How to Attract the Next Generation of Workers

“Manufacturing never interested me, partly because I was never exposed to it. No one in my family worked in manufacturing, and it was never strongly encouraged or explained during my education, despite living in the Rust Belt.”, stated Claire, a high school student recently interviewed by Industry Week. Claire’s perception of the manufacturing industry highlights a growing concern for attracting the next generation of workers.

Attracting, recruiting, and retaining top talent has become increasingly challenging, especially in the manufacturing sector. According to a June 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, there were 826,000 manufacturing job openings that went unfilled. On the one hand, new technologies and ways of working have transformed the work environment, displacing traditional offices and replacing them with collaborative spaces, virtual environments, and diverse teams distributed across the world. On the other hand, the expectations of the young workforce, like Claire, are very different from those of previous generations. What is also clear, as figure 1 illustrates, is the number of high school graduates not enrolling in college (over 1 million) presents a great opportunity for manufacturers to tap into to fill many of the open positions.

In addition to these changes in the labor paradigm, technology giants like Google, Netflix, and Facebook are hoarding young talent. Due to their organizational culture, benefits, and work environment, they have positioned themselves as top employers. As a result, companies in more traditional industries such as manufacturing are having trouble attracting quality talent to their vacancies.

While the picture may seem complex, and many companies think they have lost the race for top talent, we are here to show you that it is possible to attract new talent. To help combat the challenge of attracting the next generation of workers in the manufacturing industry, FTE Performance Consulting is providing its clients with consulting services to support the organizational transformations. FTE uses policies, operating procedures, and the organizational culture to attract, recruit, and retain talent. This document is your guide to taking specific, effective action to win the race for top talent in the following areas: work environments, technology, community involvement, recruitment, and onboarding.

Value-Added Work Environments

The 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study suggests that young people believe that by pursuing a career in manufacturing, they will not be able to achieve a good work/life balance and will not be able to earn an attractive income.

To attract top talent, manufacturing organizations must bust these myths and create a dynamic, challenging, and vibrant workplace. Evolving shift-based jobs and replacing them with a flexible, project- or goal-oriented approach is a key action you can take to achieve this.

During a webinar of HR Leaders from the manufacturing industry, European firm Nigel Wright emphasized that in order to transition to a more flexible model, companies have to analyze each case and each role and determine what is feasible and realistic to implement. They also mentioned that some of the proposals their companies are analyzing include:

  • Linking reward to productivity
  • Part-time jobs/job sharing
  • Production related KPIs
  • Hiring resources on shorter contracts
  • Flexible core hours

As a final note, to attract the next generation of top talent, manufacturing companies must demonstrate a strong sense of purpose. As a study carried out by Tooling U-SME shows, a clear mission and purpose will motivate new-generation hires more than a paycheck.

Communication is also critical: make sure the recruitment process highlights the value-added aspects of the role you are offering, including flexible working arrangements, training and licensing opportunities, corporate social responsibility priorities, and benefits and incentives.

Technology

According to Statista data, U.S. Millennials spend 253 minutes a day using apps and accessing the internet via smartphones. Therefore, if manufacturing companies want to attract young people, they must incorporate digital platforms, apps, smartphones, and tablets into everyday work. The 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Study shows that 51% of manufacturing companies surveyed use technology to redesign job tasks. Moreover, these companies employ elements such as robots, automation software, and in some cases, state-of-the-art tools and materials.

This is key information, because the new generation of potential manufacturing hires are highly attracted to industries and positions with a strong technological component. For this reason, they see large Silicon Valley companies as the best option for developing their careers.

To compete with such companies for top talent, your manufacturing company must demonstrate, communicate, and even celebrate the use of cutting-edge technology and the opportunity to design new tools and platforms that will directly impact people’s lives. As one expert suggests, you need to make a concerted effort to mitigate the perception that manufacturing jobs are dirty, dangerous, menial, manual labor-ridden, long workdays in dark facilities (K-Coe Editorial, 2021).

