Industryweek 34327 Millennials Passion

Why Manufacturing’s Not Cool

March 1, 2019
A high school student explains why you’re failing to reach teens and millennials.

At IndustryWeek, we often hear from manufacturers about their impressions of high school students; less often do we hear high school students’ impressions of manufacturers. Claire Kapitan is a high school student doing a job-shadowing project at IndustryWeek. For the project, we asked Claire to share her view on manufacturing so we and our readers could get some much-needed perspective. Thanks for sharing, Claire!

As a high school junior, my understanding of manufacturing is limited. Concepts such as lean methodology are alien. But this isn't because of my education.

I attend a private, all-girls Catholic high school where technology is strongly incorporated into my school curriculum. 3D printers, glass and wood laser cutters, and robotics materials are readily available for us to use and experiment with. However, engineering is an elective class, and if you do not have prior knowledge or interest in engineering coming into high school, you are unlikely to pursue this as a career interest.

Manufacturing never interested me, partly because I was never exposed to it. No one in my extended family worked in manufacturing, and it was never strongly encouraged or explained in my grade school, despite living in the Rust Belt.

As I grew to love art, history, and writing, engineering and manufacturing wasn't even on my radar. I chose classes at the other end of the spectrum in high school, and was never attracted to learning more about manufacturing from reading on my own. This is a similar story to many other teenagers, who are propelled away from manufacturing because of misconceptions and disinterest.

At the core of young people's disinterest in manufacturing and factory work is the belief that this work is dull and unrewarding—for the individual and community.

Meanwhile, within the manufacturing community, there is increasing awareness of the divide between millennials and the older working generation, as company owners try desperately to appeal to and understand youth.

Addressing the problem of attracting the younger generation begins with understanding them and how they think differently in terms of work.  

There is a vast difference in how those aging out of the workforce and youth view the “American Dream,” and in what they prioritize in work.

Older generations achieved success with security in work and finances. Most teenagers, on the other hand, don’t care as much about safety and reliability as they do about finding purpose and passion in their work. The younger generation strives for freedom, happiness, and the reassurance that their work is an asset to the larger world and is bettering their community.

Even when scanning the IndustryWeek website for stories to read, I found that I was attracted more to the stories that involved advancements in gender equality in manufacturing, how companies are being awarded for sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint, and how diversity is encouraged in STEM fields.

Manufacturing and factory jobs don't appeal to me—and most high school students I know—because they are associated with confinement, boredom, and little room for individual advancement or creativity.

My understanding of factory jobs, prior to more research during my time at IndustryWeek, consisted of thoughtless work at an assembly line, where a robot could easily take my place in the near future. Young people are steered away from this idea because the work seems stagnant, with no room for originality or individuality.

After working with IndustryWeek Senior Editor Laura Putre and reading a few IndustryWeek articles that address manufacturing job opportunities, I have grown to understand the large need for interest among young people in STEM careers, and how this disconnect, in lack of interest and understanding, is hurting this field.

In one article I read, the author talked about how factory jobs also demand creativity and innovative thinking since machines need to be designed, programmed, built, and operated—and that manufacturing careers offer opportunities to work with modern, evolving technology that has a dominant place in modern society. I was surprised—I hadn’t associated creativity with manufacturing or factory work.

In order to better engage youth, manufacturers have to focus on aspects of manufacturing jobs that involve creativity and innovative ideas, and have to highlight how their company is creating change in the community.

Instead of advertising manufacturing jobs with the selling points of high pay and job demand, center on how these careers offer a dynamic, meaningful, and purposeful line of work.

Not every high school student will have the opportunity I have had to better understand manufacturing, but can still be reached through the right platforms and with the right points that make us all passionate about working. If millennials have a chance to learn that manufacturing work is the future, where their ideas and imaginative minds have a place, there will be more of a response and eagerness to fill these jobs.

Manufacturers should advertise to teens that dropping out of school to begin making short films is not the only way to find a creative outlet.

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