Millennials and the Manufacturing Workforce

Heather Lynch

As the forestry and other manufacturing industries refocus and carve out new, niche markets for themselves, a growing trend is threatening to undermine some of the progress that has been made.

While the challenges associated with an aging workforce are certainly nothing new, competition for similar skill sets required by the IT industry is forcing manufacturing industries to get creative about how they attract and retain human resources.

ARC Advisory Group, a technology research and advisory firm for industry and infrastructure, recently reported on the difficulties manufacturing companies experience in getting new engineers excited about their industries and willing to devote their careers to sectors with arguably less glamor than the Googles and Apples of the world. ARC noted that while this is not a recent phenomenon (many organizations reported hiring gaps of 10-15 years when new engineers sought out positions in high technology-driven companies), to offer an attractive alternative, ARC reported, manufacturing began to emphasize the 'work-life balance' opportunities it had to offer, whereby employees would have access to meaningful work in a rewarding environment, while also having the time to devote to leisure and personal pursuits.

Where manufacturing has run into additional obstacles, however, is that jobs typically lie far outside major urban centres and require employees to relocate to more rural, isolated areas, which can undermine 'work-life balance' advantages. Options for social and leisure activities tend to be more limited in areas where manufacturing operations are concentrated, which can make relocation a hard sell for companies. One option, as ARC noted, though not an immediate solution, is the opportunity that may be afforded by increasing reliance on working remotely, whereby some positions may have functions that could be performed in geographic locations that are more attractive to the Millennial generation. In the interim, where having hands-on experience on a plant floor is a necessity, as ARC points out, the 'onboarding' of employees, effectively and strategically engaging them in meaningful work, needs to be carefully planned and executed. The use of mentors to assist recently-hired employees as they navigate a new work environment has shown to be a helpful tool. From a cost-benefit analysis perspective, before companies invest significant time and financial resources into the recruitment of a new employee, when relocation is a non-negotiable requirement, that commitment should be communicated to the potential hire as early as possible.