4 Ways Manufacturers Can Attract Millennials to Their Workforce

Mark Dohnalek  |   September 06, 2017

One of the problems in the manufacturing sector that is often overlooked is that, while it’s true that there are fewer entry-level jobs in manufacturing today than there used to be, the sector also faces a major lack of workers who are willing and able to take the jobs that do exist.

There are lots of manufacturing jobs available today – many of them, however, require highly skilled workers. These workers are proving difficult to find.

Another serious issue we as an industry need to address is the need to attract younger workers. The manufacturing workforce is retiring in massive numbers – according to a report by Deloitte, by 2025 current manufacturing workers will vacate 2.7 million jobs. We’ve got to make sure we have the employees to fill those positions.

With that in mind, here are a few things that manufacturers can do to attract more Millennials into our workforce.

Embrace mobile connectivity

Millennials may not be the “digital natives” that members of the next generation, Generation Z, are, but they still expect to be able to do their work, contact their supervisors, and handle any technical issues on a mobile device.

For workers in this group, having to go from the manufacturing floor to an upstairs office in order to send an email or input assembly data just doesn’t make sense.

Manufacturers should make mobile connectivity a priority. That means investing in rugged devices, whether tablets or smartphones, as well as in their IT infrastructure.

Other ways to incorporate more mobile capabilities are to ensure that your website is mobile-responsive, and to make your job application mobile-accessible.

Incorporate apprenticeships and/or paid internships

Manufacturing isn’t the most accessible of industries for young people. While many likely have parents or other family members who work in an office environment, it’s far less likely that those young people have a family member who works in a manufacturing plant, or who operates one of the high-tech machines that are now being used in factories all over the world.

Apprenticeships and paid internships are one important way to help encourage manufacturing as an option for young people considering different careers to pursue. They can even be helpful to Millennials who have been in the workforce for several years – after all, most are switching jobs every 4 years or so, and many are switching careers, as well.

Invest in our image

One of the biggest issues that manufacturing struggles with when it comes to recruiting younger workers is its image.

As an industry, we have not been good enough at communicating what it’s really like to work at a manufacturing facility in 2017. So many young people, when they think of working in a factory, think of blue-collar drudgery: putting together the same two parts on an assembly line, day in and day out.

The reality, of course, is that in many factories there are more people writing code and running complex robots than there are manually handling parts. These high-tech jobs are well-paying, offer great advancement opportunities, and like most technology-related work, come with some prestige. These are the types of careers that many Millennials might be interested in – if they knew about them.

GE is one company that has been working hard to give young people a clearer image of what the new manufacturing job looks like. In their ad series “What the Matter with Owen?” the title character, a recent college grad, tells everyone from his parents to his friends that he got a job at GE writing code that lets machines talk to each other.

In one, he’s in his parents’ living room, talking about his new job. His father, proud of his son for working in manufacturing, gives him his “grandpappy’s hammer” to take to work. That’s when Owen breaks the news that he won’t be needing the hammer, since he’ll be a software developer – not a machinist.

These are the kinds of efforts we need to see more of.

Manufacturing as an industry has a bright future – but only if we can find and attract the talent we need to fill the thousands of positions that will be created over the next few decades.

For more, read my post “What Do the Next 10 Years Hold for Global Manufacturing?