One thing that has become abundantly clear over the past 18 months is the ever increasing importance of the manufacturing industry and its frontline workers. It may actually be called the “renaissance” of the industrial worker. At a time when manufacturing is still facing stressed supply chains and fewer workers on site due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also in the midst of another major issue – a labour shortage that stands to be an existential crisis. In the US, 2.1 million jobs may go unfulfilled by 2030. Across the globe, manufacturing facilities are facing a retiring generation and the need to bring in new talent.
Lawrence Whittle, CEO of Parsable, shares his insights on the critical role Gen Z will play in the future of manufacturing.
What role will Gen Z play in the future of manufacturing?
With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, manufacturers are looking to attract a new generation of workers. Gen Z is generally defined as those born sometime between the mid-1990s and 2010, and those at the older end of that bracket are just now beginning to enter the workforce. This generation is expected to represent more than 1 billion of the global workforce by 2030, so guiding Gen Z to the manufacturing industry will be critical in addressing the industry’s growing labour shortage.
According to a recent survey by my company, Parsable, Gen Z's perception of the manufacturing industry has turned more positive because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey revealed that 56 per cent of respondents said their views on manufacturing changed because of the pandemic; of those, 77 per cent of respondents said they view manufacturing as more important.
What is preventing Gen Z from pursuing a career in manufacturing?
Despite this positive view, this young generation has many misperceptions around the manufacturing industry. Parsable's survey found that 65 per cent of respondents felt that an entry-level manufacturing position pays less than the industry average for all entry-level jobs. In the UK, the average manufacturing salary is 13 per cent higher than the average salary across all industries. The survey also found that 30 per cent of respondents were concerned that a job in manufacturing “may be a low-skilled, manual job.” However, what we’re seeing across all industries, and especially in manufacturing, is that technology is becoming increasingly leveraged as a way to make these jobs more efficient and safer for the frontline worker. The truth is, the manufacturing industry is actually very technologically advanced.
What more can be done to change Gen Z’s perception of the manufacturing industry and attract the younger generation to manufacturing jobs?
Our research further found that more than half of respondents (54 per cent) had not considered frontline manufacturing as a potential career before the pandemic; of those, 24 per cent are now open to exploring it. This is a step in the right direction, but there is more to be done to attract Gen Z to manufacturing and to change some of the misperceptions mentioned above.
One of the most important steps is to partner with educators, either at the university level or at vocational colleges, to help dispel some of the misperceptions mentioned. The other important step in attracting Gen Z is for hiring managers to strongly communicate the wide range of benefits of a career in manufacturing whether that be higher salaries, diversity, growth opportunities or job security.
How will technology play a role in attracting this generation to manufacturing?
Technology is increasingly important to all generations and is enabling manufacturing to become more future-focused and sustainable over time. When it comes to Gen Z, this generation has spent its entire life with technology front and centre. So having technology, especially in their hands as mobile devices, available as part of frontline manufacturing jobs will be critical in recruitment and enabling Gen Z to be successful throughout onboarding, training and professional development.
Additionally, as older generations begin to retire and take with them tacit knowledge that - at best - is stored in a paper binder somewhere, being able to provide new frontline workers with this information in a digital, interactive format will streamline that transition and set Gen Z up for a successful career in manufacturing.