Making A Career in Manufacturing “Sexy” Again

Solve the Labor Shortage: Change Culture and Perceptions To Make Careers In Manufacturing Sexy and Appealing to Millennials. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing manufacturers trying to deal with the labor shortage these days is not the skills gap, but the perceptions gap. In short, young millennials tend to view careers in manufacturing in a very different way than older Baby Boomers, and that could be dissuading them from applying to new manufacturing jobs that you’re posting.


For older Baby Boomers, manufacturing companies are often viewed as the bedrock of entire communities, providing a source of lifetime employment and a path into the middle-class for anyone with a high school degree. Moreover, they are seen as engines of the U.S. economy and the key to American competitiveness.  

However, for younger millennials, the technology sector is the new engine of the U.S. economy and the key to American competitiveness. In a globalized world, it is the Facebooks and Googles of the world that are the key to economic growth and technological innovation. Moreover, they are not nearly as concerned about lifetime employment – they are part of the job-hopping generation, and are relatively fearless about working at companies that might have only existed for a short period of time. 

So, as you can see, the skills gap is really a function of the perceptions gap. If talented young millennials don’t view your company and your sector as being sexy and appealing, they simply won’t apply. And, if given a choice between two financially competitive offers, they will always opt for the job opening that promises plenty of workplace flexibility, an inspiring mission statement, and lots of workplace perks (like foosball tables in the break room and beer carts on Friday afternoons). 

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to change this perceptions gap. Based on our experience working with dozens of manufacturing companies, Adapt Consulting has identified several key factors that can help to make careers in manufacturing sexy and appealing.


One important factor to keep in mind is automation. Here, millennials and Baby Boomers differ markedly on how they view this fundamental technological concept. For millennials, automation implies robots taking over jobs from humans. When you mention the word “automation,” the first thing they think of is giant robotic arms assembling parts in a factory. From their perspective, those same robots are eventually coming for them and their white-collar jobs, and they want no part of it. 

That’s why Adapt Consulting has found that it’s far better to focus on new technological trends that may be just as powerful as automation, but that imply a world of technological promise rather than peril. One of these trends, for example, is the Internet of Things. A manufacturing career that exposes young millennials to the world of the Internet of Things is viewed as something very valuable for their future skill set.   

Moreover, the Internet of Things is also sexy. It ties into the way millennials view gadgets and technology in general. In their view, everything can and should be connected to the Internet. Thus, the idea of putting this concept into practice in the workforce is something that resonates with them.  

Instead of focusing on automation to mean hardware (i.e. robots on the shop floor), focus on automation to mean software. Millennials firmly believe that “software is eating the world,” so again, this is a message that will resonate with them. That’s why concepts like artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are so powerful – it feeds into the whole idea that it’s possible to program machines to do all sorts of wondrous things. Instead of machines taking over from humans, this is a case of humans running the whole operation. 


Ultimately, Adapt Consulting is about business improvement consulting. We are not here to overhaul your business completely, we are here to make incremental changes in the business. The key is to find the best possible levers to generate the greatest overall return. 

From the perspective of attracting young millennials, it all starts with workplace culture. When millennials consider which jobs to apply to, financial compensation is often not even the first thing they consider. They consider, first and foremost, the work-life balance. For some, that means flexible working arrangements. For others, it means a low-key workplace environment where they can set their own hours and have access to lots of workplace perks – like free munchies throughout the day – that older workers might not value as much. 

As we’ve found, workplace culture is intimately related to the mission of the organization. The word “mission” is one that millennials love to use. They want to feel like they are making a difference in the world. As a result, they reward employers who enable them to bring their interests and passions into the workplace. 

One manufacturing company that “gets it” is GE. It’s a company at the forefront of using social media to highlight attractive career options within the organization. The mission statement of the company is all over social media: “solving big global problems.”  


Just check out the Instagram feed for @GECareers – you’ll see a picture of a cute dog (millennials love to bring pets to the office!), a group of interns clowning around with a giant airplane engine (this is a fun place to work!), and a picture of GE employees who decided to take a motorcycle trip together. You’ll also see plenty of evidence of diversity – women in hard hats and GE hiring managers from Africa are just the start. 

Of course, there’s a big difference between just posting photos on social media and taking the hard steps to change corporate culture. However, what a company chooses to celebrate and share with the world tells you a lot about what the company values. And even the way companies talk about themselves matters. GE, for example, refers to itself as the “world’s premier digital industrial company.”   

The word “digital” here is the key. For any manufacturing company, the key is to show how you are embracing digital technology of all kinds –whether it is the Internet of Things, mobile, the cloud, or big data. That provides you with an easy way to connect with young millennials, who live, eat and breathe the digital lifestyle.   

If you can show them that you are the right type of workplace with an engaging mission, then you can go a long way towards narrowing the perceptions gap. When perceptions change, that’s when you can solve the labor shortage. 

Don’t know where to start? We can help. Talk to an improvement expert who can help you revamp your strategy and reach your goals. Click here to get started.

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