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Untapped Potential: Why Aren’t Millennials Working in Manufacturing?

As I’ve come to learn more about the manufacturing industry, it’s easy to notice its differences from the overall labor force in the United States. While millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, manufacturing companies are struggling to attract them to the field. This raises the question: Why aren’t more millennials pursuing careers in manufacturing? With factors such as a changing technological climate, and thousands of baby boomers retiring each day, something needs to change.

The Start of a Labor Shortage

The concept of a labor shortage is nothing new. Economists have been discussing the inevitable retirement of baby boomers for decades, and how that will affect the US economy. With 10,000 baby boomers expected to retire daily from now until 2030, there will be an additional increase in the demand for labor. These demands particularly fall on the manufacturing industry. Nearly 1/3 of manufacturing workers are over 55 and are expected to retire within the next 10 years.

Deloitte Insights reports that between 2.5 million and 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the coming years, but the issue has already begun. 84% of manufacturing executives agree that a talent shortage already exists in the US. This presents an opportunity to change stereotypes surrounding the manufacturing industry, and for companies to invest in the millennial generation.

The Solution? A Change in Mindset

Many students today express that they do not view manufacturing as a viable career option. Parents often are discouraging their children from taking these non-traditional career paths as well. In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute found that only 3 in 10 parents would consider guiding their child toward a career in the field.

As the parents of millennials entered the workforce, they had children of their own. They brought along the influence that the way to be successful is to go to college and get a degree. Contrary to popular belief, the average US manufacturing worker makes more than $70,000 a year, according to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Our society has slowly diminished the importance of trade careers, despite many industries hurting for qualified workers. The average welder in the United States is age 55, meaning the majority are expected to retire by 2030. We need welders to create many important things, from the signs here at NAS to bridges and buildings. According to a Deloitte study, there were 570,000 welders in the US in 1988, and that number has dramatically fallen to only 360,000 welders as of 2012.

Manufacturing environments are often associated with being dirty, loud, or dangerous. However, the current climate of the industry is one with cutting-edge technology and ingenuity. Millennials are among the most tech-savvy generations, with the emergence of the internet playing a primary role in their adolescence. According to Industry Week, Millennials prefer to work in environments that are innovative, high-tech and have flexible roles. In order to recruit top talent, the industry needs to promote high-tech opportunities and sent a standard of work-life balance. By doing this, they can demonstrate how their opportunities fit these expectations.

The Road Ahead

While the retirement of baby boomers will present many challenges, there are several opportunities for the industry to move forward. As manufacturing moves toward a more technology-focused environment, more and more millennials are pursuing manufacturing-related fields.

37% of millennials today reported seeing manufacturing as a high-tech career choice – notably higher than both Generation Xers (27%) and baby boomers (23%). Also, 49% of millennials believe engineering is a needed skill in today’s manufacturing sector. This indicates a positive increase when compared with only 41% of baby boomers believing engineering is necessary.

North American Signs hopes to change this stigma within our industry by engaging with students to educate them about manufacturing. Each year, we host an event on National Manufacturing Day, inviting students from area schools to come to our manufacturing facility and learn about what the industry is like. As students enter higher education and become more focused on future career opportunities, we offer internships in many different roles from IT to marketing and beyond.

There are simple ways companies can get involved, such as updating job descriptions and engaging more with their community. This can help manufacturing companies gain a better understanding of what millennials value in a position. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire, the manufacturing industry needs to look toward underrepresented demographics in the industry, such as women, minorities, and millennials.

The exodus of 1/3 of the workforce presents a great opportunity for innovation and a change in perception. Working to change negative stereotypes and engage with a new generation will help to lessen the burden of a labor shortage and help the manufacturing industry continue to thrive.

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