Viewpoints: Connecting with the Next Generation of Manufacturers
The year 2010 may have marked the start of a new decade, but for manufacturing it ushered in the beginning of a new era. For the last 18 months, the name of the game has been survival. Manufacturers that invested revenues in new technologies, expanded capabilities, and maintained skilled workforces were able to endure the recession and maybe even gain a competitive edge. However, these preventive measures will not have a lasting impact if we cannot close the talent gap, and stop the exodus of our brightest minds to other industries.
Though Baby Boomers fueled the growth of manufacturing and Generation X helped maintain it, Generation Y is the key to its revitalization. Born in the 1980s and 1990s, Gen-Y rivals the Boomers in number, and boasts the fastest growing segment of today's workforce. A creative, dynamic group, it was raised on technology and the belief that jobs should be a means to achieving personal fulfillment rather than financial security. But while Gen-Y is nearly 80-million strong, few are considering careers in manufacturing, instead seeking work in modern, tech-savvy industries with reputations for offering career development, innovation, and personal growth.
What few members of this generation know, and what the manufacturing community is obligated to help them understand, is that this industry provides all of those benefits and more. As the driving engine of the American economic recovery, manufacturing not only exists on the cutting edge of technological development, but also is experiencing significant growth in the volume of service occupations, ranging from R&D and marketing to legal and financial services. On paper, choosing a career in manufacturing seems like an easy decision. However, the industry's inability to shake loose of its reputation as dirty, outdated, and economically unstable has contributed strongly to the decline in young workers.
For years, we have talked about manufacturing's image problem, and the detrimental affect it is having on competitiveness. Yet, after all this time, the image not only remains, it thrives. The time for talk, pointing fingers, and laying blame is over. We need to become proactive about changing perceptions, and presenting manufacturing for what it truly is: a vibrant, high-tech, and intellectually demanding industry. Unlike many changes that take years to incorporate, these are adjustments that we can start making today. Begin by integrating technology into your recruitment practices. Update corporate Web sites to include more interactivity, information, and accessibility. Allow younger employees to reach out to and interact with students using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Replace outdated PowerPoint slides with multimedia presentations that use Flash and streaming video. In short, communicate with these future engineers and machinists using the technology and methods that they embrace. Adapting to the unique needs of Generation Y is an imperative, but one thing that will never change is the power of trade shows to influence and motivate. Though today's economic reality has required many manufacturing firms to pare down trade-show schedules and focus on a few key expositions, trade shows continue to be high-profile opportunities in the industry. We can also use these events as tools for attracting new talent.
Of the 92,000 visitors to IMTS 2008, nearly 8000 were students. For five days, they walked the show floors and witnessed thousands of technological leaps taken at every level of industry. But while many left the show excited about the future of manufacturing, how many were excited for their own prospects within it? As successful as exhibitors were at demonstrating how advanced machine tools and software would help shape the world, we failed to show these young men and women how they could fit into the equation. At IMTS 2010, we have a chance to redeem ourselves.
The show's theme, "Innovation: What Will It Spark In You," is as much a challenge to the manufacturing community as a call to action. As we gear up for the largest industrial trade show in the Americas, let's make every effort to ensure that each student walks out of McCormick Place knowing that manufacturing is not only a dynamic industry offering exciting career opportunities, but also one where they can help revitalize American manufacturing and maybe even change the world.
This article was first published in the July 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.