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Viewpoints: What Manufacturers Need to Know About Generation Z

Meghan West

Meghan West
Vice President - Operations
CNC Software Inc.
Tolland, CT
West is also a 2013 Manufacturing Engineering 30 Under 30 Honoree 

Resources and programs to attract people into manufacturing careers are blossoming across the country, seeded by hundreds of companies. State governments, our federal government, and national organizations such as SME offer scholarships, grants, and teaching tools for businesses and schools. As encouraging as these initiatives are, we need to keep expanding the effort and do whatever we can as individuals and companies to promote the field and not let up.

We must be mindful that we are promoting manufacturing and our specific companies now to Generation Z—people born between 1994 and 2004, roughly. What’s their point of view? What makes them tick? What spurs them to engage? As a company that has had a division dedicated to the education market for the last 30 years, we at CNC Software are surrounded by these kids daily and develop tools and curricula for them. We also are heavily engaged in the esoteric field of “user experience” and monitor youngsters carefully as they interact with our product. While understanding a group of people is a highly complex and multifaceted endeavor, there are common traits that we and many social observers agree upon. In very simple terms, Generation Zs are:

• Well-integrated with technology; they are often referred to as “digital natives”
• Social media savvy
• Multitaskers
• Mobilized by causes
• Concerned about the environment
• Influenced by their friends about products and brands
• Mature, stemming from growing up during a severe economic recession and color-coded terror alerts
• Smart, with the ability to process a lot of information quickly

So what do these qualities mean for us as manufacturers? What can we do to attract and retain this next generation of employees? 

1. Have advanced manufacturing technology in your company that is less than five years old, leverage big data and older worker experience, and digitize everything.

Generation Zs are wired to operate and engage with today’s computerized machine tools, automation equipment, and software. We’ve learned from our user experience research that the software has to be modern, intuitive, and fun for them to want to use it. They will need training, and while their attention span is short, expect them to grasp the concepts and steps quickly. To help bring them up to speed, manage and leverage manufacturing operations data and worker knowledge to establish best practices. Be able to push the digitized information to different devices.

2. Install the latest versions and subscribe to interim maintenance updates of all the software packages you use.

These kids expect to have the latest generation of features on all the gadgets they use. Generation Zs, growing up with the world’s vast wealth of information at their fingertips, are rather impatient. The requirement for updating applies to your computer hardware, too. It must be fast. 

3. Do all the right things culturally, philanthropically, environmentally. 

Generation Zs will want to work for companies they can be proud of, that are aligned with their values and concerns. They will not have the same sense of loyalty to employers that their parents have and could quit faster than they can IM over something like mismanaged coolant and blow the whistle to the EPA and post to 15 social media outlets simultaneously.

4. Freshen your brand and marketing techniques

Companies with dedicated marketing departments and outside agencies are conscious of their company’s image and brand perceptions and are using the latest Internet, social media, and mobile apps to communicate with their various audiences. Smaller manufacturers, where most of this group will be employed, may need to review their image and consider technology-based ways of reaching their customers and prospects.

One in four Americans is younger than 18, and that demographic is growing. Our companies will be theirs to run one day…if we do our jobs now and attract them. Are you doing all you can to get ready for Generation Z? ME

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.

Published Date : 7/1/2014

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