How Manufacturers Can Win the War for Millennial Workers

By January 23, 2018General, Shopfloor Main

Photo credit: Proto Labs

Millennials are now the largest group of U.S. workers by generation. But as we all know, attracting them into skilled manufacturing jobs remains a challenge.

In Indiana alone, a recent survey found 87 percent of manufacturers say they’ve experienced problems recruiting young people. And this is in a state that leads the nation with 17 percent of its workforce employed in manufacturing. Companies may be struggling even more in other parts of the country where the industrial workforce isn’t as robust.

So what can we do to mitigate the estimated 2 million of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs that will go unfilled in the next decade? Recruitment can help. But we need to connect with millennials at a more personal level, too.

That means showing millennials who want meaningful, high-paying and technology-driven jobs that they can get all those things in digital manufacturing. It also means fostering workplace cultures that focus on innovation and meeting millennials’ individual needs.

Reshape Perceptions

First and foremost, millennials must see manufacturing as a viable career choice. For too many, manufacturing drums up thoughts of loud, low-paying and physically labor-intensive jobs.

We need to show them what we already know: These aren’t your father’s manufacturing jobs. In fact, given how fast the industry is changing, these aren’t even your older brother’s manufacturing jobs.

It’s actually a perfect marriage. Millennials want technology jobs. And the industry is in need of software developers, data scientists and engineers to drive the digital revolution forward.

Some companies are leading the charge to change young people’s perceptions of the industry. For example, GE started running an ad campaign two years ago that smartly did two key things. First, it rebranded the company as “digital industrial.” Second, it made millennials the face of the company.

Such efforts may be working. A 2016 Opinion Research Corporation study commissioned by Proto Labs found that notably more millennials (37 percent) see manufacturing as a high-tech career choice than do baby boomers (23 percent) and Generation Xers (27 percent).

Change Your Culture

Of course, attracting millennial workers is one thing. Keeping them is another. This is where your corporate culture is vital.

As PwC points out, millennials want a management style and culture that meets their needs. And a key element of a strong corporate culture is alignment between your company’s values and your employees’ personal values.

3M, for example, helps attract millennials by allowing scientists and product makers to spend 15 percent of their time on their choice of projects. And who came in number one in a survey of the top workplaces for millennials? Ahead of tech giants like Google and Amazon? That’s right: 3M.

Make the Case for Manufacturing

Digital manufacturing presents an opportunity to ignite interest in our industry among millennials and close the perilous skills gap.

But the responsibility is on us. We must show these workers the digital transformation that manufacturing is undergoing and the personally and financially rewarding careers that it’s creating as a result. We also need to build adaptive, millennial-friendly workplace cultures that embrace innovation, experimentation and work-life balance. It is up to us, as an industry, to educate and foster workplaces that will continue to close the skills gap.

Vicki Holt

President & CEO at Proto Labs

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