June 5, 2019

By Dennis McRae and Sam Dawes

The manufacturing industry has long stood as a leading employer in Minnesota. But as Millennials dominate the workforce and digital transformation becomes standard practice, the ability to attract and retain the right talent has become a critical business issue for the industry.

Those of us in West Monroe’s Minneapolis office who consult for manufacturing firms wanted to better understand young professionals’ perspectives on careers in the industry. So, we surveyed 1,000 Minnesota residents (ages 18-40) about just that. Our findings uncovered some significant opportunities. Here’s what they told us:

1. Young professionals think manufacturing’s role in the Minnesota economy is important, but 44% wouldn’t consider a career there

With manufacturing playing such a large role in the local job market, Minnesotans recognize the industry’s impact on the state’s economy and the importance of keeping it healthy. Nearly all those surveyed (97%) said they understand the importance of growing the manufacturing industry and keeping manufacturing jobs in the state.

They also have a more positive than negative perception of manufacturing careers, with the positive raters (70%) citing competitive compensation and rewarding/fulfilling work as the top two reasons. However, the other 30% said they feared manufacturing isn’t a place they could have a long-term career and cited work culture as another top reason for their negative rating.

The main challenge for employers to address, however, is that 44% said they would not consider a career in manufacturing. Respondents pointed to the following ways employers could make the industry a more attractive place to work: 1) offer even better compensation and benefits 2) provide clearly defined career advancement opportunities and 3) make the work environment safer.

2. Early exposure drives interest in manufacturing careers

Education and awareness drive positive perceptions and consideration of manufacturing employment. Minnesotans who were exposed to the industry at an early age — whether at school or through a family member— are more likely to pursue a manufacturing career for themselves. While 56% of those surveyed said they would consider working in the manufacturing industry, that number rises to 62% for those who have immediate family members employed in the industry and 65% for those who learned about manufacturing careers in their youth.

When those who haven’t worked in the industry were asked why they chose other careers, one-third said the idea of working in the industry had never crossed their mind, and 31% said it was because they didn’t have the right education, training or skills. Only 43% of respondents learned about manufacturing job opportunities before turning 18.

3. Manufacturing is tech-forward, but the rise of automation clouds the perception of job security

Encouragingly, young professionals in Minnesota view manufacturing as a tech-forward industry. Three in four respondents said the industry will fully leverage technology over the next decade, and nearly half — 48% — believe manufacturing will create new job opportunities in areas like technology, engineering and customer service. This is a huge area of opportunity for firms to tout the variety of career tracks in the industry.

But while Minnesotans associate the manufacturing sector with smart technology, they don’t completely understand how the industry uses technology and what it will mean for job security: 42% need employers to prove job security in the face of AI advances.

The industry has an opportunity to leverage its positive perception and tech-forward reputation to attract a new generation of talent

Manufacturing firms, and not just those in Minnesota, are already feeling the pain of the constrained job market. With unemployment at historical lows and the draw of urban-based jobs in sleek office spaces, the ability to attract and retain tech talent while also building the next generation of tech-savvy skilled workers grows more difficult. But the data above gives us some direction to address the challenge:

  • Start with the talent you have. Identify skill gaps in your own organization and allow those to guide the design of future roles. By defining an aspirational direction for your own culture, you can align employees with the greater mission of your company and the industry at large.
  • Clarify technology’s role. The prospect of automation causes workers to worry about long-term careers. Dispel those concerns by educating on how tech can create new, safe and innovative career paths in the industry. Emphasize automation’s role in fueling, not hindering, long-term manufacturing careers.
  • Educate early and often. Awareness is key to winning over potential talent. Proactively engage young people in the local community and build new trade programs focused on advanced manufacturing technologies.

The manufacturing industry has an opportunity take control of the narrative and provide transparency about how and why it uses technology, as well as the new careers that will emerge. By communicating what the future looks like for the up-and-coming workforce, Minnesota manufacturing firms can better position the industry to attract and retain a new generation of talent.

Dennis McRae West Monroe Partners, Industry TodayDennis McRae
Dennis McRae is a director at West Monroe Partners and leader of the firm’s Consumer & Industrial Products industry team. He has more than 25 years of experience working with diverse organizations in improving top-line growth, market share, and earnings.

Sam Dawes West Monroe Partners, Industry TodaySam Dawes
Sam Dawes is a senior manager at West Monroe Partners and a leader in the firm’s national Consumer and Industrial Products (C&IP) practice. For nearly a decade, he has worked with industry executives to solve business issues through transformative technology and operations initiatives.

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