to a study done by the Manufacturing Institute of Deloitte. Furthermore, not only is the skill gap widening, but Deloitte’s research shows that an estimated 60% of the manufacturing jobs will go unfilled due to these talent shortages.
Millennials and younger generations are not interested in manufacturing because many have not been properly exposed to it. Studies have shown that only 16% of US high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. More often than not, schools do not even have the resources for a robust STEM program for students.
A study from The National Defense Industrial Association reported that between 5th and 12th grade, 74% of the children do not have access to or interest in STEM. These students lack the coursework needed to thrive in today’s advanced manufacturing environment; they lack an understanding of the industry’s potential impact. During my high school education, STEM classes (like coding) were an elective course that was pass/fail. While the opportunity was given, the emphasis and guidance were not there as to where we could take this new knowledge. While science, coding, engineering and medicine are often stressed as logical STEM careers, manufacturing rarely is. The manufacturing industry seems so foreign to us since there is a lack of appropriate exposure to the culture. Millennials and younger generations probably refer to their history textbooks when the term “manufacturing” is used, dating back to the Second Industrial Revolution where the work environment actually was an dirty and dangerous.
How to close the gap?
Manufacturing companies need to take the lead in attracting younger talent by creating strategies that not only optimize talent acquisition and deployment, but also contribute to developing skills and interest in their communities. If there is a lack of talent because schools do not have the proper STEM programs, companies could consider starting an educational program to help develop it. It is important to establish mentors that can teach students the applications of what they are learning and support them in ensuring they are capable of, one day, being a part of the manufacturing community.
The industry becomes less daunting to young students if they have relationships with experts in the field who can help guide them. Modern manufacturing is clean, tech-dependent, full of opportunity, etc. What better way to showcase this than by having young talent visit manufacturing facilities in-person for special exposure programs or school trips?
Growing up in New York City, I had minimal exposure to manufacturing since the financial industry dominates the city. This may not be the case in other areas of the country. However, the industry needs to acknowledge these geographical challenges and use digital technology to its advantage to help bring greater awareness to what may seem like a foreign concept to many.
While retaining students within STEM is important, it is also relevant to mention that younger talent is often drawn away from manufacturing by the allure of the technology sector. How can we blame them when we live in such a digital environment? This further emphasizes the importance of building those mentorship relationships or STEM programs with students to educate them on the capabilities of the manufacturing industry.
With the overlap in recent years of both technology and manufacturing, it has made the manufacturing industry more appealing; it would be wise to use that as an advantage. Younger generations are attuned to areas like software-driven systems, (including IoT and robotics) giving them the aptitude for innovation.
Manufacturing leaders must be involved in helping educate young talent if the industry is to succeed. It needs bright young individuals to push us into the future. The industry has many advantages over other fields, from clean workspaces to tech-dependent work to competitive compensation. Such advantages need to be better marketed to young, talented people deciding what to do with their lives.
Arielle McKeever is a student at Loyola University Chicago