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How to Leverage Millennials in the Industrial Workforce

How manufacturers can attract Millennials—and how it will simultaneously benefit their business

Millennials. They were born in the early 1980s-early 2000s, and they are admittedly different from previous generations—as employees, consumers, and innovators.

Today, they are an active part of the American workforce. In fact, the Pew Research Center says that they currently make up nearly 1 in 3 workers. And there are only more to come. According to Nielsen, 77 million Millennials are set to enter the labor force.

As Baby Boomers continue to exit the workforce (leading to a projected 3.5 million jobs being available in manufacturing), Millennials and manufacturing have a clear future together. But in order for it to work well, it’s key for manufacturing leaders to understand how they can become more attractive to this new generation. By embracing innovative technologies, workforces can be introduced to new ways of operating that have the power to improve their business.

Changing Perceptions, All the Way Around

This proposed millennial/manufacturing marriage can only work if perceptions are changed. According to the Industry Market Barometer, 81% of manufacturers do not plan to increase the small percentage of Millennials in their workforce. This could stem from 43% of those surveyed perceiving this generation as lacking work ethic and discipline to succeed, despite their role in founding disruptive cultural powerhouses like Facebook, Pinterest, and Airbnb. Millennials may not be bad workers; they simply work differently, and technology is often a major part of that.

Similarly, manufacturing isn’t necessarily considered a glamorous job to Millennials. According to the article “Attracting Future Generations of US Manufacturing Workers,” this generation has an outdated view of shop-floor jobs. A Republic 3.0 article noted that Millennials view factory work as “dirty, dangerous, and offering little job security.” Instead, available jobs in technology, gaming, and healthcare receive an abundance of attention.

If perceptions don’t shift, this could potentially be a huge problem that could lead to a stagnant era in manufacturing, according to The Washington Post.

Changing the Workforce with Technology

So what can be done to ensure that jobs in the manufacturing realm become more enticing to young workers?

If manufacturing facilities desire young talent, they need to
emphasize a common passion— technology.

They can use this as an opportunity to improve their workplace and/or adopt a new way of thinking. These new methods are a great way to keep Millennials (who bring with them the Internet of Things) engaged.

A Stable Kernel blog on the millennial workforce says, “Integration of technology in the workplace is a must for Millennials.” They go on to say that, “Millennials have mastered how to use technology…and they expect to take those technologies into the workplace.” Thus, companies embracing technology faster will attract young workers.

A Mutually Beneficial Solution: Data Driven Operational Technologies

The good news for companies is that an integration of technology will be mutually beneficial. Not only will it attract Millennials, it can give businesses an operational edge and enable growth. In our customer development efforts, we’ve found a positive correlation between a manufacturing company’s willingness to adopt data-driven technologies to drive operations and their ability to engage millennials as a part of their workforce.young boss and worker in conversation

An example is machinery monitoring solutions that empower engineers with a real-time stream of information regarding the status and health of their systems. Through data analytics, these tools real-time insights into the slightest changes in operating conditions—changes that directly affect quality, operator and machine safety, and a machine’s ability to meet production targets in a timely manner. This varies from traditional maintenance programs which are limited to intermittent information collection via route-based methods and do not provide any real-time insights.

The goal of continuous machine monitoring is to identify weak or poorly-implemented controls so that they can be corrected or replaced before yield is affected. Consistency in operation and smoothly-running machines directly contribute to a higher percentage yield, better capacity utilization, an increase in safety, and a decrease in downtime, all of which will benefit companies.

Continuous Monitoring = An Easier Onboarding Process

Oftentimes, manufacturing companies operate with the “If it works, don’t fix it” principle. Facilities tolerate the oldest and the most temperamental of machines for the sake of keeping the production line running. This leads to operational decisions being driven by “tribal knowledge” as opposed to data driven intelligence. (“You’ve got to warm that one up before it’ll start. She’s really sensitive.”)

Continuous machine monitoring provides an easy way to glean said knowledge and apply it to technology, making the entire organization (senior executives to shop floor) more aware of machine / component health and operational efficiency metrics. This results in easier onboarding for new employees, better retention of operational knowledge, and faster training because the data is available to everyone, not just employees who have been around for years.

Millennials Can Change the Workforce for the Better

As Millennials enter the workforce (and eventually flood the market), they will steadily replace Baby Boomers who retire. Hiring them is a way to bridge the growing skills gap, while filling the demands of the labor force. And so the question is not “Are you hiring Millennials?” but “How are you attracting them to your workforce and is it mutually benefitting your company?”