Manufacturing's Latest Evolution: Its People
How to better meet the needs of a labor pool of increasingly younger and more diverse workers.
Today’s factories are more Minority Report than Dickens novel. The real and cyber worlds are merging, thanks to automation, connectivity, Big Data, and screen technology.
“The manufacturing environment of 25 years ago is not the same as what you walk into today,” says Deanna Postlethwaite, director of global product management for STANLEY® Engineered Fastening’s Assembly Technologies product line in Cleveland, OH. “The environments have been transformed from ‘dark and dirty’ to very technology-driven ones focused on consistency, quality, and safety.”
As physical plants and tools have changed, so has the profile of workers in manufacturing. Women like Postlethwaite are taking on high-level executive positions in manufacturing companies, as well as working in more physical roles like welding, according to manufacturing-jobs-placement firm ResourceMFG.
That’s good news for the industry, demonstrating that initiatives to remediate the shortage of skilled workers are working. Those efforts are largely about getting people interested in manufacturing via organizations like Women Who Weld. Annual events like Manufacturing Day, founded by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association in 2012, have also been successful in convincing high school students to explore manufacturing careers after graduation.
"The younger workforce is quite different from their predecessors, which can be challenging for some employers; however, the differences can bring about a lot of opportunities,” says Jeannine Kunz, vice president, Tooling U-SME, the education program of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
"Manufacturers who work well with Millennials also understand that little things matter to them – allowing them to showcase their talents and skills to help solve problems and enlisting them to train older co-workers on technical job functions helps them feel more connected and valued at the company they work for.”
If there’s one theme that dominates training classes at STANLEY® Engineered Fastening in Troy, Michigan, it’s that once you attract a younger generation to manufacturing careers, you’ve got to figure out how to train them and keep them engaged.
The manufacturing environment has been transformed from ‘dark and dirty’ to very technology-driven ones, focused on consistency, quality, and safety.— Deanna PostlethwaiteDirector of Global Product Management, Assembly TechnologiesThese younger workers, often new engineers fresh out of school, are hungry for more than just basic information. These digital natives also want current data, charts, and trending information. They’re used to having data at their fingertips, with their phone and tablets, and the internet never far away. As a result, they usually can make use of information rapidly.
STANLEY® Engineered Fastening
Gender and age aren’t the only changing variables in the makeup of the manufacturing workforce. In Michigan and elsewhere, immigration means employees come from many different cultures, often those new to manufacturing operations.
Oakland County, where STANLEY® Engineered Fastening’s headquarters is located, along with Macomb and Wayne counties, form Michigan’s most population-dense tri-county area. All three counties experienced an immigration wave during the last 20 years of the 20th century, according to Data Driven Detroit.
As a result, a younger and more diverse population is replacing Baby Boomers through attrition. Many of the replacements have grown up here, and understand the American way of life.
This greater interest in manufacturing jobs couldn’t come at a better time. During the decade ending in 2025, an estimated 2.7 million manufacturing workers are expected to retire, according to a Deloitte report entitled “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond.” Those leaving the workforce, along with a projected 700,000 new jobs created by expansion, are partly what’s creating that gap over the next eight years.