Skip to content

Manufacturing’s Multigenerational Workforce

Mark L. Michalski
By Mark L. Michalski 2019 SME President, SME Member Since 1992

The renowned computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.’’

From my own observation, and validated by a recent Tooling U-SME report on the multigenerational manufacturing workforce (available through, for the first time ever we are seeing shop-floor representation from five different generations.

Our industry colleagues are now drawn from the silent generation (in their 70s poised for retirement), baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and the rising generation of Generation Z, with the oldest from that group turning 22 this year. You can be sure the technologies we are seeing now are younger than most of us.

New Manufacturing Methods

The advent and implementation of new manufacturing capabilities like additive manufacturing, digital twins and machine learning are changing how we think about the design, manufacture and delivery of products. There will likely be a day when OEMs do not manufacture products themselves, but rather sell the rights to the digital data that allows point-of-consumption fabrication of printed parts. Intellectual property rights and the supply chain will be managed through advances like blockchain.

Certainly, tech-savvy millennials and Generation Z, raised on technology, will adapt most easily. These cohorts have seen the technology revolution progress at a speed no previous generation could have imagined. Even so, our manufacturing community will be challenged by a lack of skilled humans and will struggle to keep up with the constant march of advancing technology.

To add another element of uncertainty, as much as 20 percent of the current workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next three years.

For industry to survive this revolution, we must all do what we can to close the generational gaps and prioritize that challenge in our day-to-day thinking. We need to create working environments where the tech savvy can help train and encourage older colleagues to adopt new breakthroughs in the way we work.

Younger members of our community need mentors from more seasoned generations who can fill the gaps on how we got here and why, putting all this change into context.

Companies need to realize that the future—and to a large degree the present—workforce is no longer interested in just filling a seat for a paycheck. Successful workers of the future want and need to be constantly learning. They must feel like they are a part of a larger purpose where they understand how they are contributing to the business and to society at large. People do not change jobs now for a pay increase — they change jobs for a fulfillment increase.

Changing Perceptions

I have been calling our manufacturing world a “community.” The multigenerational workforce is a large part of my thinking on that. The silos we have seen in the past are being torn down. Ready access to data and the digitization of our industry will drive the need for us to improve the ways we communicate and cooperate across generational lines.

We are still facing tremendous headwinds in terms of parents, guidance counselors and individuals recognizing that a career in manufacturing is not the dirty, dead-end job it is often perceived to be. Maybe one way we can change that is through popular media. It used to be that becoming a chef was looked down on. Now chefs are rock stars. Imagine a world where the manufacturing profession created the next rock stars. What if popular media created shows like “Top Chef,” but for manufacturing? “Top Manufacturer”? I know I would watch that, just as I have watched all the “How’s It’s Made” episodes!

Rewarding and Revolutionary

Manufacturing is not a dead-end industry. Entry points can be many. Yes, it is great to earn an engineering degree, which we encourage; however, the reality is that employers are less focused on degrees and more focused on skills. An individual who can write code, use a 3D printer, analyze data or fill a wide range of roles and abilities will be the most sought after. This is true for all generations. The reality is that manufacturing is where you can have fun and work on the coolest, most bleeding-edge technology, while giving back and creating a better world.

I encourage you to access SME resources, such as Tooling U-SME, our events and media platforms, to learn more about how you participate in the revolution—all are available through

Manufacturing is a desirable, financially rewarding and fulfilling industry. Get out there in your communities and spread the word. Make the manufacturing workforce the rock stars of tomorrow!

Participate in Digital Manufacturing Challenge

The 2020 Digital Manufacturing Challenge is a call for action to inspire the next generation of engineers to think about ways to deploy engineering design and manufacturing solutions to strengthen the response, mitigation
and/or prevention of such disruptive events and envision an optimistic view of robust, sustainable, smart—even agile—communities.


In the Digital Manufacturing Challenge, student designers and engineers are challenged to go beyond the classroom or laboratory and showcase their technical and commercial talents by demonstrating new and creative ways digital manufacturing can add value.

Winners of the challenge receive:

  • Complimentary conference pass to RAPID + TCT
    (April 20-23, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif.).
  • A $1,000 stipend for RAPID + TCT travel and lodging.
  • A certificate of achievement.
  • A complimentary, one-year SME student membership.
  • Letters of recognition sent to the winner with a copy sent to university advisor/educator and the student newspaper/technical publication designated by the winner.

Full competition details for the challenge are available at The submission deadline is Feb. 3, 2020.

Crain’s Notable Women in Education Leadership Recognizes Jeannine Kunz

Jeannine Kunz, vice president of Tooling U-SME, is among several Michigan influencers named to the 2019 Notable Women in Education Leadership list, presented by “Crain’s Detroit Business.” Crain’s selected Kunz, who leads SME’s workforce development and training division, along with other Michigan women who have made a difference in the education field, the workplace and their communities.

Jeannine Kunz Vice President Tooling U-SME

Kunz joined SME in 2000 and became vice president of Tooling U-SME in 2004. Under her leadership, the learning and development organization has become a nationally recognized authority on workforce development and training for educators and thousands of manufacturing companies. She oversees the strategic development and direction of learning solutions deployed in manufacturing education programs—from high schools to universities across the U.S.—to align with the needs of today’s advanced manufacturing industry.

The Education Leadership program is part of the Crain’s Notable Women in Michigan series. All the women showcased in these special reports are nominated by their peers and selected by Crain’s for their career achievements and activities outside of work, such as mentoring.
The complete list of winners can be viewed at

New Gamification Winners Announced

Six SME members were recently recognized for their overall contributions and online engagement on SME’s online community, SME Connect, during the first and second quarter of 2019.


First quarter winners:

  • VIP — Dustin Donnell, The University of Tulsa,
    Tulsa, Okla.
  • Second Place Contributor — Malay Desai,
    Arol North America Inc., Buford, Ga.
  • Third Place Contributor — Sherman Mumford, CMfgE, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, N.C.

Second quarter winners:

  • VIP — Garrett Derr Sr., USSC Group Inc.,
    Downingtown, Pa.
  • Second Place Contributor — Bob Matthew,
    Quality Engineering Management Inc., Cypress, Calif.
  • Third Place Contributor — Sherif El Wakil, PhD, LSME, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth,
    North Dartmouth, Mass.

SME members who actively participate on the site receive prizes worth $100, $50 and $25 and gamification badges for their respective activity levels. Visit for badge glossary, point system and opportunity to engage.

  • View All Articles
  • Connect With Us

Related Articles

Webinars, White Papers and More!

SME's Manufacturing Resource Center keeps you updated on all of the latest industry trends and information. Access unlimited FREE webinars, white papers, eBooks, case studies and reports now!