The Manufacturing industry is in a challenging time, faced with the skills gap, looming “silver tsunami” of baby boomer retirements, and the lack of interest in younger generations to work in the industry. To combat these challenges, manufacturers must create a work environment which attracts, engages, and retains the future workforce.

So where should they start? There are a few things manufacturers can do today to attract and retain the future workforce of tomorrow.

The first is understanding the current and future states of the workforce. Why? Because the demographics of the US labor market are shifting - 80 percent of current manufacturing jobs are held by workers between the ages of 45-65. Less than five years ago, that number was almost 22 percent. By 2030, 22 percent of the workforce will be Generation Z.1

Those statistics show us two major challenges for manufacturers. Not only will they have a huge influx of Gen Z in the coming years (with new workplace expectations) they’re also employing four generations in their current workforce – all with differing motivations and expectations.

Who are the four generations and what motivates them?

  • Baby Boomers want wage increases, are goal oriented, and place high importance on peer recognition, promotions, and respect in the workplace.
  • Generation X are motivated by bonuses and/or stock options, flexible schedules, managerial recognition, and work/life balance.
  • Millennials value stock options, performance feedback, mentoring opportunities, time off, and flexible schedules.
  • Generation Z are motivated less by money, but by social cultures, managerial recognition and experiential rewards.

To effectively manage and engage such a diversified workforce, manufacturers need to adapt and align their cultures and people practices with each generation. While this may be challenging, it also presents opportunity. For example, manufacturers can develop mentorship and job shadowing programs for Gen Z employees to work alongside older generations of experienced workers. This will enhance the transfer of knowledge, while driving the motivations of the Boomer workforce (who enjoy teaching) and Gen Z (who have an insatiable appetite for learning).

Now let’s consider Gen Z – the future workforce. What do they want in a workplace, and what does it take to make them an engaged and productive workforce?

1. Work/life balance: We’re well past the days when success was defined by a pay increase, promotion, or pride in working as much overtime as possible. Employees today want to make a difference on the job, but they also want time to explore their passions outside of work. To offer this experience to employees and develop employee centric practices, manufacturers need to offer adequate paid time off, and make it easy for employees to use that time.

2. Empowerment: Manufacturers are working with a highly skilled group of people that are seeking a strong sense of purpose, managerial recognition, and continuous feedback on performance. Employees want to make a difference on the job, so managers need to empower them to do so. Involve them in brainstorming sessions, ask them for feedback, and give them tools that will help them succeed.

3. Visibility/Insight: Another way to empower Gen Z is through visibility and insight into their work. They work long hours and want to see the results of that work via production goals and operational impact. Many manufacturers don’t have the technology and analytics available for the hourly workforce to provide that visibility, and that will be an issue if they want to retain top talent. Visibility into that data can also help identify where employees are most productive and help set a trajectory for their career, not to mention getting the right people allocated to the right job.

4. Career Growth: There are ample opportunities for career growth within manufacturing, a driving motivator for Gen Z. There’s a dramatic shortage for skilled maintenance mechanics, for example, which is a highly paid, secure, and sought-after position. This type of role, and many others, can establish a strong career path for new employees. Manufacturers just need to provide them with mentorship programs and training tools to get them there.

5. Technology: Gen Z are digital natives, meaning they don’t remember a time without smart phones. Their day to day lives revolve around mobile, and they expect technology on the job to deliver that consumer grade experience. A recent survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos found that “nearly half of employees (48%) wish their workplace technology performed just like their personal technology, and more than a third of employees surveyed (35%) feel their job is harder than it should be because of outdated processes and legacy technology.”

All five of the above factors are driving motivators for Gen Z in the workplace. From them, we can see what’s most important to Gen Z is the day to day work experience. Manufacturers can facilitate that experience effectively by focusing on work/life balance, creating an empowering environment, providing visibility and insights to employees, providing programs to support career growth, and implementing the technology and tools to allow employees to be more effective on the job. This will not only bring Gen Z through the door, but also ensure that you’re retaining existing talent as well.

1 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2019