The manufacturing industry’s concern over finding qualified skilled workers increased from 51% in 2016 to nearly 60% in 2017, according to the Sikich 2017 Manufacturing report. Solutions to address skilled labor shortages have been a top priority for US manufacturers. Yet, compared to other countries, adoption of apprenticeship programs in the US is growing at a snail’s pace. There is a new generation that is naturally wired for both the apprenticeship model and the advanced manufacturing trends.
Manufacturing, meet Gen Z. Gen Zers, the youngest American generation, are different than their millennial predecessors. Raised during the recession by their conservative and resilient Gen X parents, they are hardworking, independent-thinking realists who are ready, willing, and inspired to help change the world.
Manufacturing Is a World Changer
Manufacturing and advanced manufacturing represent an opportunity to be a part of a new industrial transformation. But, as we all know, the general public’s perception of the US manufacturing industry needs a facelift. American parents and educators are not exposing young people to the industry, much less inspiring them to consider the industry as a career option. And the pendulum often swings both ways. Many manufacturers are not exposing or inspiring parents and educators, either. As a result, much of our future talent remains unaware, unprepared, and uninterested in the industry.
So, what is it about Gen Zers that makes them perfect candidates for manufacturing?
Gen Z embraces change! For them, change is not difficult. It is expected, and they want to have their hands in molding that clay. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a worry that spurs this generation to move quickly, independently, and decisively. In fact, according to studies conducted by Gen Z gurus David and Jonah Stillman for their book, Gen Z@Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace, 75% of Gen Zers say they would like situations where they could have multiple roles within one place of employment. And, in a recent Gen Z study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, 56% would prefer to have direct input into creating their own job description and 62% would rather customize their own career path. These are all characteristics that complement the changing landscape of manufacturing today.
Immersed in Technology
Gen Z loves cool technology! They not only love it, but they were born to live and breathe it, naturally. The fact that they are comfortable with being on five screens at once—connected at all times—makes them the generation that will re-define “multitasking.” This instinctual adeptness falls right in line with the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). Technology is revolutionizing manufacturing, and the speed of connecting “all things” in industrial environments is on steroids.
To Gen Z, the Internet is not a “thing,” and multi-device connectivity is assumed. The Internet, for them, is a natural appendage, and a key component of all things driving their revolution: The 4th Industrial Revolution.
Take robotics, AI, and cybersecurity as examples. These George Jetson kids of today don’t consider Ruby the robotic maid or flying cars cartoon fantasies. They are tech-savvy visionaries with bold perspectives about what is possible. In fact, researchers and academics also consider members of Gen Z to be 4D thinkers who are hyper-aware of their surroundings. Given that the manufacturing industry may be more at risk for cyber threats than other industries, being hyper-aware may just bode well in helping to reduce the growing risk potential of industrial high-tech advancements.
Gen Z is entrepreneurial.
The Gen Z talent pool is poised to help imagine, build, and secure the future. They have been raised to understand that a job well done requires a thirst for knowledge, as well as a willingness to work hard. They are also entrepreneurial. According to a study by market research firm Millennial Branding 72% of current high school students want to start their own business. Consider the cutting edge contributions swimming around in the minds of these DIYers.
Why should manufacturing leaders leverage apprenticeships to attract this up and coming generation? Apprenticeships offer a paid, mmersive learning environment, and Gen Z loves learning! But, for much of the Gen Z population, traditional education is no longer cool. They have watched their parents and older siblings become student-debt statistics. Concerns over the ability to find a good job after graduation has left them questioning the value of a college degree.
As immersive learners, they also consider the classroom environment passé. A study by Barnes and Noble College finds that 51% of Gen Z students say they learn best by doing, and 42% envision their careers as something “suiting their specific interests.” Most believe practice and interaction help them learn better, and they insist on having a say in their own personal learning programs. Apprentices are engaged in their own education, and it is a bonus that the education is built around the specific needs of an employer.
Apprenticeships offer highly collaborative, focused forms of advanced education. This is perfect for Gen Z, because they prefer communication and collaboration in education—especially when it is in real time. A real-time environment where apprentices work side-by-side with mentors, educators, employers, and fellow apprentices has been proven to shorten the learning curve, reduce errors, and garner loyalty.
In the UK, more than 90% of apprentices stay in employment after course completion, and 71% remain with the same employer, according to the report “Key Facts about Apprenticeships” from the UK Education and Funding Skills Agency. The glory, pride, and sense of purpose in work that helped to build the manufacturing industry, as a culture, can be realized again with this new generation of workers.
Apprenticeship programs offer immediate, well-paid positions. Unlike internships, apprenticeships allow people to earn while they learn, are matched by natural skill evaluations, and lead to full-time jobs. Apprentices can even choose to pursue paid degrees and/or certifications as a part of their program goals. For the Gen Z “must have it now” generation, this is exceptionally attractive. For the employer, this represents a more effective and efficient recruitment and training forum—one that has been shown to yield a higher return than traditional methods.
In the next decade, the manufacturing industry is expected to create 3.5 million new jobs, and 2 million of them are expected to be unfilled—all due to a lack of skilled workers, according to The Manufacturing Institute at the National Association of Manufacturers. Developing apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing is a natural solution to challenge the status quo, change perceptions, and revitalize an age-old workforce development practice, organically.
Plant the seeds, and they will grow. Nurture the soil, and crops will flourish. And, the future yield for the manufacturing industry is a perfect talent match—compliments of Mother Nature.
About the Author: Partnering with two apprenticeship industry program experts from the UK, Kim Nichols co-founded Franklin Apprenticeships, a US based consulting and capacity building firm dedicated to delivering on the US promise for expansion of apprenticeship programs.