Look across from you. There's a Millennial sitting there, able to adapt to a fast-paced, technological world, willing to learn and take your company to the next level.

But you’ve experienced Millennials, or at the most, you’ve heard of them, perhaps the most studied generation since the Baby Boomers. They come with a far different set of values, don’t like hard work, and would rather not do it your way.

Or so you think.

In plotting North America’s manufacturing trajectory, there is one thing manufacturers need to keep in mind – there is no continued growth without training the next generation.

ThomasNet’s latest Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) research finds that while the manufacturing sector may be seeing gains, a shortage of young talent, compounded by Baby Boomers’ negative perceptions about Millennials, could halt its continued expansion. So take another look at that Millennial – he or she is the future.

“It’s important for millennials to make a social impact, and our results show that this is possible in manufacturing, too,” said Linda Rigano, ThomasNet’s executive director of media relations. “Many of them care about sustainability, and our IMB respondents say that this area is more intrinsic to their jobs. They report that sustainable and green technologies, recycling and remanufacturing, and energy-related technologies will have a significant effect on their companies in the next two years.”

Growth Comes, For Now
Against this need to augment an aging workforce, product and custom manufacturers surveyed nonetheless have strengthened their operations.

Companies are hiring, increasing production capacity, and investing for more growth to come. More than half (58 percent) grew in 2013, and 63 percent expect even more gains by the end of 2014, according to ThomasNet. Keeping up with a global production cycle that is fueled by constant and rapid innovation, the IMB survey of nearly 500 manufacturers paints a picture of a sector that is reinventing itself every day: growing, expecting future growth, hiring, and investing to meet additional demand.

To enhance this momentum, more than half (52 percent) expect to add staff in the next several months, up from the 42 percent who planned to hire last year. Respondents’ companies are looking for trained, experienced people – manufacturing/production management, line workers, skilled trade workers and engineers – to keep up with current and future demand.

Finding The Common Ground
In this search for qualified workers, manufacturers can’t ignore what the IMB describes as “the ticking biological clock,” addressed in last year’s survey as the disruption that’s coming as Baby Boomers leave the workforce without people primed to replace them.

This year’s survey depicts the “ticking” turning to an alarm, the report states. Nearly half of this year’s respondents (49 percent) are 55 and older. Moreover, 38 percent plan to retire in one to 10 years, and most (65 percent) lack any succession plan.

These are representative of today’s manufacturing workforce, which is heavily populated by employees who are 45 and older.

Indeed, a meeting of the minds has to take place for manufacturers to take full advantage of a workforce that is being overlooked, the Millennial generation (age 18-32) —who can take the time to learn the business before their predecessors retire. Yet, most manufacturers (62 percent) say Millennials represent a small fraction of their workforce, and eight out of ten (81 percent) have no explicit plans to increase those numbers.

The data suggests that this is not happening simply because Millennials don’t think like the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers: Millennials, studies have shown, have a different view of work combined with a different set of expectations. Yet, this year’s data shows that the manufacturing industry increasingly aligns with Millennials’ value systems and technology expertise. For example, Millennials have an opportunity to make a social impact working with sustainable and green technologies, solar energy, and wind power. In addition, manufacturers cite innovations in design and manufacturing software, automation/robotics, and 3D printing as intrinsic to today’s jobs.

Forty-six percent of respondents to the IMB survey say that younger people still perceive manufacturing as “blue collar” work. And Baby Boomers’ perceptions of Millennials exacerbate the challenge. Forty-three percent of respondents believe that this generation lacks the work ethic and discipline to succeed.

The upshot is that manufacturers need to develop the resources of the millennial generation in order to ensure the future existence of their business. Some already are.

For example, Tracy Tenpenny, vice president sales and marketing, Tailored Label Products (TLP) of Menomonee Falls, Wis., says his company has been very successful in attracting millennials, which now comprise close to 50 percent of TLP’s workforce.

TLP is so committed to this age group, according to ThomasNet, that it has created Ten Commandments for Attracting and Retaining Millennials. One “commandment” is for the company to be involved in the fabric of its community, going out to local schools such as Waukesha Technical College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering and giving technical seminars and tours of its plants. TLP also co-sponsors Second Chance, a program that gives at-risk youth on-the-job training in manufacturing while they’re finishing their high school degrees. TLP also promotes ways that they’re unique and progressive with technology, such as social networking.

Such are the efforts that manufacturers need to make to reach across the generations.

“At a time when the American manufacturing sector is poised for a comeback, the talent shortage is the elephant-in-the-room that could stop and reverse progress. It will take the concerted effort of every manufacturer to reach across generational lines, and bring in the people who are critical to the industry’s continued success,” said ThomasNet’s President Mark Holst-Knudsen.

To download this year’s research, go to www.ThomasNet.com/imb.

About the Author
Linda Rigano is Executive Director, Media Relations with ThomasNet, which provides solutions that make it easier for buyers and engineers to partner with the right industrial supplier. For nearly a century the Company’s “big green books” – the Thomas Register – were considered indispensable to B2B buyers and manufacturers alike. Today, ThomasNet offers tools to facilitate every step of the industrial/B2B process. This includes industry’s leading supplier discovery platform, free online at ThomasNet.com. Contact Linda Rigano at 212-629-1522 or lrigano@thomasnet.com.

Image courtesy of ThomasNet’s 2014 Industry Barometer® (IMB).


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