The manufacturing industry is in a state of flux. On one hand, the Biden administration is working to pass an infrastructure bill that could potentially create half a million new manufacturing jobs by 2024. On the other hand, analysts predict a manufacturing skills gap will leave 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030. With a large number of baby boomers now retiring, could Generation Z — soon to be the world’s most populous generation — hold the key to manufacturing’s future?
The oldest members of Gen. Z, a generation defined in most cases as those born between 1995 and 2010, are just beginning to enter the workforce or very early in their careers. Gen. Z will account for 30 percent of the US workforce by 2030. What distinguishes this generation from its predecessors is that Gen. Z grew up with the internet and technology at their fingertips.
If this younger generation is expected to play a critical role in filling new manufacturing opportunities, some education will be required to attract Generation Z to manufacturing. While research by my employer, Parsable, revealed that Gen. Z-ers have a newfound respect for manufacturing following the COVID-19 pandemic, it also revealed the generation’s lingering negative opinions about jobs in manufacturing.
What will it take to bring this young generation of digital natives to manufacturing? Here are three things manufacturers can do to change Gen. Z’s misconceptions and make a career in manufacturing more desirable.
1. Clearly Communicate Pay and Benefits
According to Parsable’s survey of 1,000 recently graduated US-based respondents, 52 percent of Gen. Z-ers are disinterested in or neutral toward frontline manufacturing work. Sixty-five percent of respondents expressed a belief that entry-level manufacturing positions pay less than the overall average for all entry-level jobs. However, Glassdoor reports the average entry-level manufacturing job pays $59,505 annually, higher than the $40,000 annual salary average for all entry-level jobs.
To attract Gen. Z job applicants, hiring managers must better communicate the attractive salaries and benefits packages available in the manufacturing sector. Some manufacturers, like Custom Rubber Corp. in Cleveland, have so far found success in filling open roles by increasing pay and benefits.
2. Partner With Educational Institutions
Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Parsable survey said they might be interested in manufacturing if they had access to related programs while in school; however, 53 percent also said they didn’t have any exposure to manufacturing at all in school.
Manufacturing employers should partner with high schools, vocational two-year programs, and four-year universities to provide hands-on workshops and real-world opportunities for students to learn more about the benefits of a career in the industry.
Programs like the World Economic Forum’s New Generation Industry Leaders and The National Association of Manufacturers’ Creators Wanted aim to inspire younger generations to join the manufacturing field. We need more of these.
3. Invest in Digital Tools
With Gen. Z-ers being the consummate digital natives, manufacturing facilities that offer digital tools to help them work and collaborate better will be most attractive to this generation.
Additionally, as baby boomers leave the workforce, so too will their vast and often unrecorded knowledge of best practices and operational processes. Organizations can rely on digital technologies to capture and digitize standard operating procedures so they can be relayed to the next generation of manufacturing talent. This is critical knowledge for new hires to have if they are to ensure their work is safely done right the first time and every time. As veteran manufacturing workers depart the industry, recording their expertise in a central location enables work to continue effectively and efficiently.
Digital tools can also help organizations removed and streamline previously paper-based processes. After all, most will agree that paper is not Gen. Z’s preferred channel of communication and collaboration. Manufacturers must invest in the right technologies and software to support their current and prospective employees.
There’s no doubt that Gen. Z -ers will be vital to the future success of the manufacturing industry. As manufacturers prioritize the recruitment of young talent, they will need to communicate the benefits of this career path, partner with educational facilities to shape a positive view of the industry, and invest in the digital technologies that Gen. Z has grown up with.
Today’s factories look very different than they did even a decade earlier, and manufacturers need to show young workers that the industry is actually very advanced, future-focused, and a great career path.
Connie Sung Moyle is director, global corporate communications and content, at Parsable.
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