Right at the end of 2014, I received a copy of report based on ThomasNet’s Industry Market Barometer (IMB) survey. As you might expect, given ThomasNet’s long-standing relationship with the manufacturing community, a large focus of the report was the recent trend towards reshoring. In some cases it is for the sake of moving final production closer to the source of demand, in others to shorten supply chains, trading cheap labor for reliability and agility.
Of the 490 survey respondents, the overwhelming majority of which are SMB’s, 63% expected to grow in 2014. The greatest potential impediment to that growth is a serious shortage of workers available and interested in openings and careers in manufacturing. As the baby boomer generation prepares to leave the workplace, a generation with an equally unique identity – the Millennials – prepares to move in. And therein lies the problem. Right now, the relationship between manufacturing companies and Millennials is cold and rocky at best.
Manufacturing companies seem less likely than other industries to hold the chipper opinion that Millennials are to be revered for their fresh ideas, native adoption of technology, and broad mindedness about virtual workplaces and environmental sustainability. As stated in the IMB report, “Forty-three percent of respondents believe that this generation [Milliennials] lacks the work ethic and discipline to succeed.” That is certainly not a glowing endorsement.
Sadly, the dislike seems to be mutual. According to a recent article run in the Portland Press Herald, “the pool of potential recruits is limited by the mistaken impression that manufacturing means doing dirty jobs in dirty places.” For a generation as image conscious as the Millennials, manufacturing just does not fit into their ideal career scenario.
Ironically, the trouble plaguing both sides of the manufacturing/Millennial divide is that their positions are based more on perception than fact, and they contain more than a few broad generalizations. It may be that these two groups have more in common than they realize. And if they can get past their distaste for each other, they may just find an opportunity for mutual fulfillment and success.
Manufacturing is no longer the grueling, dirty shift work it used to be. Many operations are highly automated, and rely heavily on robotics and software to get the job done. The use of mobile devices and apps are on the rise, and although manufacturing lags other industries in their use of this newer technology, the potential is there. This is an opportunity being watched by industry experts such as Shahrukh Irani, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University. “Mobile apps could be a potential game-changer for the way small and midsize high-mix, low-volume operations facilitate lean manufacturing,” Irani said to Industry Week. And once manufacturers prioritize the adoption of mobile technology on the plant floor, Millennials may get the opportunity to lead the transition.
Millennials have been held back by the negative perceptions of others as well. Workplace expert Dan Schawbel discussed some of their ‘workplace wants’ with Time Magazine last year, “Millennials tend to seek flexible work schedules so that they can deliver value to their employers whenever duty calls, while at the same time flex schedules hopefully give them time to fit in personal activities they enjoy. They seek companies that will enable them to work remotely so they can blend personal activities during the day, not just during the night or on weekends.” For anyone who has ever had to fight for a job, holding out for such a flexible arrangement seems immature. And yet, it doesn’t need to be a deal killer. It certainly depends upon the schedule of each manufacturing operation, but having the option to work a traditional second shift does present an alternative to the 9 to 5 routine.
One thing is clear, both manufacturing and Millennials will benefit from keeping an open mind about each other. If they can overcome their differences the potential gains for both are huge. It also presents the opportunity for them to join forces and make a significant positive impact on the U.S. economy, enabling the growth that the manufacturing industry is poised to achieve if they can keep each operation properly staffed.
If you are interested in learning more about the IMB survey and report, click here.