Myths About Millennials in Manufacturing

March 6, 2014
Not only have young professionals misjudged the opportunities that a career in manufacturing can provide, companies need to forget what they’ve read about Millenials and invite them in.

Jobs in manufacturing industries face critical misconceptions today. Tedious work that lacks intellectual stimulation is among the most egregious from those on the outside. Instead, when visiting a U.S. factory floor, one can see any number of specialists operating complex machines to create the newest invention, all while using specific skills and knowledge to maximize efficiency.

Still, because of this stigma, young professionals of the Millennial generation have steered clear of technical schools, having no interest in taking a job in manufacturing. Their parents and society at large have played a role here as learning skilled trades has been waylaid by the promise of riches and repute following a turn at a four-year college or university.

There was a time when a four-year degree spoke for itself, but as more U.S. adults obtain a higher education, what differentiates candidates is now a master’s degree or sufficient experience. But how does one find a job to gain experience in the first place? This catch-22 can be avoided altogether by attending trade school.

There is a mismatch between job openings and skills, according to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle professorship at Harvard Business School. “Millions of unfilled jobs require more than a high-school diploma but not a college degree—so-called middle-skill jobs, many of which are well-paid (lab technicians, advanced manufacturing specialists, computer programmers).”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, middle-skill jobs will make up about 45 percent of all openings projected through 2014. And, of the occupations requiring post-secondary education, those requiring an associate degree or a certificate (e.g., construction and manufacturing) are projected to grow the fastest, at about 19 percent.

We are battling archaic ideas alongside a current skilled labor force that is drastically aging out while the number of manufacturing jobs continues to grow. With this, an opportunity arises to educate Millennials on the increasingly innovative environment of manufacturing and the role they can play in driving the industry forward. It’s time to forget what you’ve read about Millennials in the workplace and start attracting them to yours. Here are two key reasons why manufacturing jobs make the perfect culture fit for Millennials:

1. Millennials aren’t difficult to manage when allowed to work creatively.

Just because young professionals exemplify a work ethic different from the norm doesn’t mean they can’t thrive under traditional leadership styles. It’s the variance of perspectives and expectations between professionals of different eras that can turn the office into a generational battlefield. This generation is one that seeks to apply originality in all facets of life, and work is no different. Their fresh perspective and unique ideas enhance their work and that of the team, and is reflected in an organization’s bottom line and future prospects.

Their enticing can-do attitude and gumption to tackle any task at hand in an efficient way can be amplified when paired with constructive, frequent feedback and motivation. Millennials want lofty tasks to challenge them in new ways, yet also need support and encouragement from leadership to bring their ideas and innovation full circle. To create a culture conducive to innovation, start small—3M and Google allocate 10 percent of “free time” for their staff to experiment with new ideas.

2. Millennials believe in “we” more so than “me.”

As a generation, they strongly value peer-to-peer relationships as a means to renovate workplace cultures. When expectations are clearly articulated, Millennials welcome the opportunity to work alongside Boomers and undergo the necessary knowledge transfer from those on the cusp of retirement. This means they can generally assimilate well, which makes on-the-job-training less costly and more efficient.

Begin empowering collaboration between generations by leveraging mentorship pairs. The more seasoned employees can speak to company tradition and methodology, while the emerging professionals can teach new technologies and efficiencies. By doing so, we open up the lines of communication and knowledge sharing in a way that leads to the development of forward-thinking methodologies that can improve our current systems and operations.

If there isn’t an active strategy in place to increase the number of Millennials employed within the manufacturing industry, we will miss a valuable and important opportunity to improve our workplaces and cultivate new ways of thinking. If we stop subscribing to the blanket statements about Millennials, we can start showing these professionals the real opportunities within the walls of our own organizations. They are the next generation of leaders and they will shape the future of our workforce; let’s give them the knowledge and experience to do so for the greater good.

>> Dan Campbell is founder/CEO of Hire Dynamics and 2014 chairman of the American Staffing Association.

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