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Manufacturing Week Highlights B to Z

October 11, 2023 // Deputy Dan

A graphic drawing of a manufacturing factoryA graphic drawing of a manufacturing factory

This week marks National Manufacturing Week in the U.S., which begins each year on the first Friday in October and celebrates producers of goods for seven consecutive days. And while the accomplishments of the manufacturers who keep us supplied with much-needed (and much-wanted) goods are something to acclaim, the manufacturing industry itself is not exactly capturing the attention of one group in particular – Generation Z.

For several decades, baby boomers have made their careers and their livelihoods on the backbone of manufacturing. In fact, the last of the boomers to now enter retirement age still make up a quarter of the manufacturing workforce today. But these long-time employees, too, will soon hang up their work hats for travel, golf, hobbies, and all the other wonderful things the golden years of retirement promise.

With these continuing retirements, along with some expected growth in production, manufacturing is facing a rather significant, anticipated labor shortage. In fact, the Manufacturing Institute (MI) estimates there will be as many as 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by the year 2030.

Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?

It only makes sense that if baby boomers are exiting the workforce, manufacturing will replenish their open jobs with the emerging workforce – Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2010. After all, according to a report by Deloitte, "Generation Z will soon surpass millennials as the most populous generation on earth, with more than one-third of the world's population counting themselves as Gen Zers."

But not so fast…for many years now, manufacturers have struggled to woo millennials in their recruiting efforts; zillennials appear to be adopting some of these same distastes for careers in manufacturing. Despite competitive pay and benefits that manufacturing can offer, the emerging workforce is reportedly finding the industry…well, a bit blah. Research shows that Gen Z is simply not as interested in joining the ranks of manufacturers as their grandparents, or even their parents, were.

Among the top reasons that Gen Z doesn't find manufacturing all that attractive include what may equate to a public relations problem or at least some stereotyped impressions. Research shows that many within Gen Z believe manufacturers work in dingy, dirty environments with monotonous, low-paying, low-skilled jobs that fail to motivate or inspire. This is Gen Z's kryptonite! The young adults now taking center stage in the workplace seek meaningful work that feeds their souls with collaboration, innovation, and work-life balance. Moreover, as this digital generation has been raised exclusively with technology, many Gen Zers find manufacturing antiquated and, at the end of the day, simply not an intriguing career path.

"Bringing Sexy Back" to Manufacturing

All of this presents a major problem for manufacturers dealing with a current and continually looming labor shortage. Today's producers are asking themselves, "How can we make manufacturing sexy again?" Fortunately, manufacturers are used to retooling every so often, and in order to attract Gen Z to their teams, industrial companies are revamping their work culture and job design tactics.

Some of the important elements manufacturers are working into their workplaces include:

  • Emphasizing technological advancements, such as digital transformation, highlighting the role of technology, automation, and innovation in modern manufacturing to appeal to these tech-savvy individuals. Data shows that 57% of manufacturers are integrating advanced technologies in order to redesign job duties.

  • Changing mindsets through education and training; offering educational programs, apprenticeships, and internship opportunities that expose Gen Z individuals to the variety of careers available in manufacturing.

  • Promoting Sustainability: this is a big one for Gen Z. Research shows that 64% of this generation say it's essential for employers to actively care about the environment and participate in Sustainability efforts.

  • Improving/Enhancing workplace culture. Industrial organizations are trying to make their work environments more positive and engaging, prioritizing employee well-being, diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are also offering their team members additional opportunities for career advancement.

Addressing these misconceptions and retooling the work environment is a definite step in the right direction to attracting zillennials. Another area that manufacturers can address on a company-specific level is making sure their brand is perceived as relevant, valuable, and innovative in the marketplace. An important element of that is utilizing pricing strategies and policies that protect a brand's perceived value. This is why many manufacturers engage in a Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) policy and utilize price monitoring services like MAPCOP to ensure its active enforcement.

The Tide May Be Turning

It's important to note that, indeed, not all Gen Z have a bleak impression of manufacturing. In fact, there are some interesting signs that COVID-19 actually resulted in some increased positive attention on manufacturing. During the worldwide pandemic, while much of the supply chain ran into big obstacles or at least minor roadblocks for more than a year, some Gen Z gained a new appreciation for the critical importance of the manufacturing industry. In one survey on the topic, more than half of the survey respondents indicated their views on manufacturing had changed due to COVID, and of those, 77% said that they now view industrial organizations as more important than before the pandemic.

Work remains in convincing Gen Z (and let's not forget, millennials) that manufacturing remains a staple in the US economy, and it bears a continuous and vital mission so that all of us can have the goods we need and want. What's not to love about that?

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