EverythingPeople This Week!

Published on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Attracting Young Workers into Manufacturing Careers

Author: Heather Nezich

Over the next ten years, there could be a vast shortage of manufacturing employees – up to 2 million.  This is due to a shortage of qualified workers and the 2.7 million workers that are expected to retire in the next decade.  In addition, it’s projected that 700,000 new jobs will result from business growth.  The manufacturing industry needs to find a way to attract today’s youth to manufacturing careers and the educational system needs to work with manufacturers to provide them with the proper education and training.

According to Deloitte, 7 out of 10 manufacturing executives surveyed report shortages of workers with adequate technical and computer skills.  69% reported that applicants lack problem-solving skills, or soft skills.

The misconception that manufacturing is nothing but dirty, grunt work has contributed to this issue.  Youth today don’t realize the technical and problem-solving skills necessary in a manufacturing workplace and are not aware of any path for career growth in that field.  “Back in my parents’ and grandparents’ day, manufacturing was considered to be a great job, a great career path for people,” stated Evan Stall, HR Manager at Federal-Mogul Powertrain – South Bend.  “Now people view it as a lower job in society in general.  The stigma is a huge issue.”

The negative perception is overwhelming according to Eric Isbister, CEO of GenMet Corp. “At a recent high school career fair, parents pulled their teens away from the manufacturing table,” he stated.  According to Deloitte, only 1 in 3 parents said they would encourage their child to pursue a career in the industry, and manufacturing ranks last as a career choice among Generation Y (ages 19-33).

So what can HR professionals in the manufacturing industry do to turn around this perception and attract today’s youth?  In a blog article written by Derek Singleton, ERP Analyst for Software Advice he states that we need to reacquaint today’s youth with the concept of building and designing products from an early age.  In the blog, he shares two examples:

1.       Manufacturing Summer Camps – Gadget Camp offers an innovative summer camp where teenagers learn how to build things from concept to completion.  They utilize computer aided design technology and oversee the project through to the end.  More camps like these are needed.

2.       Gamification of Manufacturing – Several companies now use gaming technology to capitalize on our youth’s obsession with video games.  Invensys has been using 3D gaming technology to teach new hires how to operate oil refinery equipment.  Siemens recently released “Plantville”, a program designed to teach manufacturing processes and technologies to young people as well as new hires.

These camps provide the necessary hands-on experience students need in order to encourage them to even consider a career in manufacturing.  It helps them realize the high level of skills actually required to operate or design some of the equipment utilized in manufacturing.

Recruiters must deal with the image problem manufacturing experiences.  Eric Isbister, CEO of GenMet Corp, states that they spend a lot of time at local high schools, community colleges, and technical schools.  “We hire teachers for two-week stints in the summer.  We want teachers to go back to their school and tell students why they need math,” he states.  He also works diligently to dispel the myth that manufacturing is “dirty.”  On Manufacturing Day last year they offered plant tours.  They had over 250 students tour the plant.  “When they come in, they see automated equipment and computers.” My employees know it’s their job to make students aware they can be successful here.”  Most youth don’t realize the amount of automation and the skill necessary to operate the machinery.

In addition to updating recruitment efforts and changing the image of manufacturing, companies must seek new ways to retain manufacturing hourly employees.  So much focus is placed on salaried, higher level workers, that hourly workers are often left in the dust resulting in high turnover.  In order to attract and retain high quality employees, you must offer career growth from even the lowest position.  Show candidates that a career path is possible.

Some new benefit concepts appearing in manufacturing settings are flexible schedules and vacation time.  At Globe Manufacturing Co. LLC employees are allowed to choose from a 6:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. start time.  “Our employees actually love that,” says HR Manager Gayle Troy, SHRM-SCP. “Although more than 80% end up choosing the 6:00 a.m. start time they previously had, they feel better about it.  It’s about giving them a choice,” she says.

They also offer flexible vacation time.  In the past vacation time was only allowed to be taken during a 2-week plant shutdown each summer.  Now each employee receives 22 days of paid time off per year, which can be used for vacation, appointments, or illness.  Any time not used at the end of the year is reimbursed to the employee.

A unique perk offered to USG employees in Chicago is the opportunity to have a say in what the ten paid holidays are each year.  Workers recently chose to make the opening day of hunting season one of the ten paid holidays.  They also enjoy the opportunity to shift swap and sell back vacation time at the end of the year.

Many young adults are not aware that career opportunities exist within the manufacturing field.  It’s important to work with area youth to increase awareness and interest in the field and offer career plans and benefits that will attract them to your company long term. 


Sources:  savingusmanufacturing.com, forbes.com, SHRM.org


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