According to research from Deloitte, 83% of Americans believe manufacturing is a foundational part of the nation’s economy, and 70% think there should be more investment in manufacturing.
So the future of manufacturing is bright, right? Not exactly. In fact, when it comes to attracting the next generation of workers, manufacturing suffers from an image problem. Because that same research shows that one-third of Americans wouldn’t encourage their children to work in manufacturing.
It’s a glaring contradiction. Historically, manufacturing jobs have played a large part in helping families move up the social ladder. However, these jobs are being lost in the conversation when it comes to millennials and Generation Z. It’s time to fix that.
Starch Your ‘New Collar’
When we think of manufacturing jobs, we instantly conjure up images from history books: dirty factory floors, assembly lines, and endless monotony. The reality, though, is something quite different: pristine workspaces, teamwork, and boundless possibility.
In order to shift the thinking about manufacturing, we have to shift how we discuss it. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty recently came up with a new phrase that I believe encapsulates modern manufacturing perfectly: “New Collar.” Today’s manufacturing organizations harness amazing technology to get the job done. “In manufacturing, we use all of the tools that the kids are seeing in video games and in movies. We come out of science fiction. We’re using robots and lasers and AI,” says Sarah Boisvert, chief 3D printing officer at Potomac Photonics.
Recently I attended the Manufacturing and Technology Conference in Pittsburgh, the technology being used there opened my eyes to manufacturing industry. More advanced and better technology is currently used in manufacturing than in your generic IT industry. 3-D printers to robotics and self-driven forklifts are far more interesting than creating a business software. I wondered why not many younger generation workers are flocking to manufacturing jobs. I believe manufacturers are not marketing it right. It’s all about packaging, manufacturers should know. A “New Collar” workforce campaign is needed.
Consider Work Education Programs
Shifting the conversation about manufacturing will require more than just marketing. Many manufacturing jobs don’t call for four years of college, but they do require training. Organizations that haven’t already done so need to embrace talent pipelines such as apprentice, associate degree, and certification programs.
A great example of one of these programs is run by Boisvert. In addition to her work at Potomac Photonics, she’s the founder of Fab Lab Hub, a training center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It offers training programs that offers credentials in six weeks. “Someone can come in, and for six weeks and $250 they can try something,” she says. “They can try design for 3D printing with CAD and discover what that is like and whether it’s a fit.” Fab Lab Hub also offers project-based learning, which lets students get their hands dirty—figuratively, of course.
While we often associate training programs like these with younger workers just entering the workforce, they are also a boon to attracting those looking to transition to new careers. Acquiring new skills can happen quickly, and transitions can prove incredibly exciting. “For a lot of the people who come and take our classes, who maybe never thought they’d work in manufacturing, it opens up a lot of doors,” Boisvert says.
The push to tell young workers about these opportunities should be broad and wide. “Involve parents, teachers, and counselors,” says Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of consulting firm RainmakerThinking. “Highlight how trade work has drastically changed in the last couple of decades.”
I met with a couple of dedicated folks at National Tooling and Machine Association (www.NTMA.org), which supports and helps manufacturing organizations develop apprenticeship and hands-on training programs in collaboration with local high schools and other educational institutes. Look at this organization for workforce development opportunities. (http://www.ntma.org/initiatives/workforce-development/)
Adopt a Career Mindset
When discussing your organization, remember that you’re not selling a job. You’re selling a career.
That means that you’re not just in competition with other manufacturing organizations but with other industries in trying to attract the best talent. In fact, manufacturing has a particular advantage here. It’s an industry with one foot firmly in the next generation of technology, but it doesn’t require a generation’s worth of education.
Selling a career also means examining your operations. Look at your benefits packages and how you schedule operations. Many organizations outside of manufacturing now offer remote work and flexible hours. While manufacturing generally can’t offer remote work, flexible scheduling is possible. Glassdoor research indicates that millennials and members of Generation Z value flexible hours in the workplace.
An interesting anecdote from the Manufacturing & Technology conference where some panelists from manufacturing companies were discussing this same topic. I visited their career site and was appalled to find those pages and the application process so antiquated that I wondered if any millennial or Gen Z worker will ever apply to their jobs...career pages and the application looked like it was from 1990s. It is Talent Acquisition leadership that needs to keep themselves abreast of the newest technology used to attract and engage candidates of all generations.
And both of these generations place ultimate importance on work environment. Demonstrate your organization’s culture is strong and worker-friendly, and that a career in manufacturing is an opportunity to do a lot of really cool stuff that other careers don’t let you do.
I might sound like a square trying to be cool to keep up with the youngsters, but really that’s exactly what manufacturing is now: It’s pretty cool.
About Manoj Tiwari:
Manoj Tiwari is VP of Product Development at Berkshire Associates and oversees the development of balanceTRAK talent acquisition system. But most importantly, Manoj is an HR technology enthusiast and has spent the last 18 years helping HR professionals work smarter through the use of innovative HR technology.
Manoj has emerged as one of the industry’s leading authorities on engineering SaaS-based solutions. He has held distinguished positions at companies like IBM, EDS, Amtrak, and KPMG. In addition to his excellent business acumen, designing innovative software solutions and executive management experience, Manoj holds a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems from University of Miami.
See more articles from Manoj on TalentTalk or connect @TalentTechie on Twitter.