Major shifts are occurring in the industrial workforce. At a time when manufacturing employment appears to pick back up, members of the Baby Boomer generation near retirement, whereas the youngest generational cohort comes in to take their place.

From now on, manufacturers will have to focus principally on attracting the new generation of talent into their workforce and readying these entry-level workers to fill gaps from retiring employees and succeed in the future of work.

Teodora Gaici

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

Hiring has gathered pace across the manufacturing sector during the past months. Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturing gained 13,000 jobs this January after employment in the industry has risen by 32,000 in December and 48,000 in November. The figures are promising, but obstacles lie ahead for some. While industrial firms step up hiring for manufacturing roles, filling vacant positions with skilled talent is more challenging with each passing day. At this very moment, manufacturing is one of the sectors most threatened by prolonged shortages of skilled workers as more aging adults close in on retirement or step out of the workforce early. However, the influx of Generation Z labor may finally twist this fate.

Young professionals will play a progressively bigger role in fixing the growing workforce gap. A survey concluded that Generation Z is, possibly to the surprise of many, especially interested in pursuing a career path in manufacturing. That is a good sign. But even though members of Generation Z may be willing to work for manufacturing firms, having a steady flow of new talent coming in requires some effort. Specific attention needs to be paid—and not just to how firms can appeal to the newest players in the job market today, but also to what is required to support their development in the industry.

This article answers some of the questions manufacturers may have about attracting and nurturing the new generation of talent that enters the labor force. Plus, it delves into what manufacturing firms can do to keep pace with changes in the workforce without suffering any disruptions.

What Steps Could Manufacturers Take to Attract and Foster a New Generation of Workers?

Many members of Generation Z, born roughly between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, have graduated and launched their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus has noticeably destabilized the young worker’s ability to move forward on both educational and professional journeys. Though for the manufacturer, such extraordinary times have opened up new possibilities to analyze today’s workforce dynamics and put a firmer focus on developing:

— A range of apprenticeships, graduate development schemes, and other early-career programs. The most effective apprenticeships prepare younger people for a full-time career in manufacturing. Developing a youth apprenticeship program motivates senior workers to pass on their skills and knowledge to new entrants in the labor market. Those taking part in apprenticeship training have a chance to gain real-world work experience in their fields of interest. Thus taking on new apprentices helps industrial firms develop future talent and plug the workforce gap that threatens to inhibit their growth.

Apprenticeships push workers up through the ranks faster, too—something that is likely to entice new Generation Z talent to apply for such programs. Previous studies showed that young adults have a strong interest in learning and growing in their careers.

Apart from apprenticeships, firms could invest in graduate development schemes and internships to grow a future workforce that is more adaptive and nimble to change or disruption. These initiatives are tailored to equip fresh graduates and those early in their careers with the attributes and competencies required of future manufacturing leaders.

— A workspace that supports hybrid work and a culture of well-being. A swarm of young adults is working without seeing co-workers face to face. Though some members of Generation Z will continue to learn and work alongside experts in the field from the comfort of a home office, most are less likely to seek remote-only positions in the future. The youth wants balance and personal well-being. Generation Z, in particular, increasingly favors hybrid work—a flexible working paradigm that may help manufacturing firms see mental health improvements among workers.

Establishing a culture of well-being must be a priority for all firms trying to facilitate the entry of Generation Z into the labor market. The youngest generation in today’s workforce is more likely to experience mental health problems as it “feels stressed all or most of the time,” according to data from a Deloitte survey.

What Is Young Manufacturing Staff Looking For in an Employer?

The up-and-coming generation of manufacturing talent has clear-cut career aspirations and goals. Findings from multiple studies confirmed that, in general, the players in today’s workforce want to work for employers who:

— Support staff members to achieve a healthy work-life balance
— Allow opportunities for professional growth and career advancement
— Cultivate a more flexible and mobile work environment through modern technology
— Provide employees with regular feedback on their performance at work
— Pay close attention to social and environmental issues

Much like every generation that preceded it, Generation Z is interested in earning a good paycheck. But young team members value meaningful and purpose-driven work over salary, as already demonstrated in a study. Still, new talent usually has high expectations about receiving recognition for their work efforts.

How Should a Manufacturer Keep Up with Changes in the Workforce?

Young staff wants to feel heard, and those who listen intently can find sounder ways to handle workforce changes with greater effectiveness. To this end, manufacturers may feel the necessity to direct more investments toward employee engagement platforms that facilitate the process of gathering and tracking worker feedback.

There is, of course, more to be done after listening to and understanding the voice of younger talent.

Manufacturers have to set up personalized support plans to connect with and turn new team members into skilled labor. What is more, devising a strategy for continuous skill development and learning transfer may bring industrial firms closer to future-proofing their workforce.

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