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Leaning on Millennials
Posted on February 15th, 2016 by Ken Klapproth in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence
Has the Millennial generation really doomed the future of manufacturing or are we witnessing yet another example of “those crazy kids and their rock and roll music”?
While stories in the media about the Millennial generation and what makes them tick are fairly common – particularly in tech industries – I was intrigued by a recent article in IndustryWeek by Bill Baker entitled How to Attract Millennials to Manufacturing Jobs. The author discusses current challenges for manufacturing companies to attract and retain the best and the brightest while contrasting the expectations of the youngest generation to the workforce. He makes the point that established manufacturing companies must create and nurture an environment of creativity in order to complete with tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple that influenced this generation since childhood.
I don’t disagree with the premise, but as I read I couldn’t help wondering if this is fundamentally any different than the previous Generation X, Generation Y, or the countless preceding generations that didn’t rate a label? After spending ten years myself as a young engineer in the aerospace industry, I had the opportunity to work in the new and exploding computer software industry. Decades later, I vividly remember the “you need to be patient” line ineffectively used by my Design Chief trying to convince me to stay after I announced my intentions to leave. The desire to make a difference quickly is nothing new. I also recall explaining the concept of “entry level” positions to my children as they approached workforce age – the student becomes the teacher.
So, is Manufacturing truly at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and keeping Millennials to its workforce? If so, what can be done to create a culture attractive to new goals and expectations? Commenting on the same article, Jay Bitsack offers an intriguing argument about Lean Manufacturing that makes a lot of sense. Focused on continuous improvement, elimination of waste, the value every step and every contributor brings to the process, Lean speaks directly to the core wishes, desires, expectations, and values of Millennials. They can make a difference quickly and can shoulder increasing responsibility in the process, leading to a greater sense of reward. But can they do it?
Just as I was feeling comfortable in my premise that generations are more alike than disparate, Mr. Bitsack introduced some thought provoking research giving me pause. Has our educational system failed this generation by focusing more on the breath of information at the expense of critical thinking skills? Has this generation developed the thinking capacity to recognize and solve the open ended problems intrinsic with continuous improvement? Dr. Derek Cabrera leads a fascinating TEDx Talk entitled How Thinking Works covering his research and findings on this topic:
Generations will continue to evolve and – like the music that defines them – their values, desires, and goals will be unique and sometimes “loud” to previous generations. Manufacturing will always be an important sector, delivering the products that shape and improve people’s lives. Some “tweaks” may be necessary to make jobs in the manufacturing sector attractive to the latest generation of workers, but processes such as Lean already provide a blueprint for everyone – including Millennials – to realize lasting and meaningful impact.
What’s the average age of your workforce? Tell us about the changes your company has made – or the changes you think they should make – to attract and keep younger workers. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.
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