Millennials Need Manufacturing

Blogger: Allison Grealis
Vice President, Precision Metalforming Association
President, Women in Manufacturing  

We know that manufacturing needs millennials, but recent research proves that millennials need manufacturing as well. 

This is not going to be another article about the skills gap in manufacturing.  We all know about the millions of open jobs and how the number is only going up with daily retirements.  But replaying these same dire predictions and hoping they will attract new workers is like putting an unpopular song on repeat and hoping people start to dance.

I have been working with the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) and Women in Manufacturing (WiM) for more than a decade.  Over the years, I’ve seen many workforce development initiatives come and go.  Too often, they fail because the focus is on the industry and not on the worker.  That’s the wrong strategy.  We need to flip the paradigm and start from scratch.  We need to recruit millennials into manufacturing not just to help manufacturing, but to serve millennials as well.

Not just a cog, but a view of the whole wheel.

Millennials want to feel valued and to see the impact of their work.

Everyone likes to feel that their work is meaningful and important, but data show that millennials need this reinforcement more than other workers.  They want to see the final product, and how their contribution helped achieve the team’s goal.  As Jeremy Kingsley, the author of Inspired People Produce Results, has noted, “Millennials workers are more likely to look for meaning and impact in their work and aren’t satisfied simply punching a clock.”

The manufacturing is uniquely capable of fulfilling this need for millennials.  The final product is often accessible on a shop floor and, even when it’s not, skilled managers can help millennial workers see the value of their work in producing the products that make our world work.

Not turning over, but turning up.

Millennials are  restless, always looking for new challenges and opportunities.

Research shows that more than 90% of millennial workers will leave a job after less than three years.  Rather than mastering a task and coasting, they are intent on tackling new challenges.  For millennials, boredom is a deal breaker.

This is good news for an industry like manufacturing that thrives on R&D and is being transformed by new technologies.  Automation has made today’s manufacturing unrecognizable to people familiar with the factories of even 20 years ago.  And 3-D printing and other innovations are already changing the game again.  Evolution energizes millennials and offers opportunity for young workers who often bring strong computer skills with them to the workforce.

Not just a 9-5, but a schedule that really works.

The standard 9-5 just doesn’t do it anymore.  Studies show that nearly 80% of millennials believe that flexible work hours are a key to boosting productivity.  It is clear that younger workers want less rigidity in their work environments and the ability to set a schedule that also allows them to manage child or elder care responsibilities, pursue higher education goals, and participate in their communities.

Manufacturing often scores high on industry surveys in the category of flexible work structure.  An industry driven by results – and by finished products – often has the ability to adjust hours as long as the work gets done.

Not just an individual, but part of a team

Millennials thrive with constructive feedback from effective mentors.  Studies consistently show that employees who have mentors have retention rates around 20% higher than employees who do not.

One interesting concept floated by the Kevin Grubb with National Association of Colleges and Employers is “co-mentoring” or having an employee from an older generation to help a younger team member understand work culture and processes while the younger employee helps his partner manage technology and new tools at work.  This concept and others like it have real potential for the manufacturing sector which relies on both experience and creativity.

It is incumbent upon manufacturing leaders to share the ways in which the industry suits millennials with potential and current workers and to regularly solicit their feedback and insight on how to make the work structure and workforce better.  That’s why PMA is launching MFG NXT, a network for millennials and gen Xers who are rapidly rising through the ranks in manufacturing.  MFG NXT members are hard workers who are committed to success in their companies and in the future of the manufacturing industry.  When MFG NXT members get together, they develop creative strategies and innovative solutions.  Learn more about the PMA MFG NXT program by contacting Rosemary David at


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