Attracting Millennials to Manufacturing

This article was originally published in the May 2015 edition of Insight on Manufacturing in response to the struggles companies are facing in recruiting millennials into manufacturing. 

Millennials. Much is being written about this group (born between 1981 and 2000) in anguished blogs and articles decrying how they’re so “different.” Didn’t our parents say that about us and our friends? Truth is, every generation is disconnected from those that follow.

With the skills shortage facing so many manufacturers large and small, the very future of manufacturing hinges on the millennials. Ten thousand turn 21 every day. Millennials will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. They’re bigger than the baby boomers.

Within the next 15 years, the lauded baby boomers will all have turned 65 and account for just 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. There’s a huge turnover coming and most organizations are woefully unprepared to deal with it, much less take advantage of the inherent opportunities in front of us starting right now.

The annual manufacturing survey by ThomasNet states it clearly: “For the industry to sustain its steady climb, all the fundamentals need to be in place, and one of them is missing—a robust pipeline of skilled workers. Having the people to operate the machines, work the lines, and create new products is mission-critical. Yes—manufacturers are hiring and developing people—but to keep up with the opportunities at hand, they will need to recruit faster, smarter and harder.”

Understanding the shift

Your workforce is currently made up of three groups: boomers, Generation X, and millennials. Boomers are retiring, and there aren’t enough GenX-ers to fill their shoes. That means the younger set is going to have a big voice in how things are done. While individuals vary widely, each group has some generally shared characteristics:

Boomers (1946 – 1964)

This group is nearing retirement, or at least beginning to think seriously about it. They value success, work long hours, and are good team players. They believe they’ve earned some respect from younger workers. And while their skills are part of their success, a strong work ethic and “face time” in the workplace are even more important.

Generation X (1965 – 1980)

As one of my coworkers puts it, “Generation X is the Jan Brady of generations.” Stuck between the boomers and millennials, they’re the middle child screaming for attention. They’re looking for upward mobility, but are jockeying with boomers who haven’t retired yet and millennials who think they should be fast-tracked to the C-suite.

Millennials (1981 – 2000)

This generation began entering the workforce in 2004, but they’re just getting up to speed. They’re digital natives who grew up with technology—they may leave at 5 p.m. on the dot, but they’re always connected. Raised under heavy supervision and scheduling, they’re comfortable with authority figures to the point of casualness. And they expect open communication from all levels. Additionally, they are:

  • technologically savvy
  • natural multi-taskers
  • focused on real-time improvement (think immediate feedback rather than periodic reviews)
  • perfectly suited to things like 3D printing and nanotechnology
  • collaborative and want programs/apps that promote quick communication


Manufacturing executives are missing a wave of opportunity. About 43 percent of baby boomer executives think millennials view manufacturing as dirty and blue collar, and don’t have the work ethic to succeed.

If those leaders are going to be successful, they’re going to have to change their attitudes. That means less complaining about the new generation, and more proactive changing of their organizations and cultures to be much more attractive.

Fact is, millennials’ mastery of technology has a lot to offer the manufacturing industry. They’re designed for this world! And those who collaborate with them, versus trying to harness them or put them through “learning the traditional ropes,” are the ones who will quickly have a competitive edge.

Bridging the gap at work

How do you get the best out of each of these generations without rocking the boat? Think about their needs as you:

Recruit creatively. Evaluate your recruiting methods and benefits packages. Salary is important, but so are a comfortable environment, flexible hours, and things like remote working possibilities.

Build “doing good” into your core model. Millennials want to see the direct impact of their work on making the world a better place to live. They’re not satisfied with just “making money” at work so they can donate it somewhere else.

Adjust communication. Boomers may get more out of a meeting, while Gen X and millennials just need an email. Accommodate your employees’ styles by using a mix of communications tools. Audit your communication efforts to see what’s working and what’s not.

Personalize performance. Look at what works for the individual. Real-time feedback versus an annual review process will generally be more helpful to millennials. Focus more on developing strengths than pointing out weaknesses.

Encourage mentoring. Use boomers and GenXers to mentor millennials, while the latter can teach their elders about technology.

Customize incentives. Give all employees the ability to choose between monetary incentives and time off.

ThomasNet’s report concludes: “To take their rightful place as growth leaders, they must embrace the future workforce that will get them there. The path has been laid for them to success. The question is whether they’ll act in sufficient time. Closing the gaps between Baby Boomers and Millennials is critical to making this happen.”

The time to get started is now.

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Imaginasium helps manufacturing leaders drive profitable growth and change through inside-out marketing—building communication programs that drive culture, draw customers, and deliver a superior customer experience.