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Industry Updates

Is Generation Z the Saving Grace for Manufacturing?


It’s exciting to see manufacturers engage their local workforce and younger generations in the reality of how dynamic manufacturing careers can be. This is what has made Manufacturing Day so popular each year – a day when manufacturers get to show off all that is great and cool about their operations. In 2019, there were more than 3,000 MFG Day events across the country, and more than 325,000 students, teachers and parents participated.

While that is a good sign for the industry, manufacturers are still dealing with the labor shortage in their facilities, and it’s a challenge that is not going away. The Manufacturing Institute is an industry resource working to attract more women, veterans and students to the market, but individual operations need to know how to target their search for quality employees. Manufacturing Best Practices recently spoke to Alan Mindlin, technical manager at Morey, a U.S.-based electronics manufacturer.He also is the Vice Chair of Illinois’ DuPage County Workforce Innovation Board; the board explores how to get people into the workforce and funds programs that help them to succeed. Mindlin sees possibility in Generation Z, which is now entering the workforce and explains how this group can be recruited.

Manufacturing Best Practices: What is the current state of the manufacturing landscape relative to the skills gap and labor shortage?

Alan Mindlin: For years, the manufacturing industry has been struggling to attract and retain talent. Between a limited number of new recruits joining the industry’s workforce and an aging population, there’s a definitive labor shortage in the industry. In fact, the industry will be left with about 2.4 million positions unfilled between now and 2028, according to a recent Deloitte study. And because of the disparity between new recruits and veteran workers, tribal knowledge is heading out the door along with retiring generations. Ultimately, the industry is finding they have a significant skills gap to fill on top of the labor shortage.

MBP: Why do Gen Z’s work preferences align so well with the manufacturing industry?

AM: After seeing millennials overburdened with student debt, Gen Z is determined to make more practical decisions, with an emphasis on financial stability, when it comes to their education. Relative to their careers, Gen Z realizes they may not need a four-year degree to get the job done. Unless their desired career path requires a bachelor’s degree, many Gen Zers are instead looking at attending technical colleges, vocational schools, certification programs or even on-the-job instruction. For instance, College of San Mateo started its Internet of Things (IoT) Programming Certificate of Specialization, which walks students through IoT basics and development of cloud-based mobile applications.

MBP: Why do you think so few people are applying for manufacturing jobs?

AM: Most members of Gen Z who are soon to enter the workforce have yet to consider manufacturing as a career option. This is mostly due to a lack of awareness and misperceptions. Many parents consider manufacturing an out-dated, low-paying and unchallenging field, and they encourage their Gen Z children to pursue more traditional white-collar jobs. However, tech giants like Apple and Google are often using the same technology found in a manufacturing facility, such as IoT. For instance, our customer Verizon developed its own IoT offerings for customers in industries like global manufacturing so they can leverage data collection to improve business operations, such as streamlining communication. Unfortunately, by the time most of these potential job candidates learn about the opportunities in the manufacturing industry, they’ve already chosen a different major or begun another vocational career path.

MBP: What skills do those entering the manufacturing space need to have to be successful?

AM: As Industry 4.0 continues to grow, it’s important for new entrants to the manufacturing force be familiar with the technologies associated with this next wave of manufacturing: namely IoT, AI and machine learning. While AI and machine learning help manufacturers make faster, more intelligent decisions, IoT is important in machine-to-machine communication for improved efficiency and data collection, which can be used to optimize processes on the factory floor.

MBP: How can employers take steps to raise awareness about the labor gap and recruit more Gen Zers?

AM: There are a few ways manufacturers can raise awareness about the labor shortage and recruit more Gen Zers. For instance, public outreach and partnership programs (like setting up a booth at a high school career fair) can help reach Gen Zers before they commit to a career path. It’s also important to remember Gen Z workplace preferences, so touting on-the-job perks, like four-day work weeks and flexible hours, can also help encourage Gen Zers to pursue manufacturing careers and fill the labor shortage.