A common challenge for many manufacturers is finding and retaining skilled labor. Many businesses are facing the retirement of older employees, and higher turnover in their workforce. At the same time, some manufacturers lament that younger workers don’t have the same skill sets as the earlier generations, or that they’re just not that interested in the manufacturing sector.
But the reality is that as our population ages, the labor force is shifting towards a younger demographic. The oldest millennials are mid-career and looking for future growth opportunities, while younger millennials and Generation Z are entering the work world with a vastly different viewpoint than previous employees. They do have varied aptitudes and interests than other generations of workers, but they also have different demands of employers. If manufacturers are going to continue to succeed, they must find creative ways to attract these young workers, while embracing some of the changes that this generation requires to feel fully engaged in their work.
Millennials (currently aged between 24 and 38) came of age during the early days of the Internet, while Generation Z (those aged 23 and under) was born never knowing a world that was not digitally connected. That means they are at home communicating and working in a digital environment designed for continuous improvement. They are quick to adapt to rapidly changing technology such as computers and cell phones and are accustomed to being in constant contact with friends and colleagues.
Flexible work arrangements providing a work-life balance
Unfortunately, the younger generation is not connecting with the business world in the same way as previous generations, meaning that it has become more challenging for companies to engage and retain younger workers. At the same time, this age group is motivated by more than just financial security when choosing one job or company over another. In general, millennials are interested in forward-thinking companies that recognize the need for greater work-life balance; that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace; and that offer flexible work arrangements, such as collaborating with teammates while working remotely.
Innovation to improve process, design, efficiency or productivity
Because many of their technical skills are based around the innovations already impacting our daily lives, millennials and generation Z understand many of the concepts underlying Industry 4.0 that are rapidly changing manufacturing. This younger demographic is more familiar with ideas such as automated and connected systems, robotics, digitally enabled equipment (IoT), artificial intelligence, and adaptive technology, and see them as tools that free up employee focus for more creative tasks. Millennial workers are comfortable using new technology to tackle old problems – especially when they have beneficial social impacts – and they expect employers to be similarly comfortable applying innovation to improve process, design, efficiency or productivity.
Incorporating digital and technological solutions to best utilize worker skills
When considering how to best engage this younger workforce, start by taking a holistic look at your own operation. Does your organizational structure encourage employee learning and development, open communication, and flexible work processes? Do you incorporate digital and technological solutions to best utilize worker skills?
One tool available to companies hoping to better engage younger workers is the social media-enabled enterprise resource planning system (ERP). Millennials and Generation Z intuitively understand programs like SYSPRO Harmony social ERP, which allows for company-wide collaboration and interactive communication, real-time data collection and analysis, increased responsiveness, and seamless connectivity between facilities or divisions. Because ERPs let employees take proactive decisions based on real-time evidence, they help companies solve problems faster, streamline their processes, cut lead times and boost productivity.
The younger generation of workers is already changing how manufacturers operate. How well you engage this demographic will ultimately determine the future success of your business.