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Millennials and Manufacturing: Eight Tips to Attract and Train a 21st Century Workforce

The workforce is rapidly changing into something unfamiliar to most manufacturers, but that doesn't mean you can't take action to attract the right talent.

The American workforce is changing. As of 2015 the millennial generation (who the U.S. Census Bureau defines as anyone born between 1981-1996) has overtaken baby boomers (born between 1946-1964) to be the largest generation of the American population.

With this evolving workforce the manufacturing industry faces a distinct new challenge—how to update its public perception to attract this new workforce.

New research from Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute indicate that the U.S. public ranks manufacturing as vital to the domestic economy (ranking #4). Yet only 30% of the same group would encourage their children to pursue manufacturing jobs. The outlook is even bleaker for millennials, who rank the industry as their least preferred career destination.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the manufacturing industry. If we pair this negative public perception of manufacturing with increasing retirement rates for baby boomers, we can expect to see a major workforce gap emerge. In fact, another recent study by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute finds that US manufacturing is expected to face a shortage of two million skilled workers over the 2015–2025. It makes sense why manufacturing executives continue to list talent recruitment as a top driver for manufacturing competitiveness. 

So, what can manufacturers do to address this problem and attract the next generation workforce to join their ranks? We’ve compiled a list below of eight tips to attract and train millennials for manufacturing careers.

1. Actively dispel the myths of manufacturing careers.

Be proactive in highlighting the benefits of careers in the industry. Calling out stats that indicate stability and growth potential can be very effective. For example, manufacturing has the highest average wages of private sector industries ($81,289) and the highest tenure for workers (9.7 years). These provide opportunities to alter the public perception of industry careers as a whole.

2. Highlight the advanced technologies that drive modern manufacturing

It’s no secret that millennials are a tech-savvy generation, having grown up as ‘digital natives.’ Generating awareness around the state-of-the-art technologies and innovation that manufacturing relies on, provides companies an opportunity to compete with the appeal of Silicon Valley jobs. These technologies include wearable AR/VR devices, advanced robots, and more. By bringing the use of tech to the forefront, manufacturers can actively change the inaccurate perception of an outdated and dirty workplace.

3. Re-evaluate recruiting strategies

Take a close look at job postings. Be vocal about debunking myths of the conditions of manufacturing, these perceptions are harmful to the industry and are preventing qualified people from applying. Include language that indicates an evolving career with plenty of room for growth. A focus on work-life balance can set job listings apart, as millennials often cite this as a top factor when evaluating jobs.

4. Focus on career development

Be sure recruitment and training programs don’t imply a static position with little room for growth. Millennials are in the process of beginning their careers, and are not interested in dead-end jobs, but ambitious in their desire for growth. Consider calling out potential advancement opportunities or create a career roadmap—the more opportunities for growth you can share, the easier it becomes to recruit new hires.

5. Consider a co-mentoring program

Have an employee from an older generation help a younger team member understand work culture and processes, while the younger employee helps their partner manage technology and new tools at work. This can help improve communication and training for all ages of the workforce.

6. Provide opportunities for learning

Younger generations are interested in developing skills in their jobs. By investing in programs like internships, apprenticeships, and certification programs, companies can begin to recruit and develop employees early in their career.

7. Focus on capturing tribal knowledge

Consider implementing standard work instruction software to create training materials quickly, capture tribal knowledge, and distribute revisions without delay. A major advantage to systems like this is also their inclusion of photos and videos into instructions, allowing for easy communication of complex procedures.

8. Implement feedback loops to foster creative thinking

This gives younger employees opportunities to provide innovative solutions to business problems and feel invested in the company’s success. Providing areas to share feedback increases collaboration and keeps newer employees engaged.

For even more tips about recruiting and training millennials, download the free e-book “How-to Train the Next Generation of Manufacturers” published by Dozuki.

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