Guest Column

Open your manufacturing doors to Gen Z talent

February 21, 2020
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Imagine you’re a tier-one auto supplier in a spotless new 45,000-square-foot facility in your local industrial park. You run all the latest and greatest Mitsubishi robotic equipment. You offer competitive salaries and excellent benefits. You’re a short drive to downtown Grand Rapids, the beach and the airport.

So why is it that you’re sitting on $85 million in orders that you can’t fill? The generation now joining the workforce likely never heard of you.

It’s a major — if not the major — problem for the manufacturing industry. A full 89% of manufacturers cannot fill open positions. At the same time, the first members of Generation Z are entering the most prosperous job market in history.

Several of the top local firms get it. You see them at career fairs, trade shows, partnering with local schools in the skilled trades, buying advertisements, earning media coverage, running community promotions and building a pipeline of referrals.

Healthy employers tell the world about their work-life culture. They win the competition for younger and talented workers as a result. They will weather any downturn in the economy and emerge unscathed should we face a slight recession in 2020.

How can you plan for a similar future?

The good news is that the wind is at your back, according to the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index.

One-third (32%) of Gen Z had manufacturing suggested to them as a career option, as compared to only 18% of millennials and 13% of the general population. Even better, they are 7% more likely than the general population to consider working in manufacturing and 12% less likely to view the industry as in decline.

Gen Z wants meaningful, high-paying and technology-driven jobs. Manufacturing stands at the cutting edge of technology in terms of automation, the internet of things and advances in supply chain processes. The industry demands software developers, data junkies and engineers who can advance the digital revolution.

It’s a big change in perception. For many entry-level workers, manufacturing conjures images of low-paying jobs, loud facilities and a dwindling number of positions.

It couldn’t be farther from the truth in most cases.

First, the L2L study revealed that more than half (53%) of the general population assumes the salary of a midlevel manufacturing manager is less than $60,000. In reality, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was more than $118,500, according to the 2018 IndustryWeek Salary Survey report.

Second, walk into nearly any manufacturing firm, and you’ll find facilities that better resemble a cleanroom or laboratory. Such facilities also strive for environmental stewardship. More than 150 of today’s auto manufacturing facilities are landfill-free operations, for example.

Finally, the numbers don’t lie. A punishing number of baby boomers retire from the skilled trades every year, leaving upward of 3.5 million manufacturing jobs unfilled over the next decade.

Career opportunities in manufacturing have never been greater. Those new to the workforce only need to know about them. Taken alone, the U.S. manufacturing sector would represent the ninth-largest economy in the world.

Choose the path of least resistance. Offer flexible schedules, better wages and benefits, such as gym memberships. Create a culture and amenities page on your website. Buy ads in the local paper. Earn media exposure with your accomplishments. Swing open your doors to local schools and colleges and let the next generation see their potential future.

Show, don’t tell, the world what it’s like to work for you. Keep your business in West Michigan by getting talent to come to you.

It’s a self-fulfilling virtuous circle. You create a great culture where people want to work. Word gets around quickly. Great employees attract great customers. Before long, you’re working with your dream team and setting yourself up for a bright future.

The more you can inform your job prospects about why it’s so great to work for your manufacturing company, the more attractive as a career-life destination you become.

Dave Yonkman is president of DYS Media, a manufacturing public relations firm in Holland.

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