It’s a tough fact to swallow: the skills gap in manufacturing means that 2 million jobs will potentially go unfulfilled in the next decade in this sector. The solution to this problem can be even tougher for an older generation to face: we need Millennials in our workforce, and we need them now.
Let me start by saying that I dislike being categorized as a boomer and suspect many others dislike being categorized by age. Not everyone fits neatly into these categories, but it does offer a framework to address an ongoing challenge.
As a Baby Boomer I know about the stereotypes that are placed on Millennials—they’re often portrayed as lazy, unloyal, and ungrateful. I haven’t found that to be the case. To recruit this generation to our industry, we need to be aware that Millennials are simply less constrained by what we see as conventional behavior. At their core, they need to be inspired, to be mentored, and to be recognized. That’s really not very different from every other group. The difference is in how we accomplish that inspiration, motivation and recognition. It’s up to our generation to figure out the most efficient ways to do this.
Don’t expect a Millennial to just take your word for it without explaining yourself. This is a generation that grew up with a world of information at their fingertips. They can be natural skeptics, but this can in turn become natural problem-solving. So, explain your processes and take the time to mentor. It seems like a small detail, but to a Millennial, it can be the reason they do or don’t stay at a company.
Be open to other ideas
Not every idea is going to be a good one, but it’s worth listening to them even when the answer is “no.” Listening to ideas gives employees a sense of meaning and autonomy rather than only performing monotonous work without any real thought behind it. This generation isn’t immune to needing to feel respected and valued by authority figures. And guess what—you’re going to get some great ideas in the process.
Manufacturing is more than an assembly line—It’s about problem-solving and utilizing the best technology available and coordinating the actions of a high-powered team. But, because of its long-standing reputation as back-breaking work, not everyone realizes that. When talking to Millennials, tell them about the technologies the industry uses and make sure they know that when they choose a career in this sector, they’re choosing a rewarding and fulfilling workplace.
Don’t take lack of conventional behavior as an insult
A good friend of mine recently sought advice from me. He has recently employed a Millennial at his workplace and wasn’t sure how to address the differences in their workplace habits. As a Baby Boomer, he is more tied to conventional behavior and was bothered by his new employee’s tendency to come in five to ten minutes late to work. In our conversation, we soon realized that the employee didn’t see it as a problem; he was working hours of overtime every week, and it hadn’t crossed his mind that this would be an issue. Suddenly, my friend had a way to bridge this gap with the employee and to discuss the appropriate behavior for their particular workplace.
Create an ambassador program
Millennials listen to their peers, and they also seek to add value to their communities. This makes an ambassador program a no-brainer. Your younger employees will be able to connect with recruits on high school and college campuses, talking to students about their potential careers in the industry. It also gives those younger employees a sense of pride about their careers and value, and when you have pride in your job, you are much more likely to stay at that job.
As Baby Boomers, we need to acknowledge that the job market has changed and adapt to it. This can be a difficult and frustrating process, but ultimately will be a fulfilling and effective way to solve the future of the manufacturing industry.