Networking with High Schools and Vocational Schools

Significant research has indicated the benefits of community connections in attracting top talent. Wellener et al. (2021) found that companies that have created close relationships with the communities where their facilities are located have improved the recruitment of new candidates for entry-level positions. Klass (2019) proposes cross-institutional collaboration to make the most of these initiatives: “Manufacturers can work with education providers and government organizations to assess need and create targeted training programs at the local, state, and national level.” Similarly, Pawela (2020) believes that joining forces through initiatives such as the Institute of Printed Circuits (IPC) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is the key to changing perceptions about manufacturing jobs, proposing that these associations should make an effort to secure spaces at college job fairs and create joint internship programs.

The Boeing Company offers a strategy to attract the new generation that includes, vocational tours, and college and even high school students visiting Boeing factories and learning firsthand what it is like to work for the company (Boeing Future U, 2021). This has helped Boeing generate interest in the industry from an early age and has allowed them to attract younger talent over the past five years.

Organizations who build community connections like Boeing learn firsthand about the expectations and ambitions of tomorrow’s workforce and how to better adapt to meet those demands. In addition, through these programs, companies can create awareness of the promising careers they offer and attract the next generation to their vacancies.

The Vetting Process

The vetting process is a fundamental step in attracting top young talent. This is because the new generation demands more dynamic strategies, in which job expectations are made clear and in which they can maintain open communication with the company.

Larry Fast, founder and president of Pathways to Manufacturing Excellence, a veteran of 38 years in the wire and cable industry, and a bestselling author, proposes more in-depth interview processes to gain real insight into young people’s aspirations and plans. Taking the time to review and improve your interview strategy with the next generation in mind will help you align your company’s expectations with desirable employees’ values.

To achieve more effective and efficient vetting processes, you also need to simplify and standardize how candidates are contacted and the mechanisms by which both parties can track the application process. Candidates want to know in real-time how they have performed in an interview and whether there are opportunities to move forward in the process.

One way to directly streamline your recruitment process is to implement standardized assessments to determine if a candidate’s skills and abilities fit into your company’s organizational culture. According to Harver Blog, this can reduce screening time from one week to less than 72 hours.

In addition, companies like GM have started to implement simulations during interviews to determine a candidate’s physical abilities. This is not only a great tool for determining which candidates will perform best in the position but also an effective way to give candidates an accurate idea of what the job involves. It is, therefore, an excellent way to set realistic expectations for both parties.

The First 90 Days

The first ninety days of employment are critical when it comes to retaining your top- talent new hire. The new generation of manufacturing hires value access to all the information they need to work quickly and straightforwardly. To meet this need, companies like light manufacturer Rich Brilliant Willing and machinery manufacturer DMG MORI have implemented apps that allow workers to manage shift assignments, access manuals, and training materials, and even communicate directly with supervisors and co-workers.

To address the need to quickly onboard new hires, FTE Performance offers an on-line MicroLearning platform where training can be completed asynchronously and in five-to-ten-minute sessions to make learning simple and meaningful. Apps like Tulip and Trainual also help increase the retention and engagement of the younger generation, making them feel that your company is giving them the proper infrastructure to perform their duties.

It is also critical that managers are visible and accessible to new employees during the first 90 days. This is a period of adaptation, and employees need to be listened to and supported to fit in well with your organizational culture. Crucially, employees want to feel that you listen to them and that their ideas and contributions are valued and being put into practice. By catering to this need, organizational leaders can help new employees feel motivated and quickly embrace the company culture.

Conclusion

There is no question the challenge manufacturers are experiencing is real with so many job openings and not enough applicants. However, the potential talent pool is deep with over 1 million high school graduates available each year to draw from to fill several of the entry level positions manufacturers across the U.S. struggle to hire into.

By creating value-added work environments, using technology, engaging with local high schools and vocational schools, increasing the robustness of the hiring process, and using the first 90 days of employment to set a solid foundation for future success, high school students like Claire will begin to see manufacturing as a challenging, rewarding, lifelong career.

Get a jumpstart on improving your hiring process by using the FTE Performance Consulting’s assessment activity located in the appendix.

FTE is also here to help you succeed so do not hesitate to contact us as you tackle the challenge of hiring the next generation of workers.

If you are interested in a free consultation, please contact pete.lucci@fteperformance.com

About the Experts

Pete Lucci, Principal, Pete.Lucci@fteperformance.com

Scott Thor, D.M., Case Team Leader, Scott.Thor@fteperformance.com

Marianna Cunningham, MTD, HR Business Team Leader, Marianna.Cunningham@fteperformance.com

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