Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Industrial millennials: How to attract millennials and simultaneously boost your business


May 24, 2016
By Anurag Garg

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May 24, 2016 – Millennials — they were born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, and they are admittedly different from previous generations as employees, consumers and innovators. Today, they are an active part of the North American workforce. In fact, the Pew Research Center says they currently make up nearly 1 in 3 workers, and there are more to come.

As baby boomers continue to exit the workforce (leading to an estimated 3.5 million jobs being available in manufacturing), millennials and manufacturing have a clear future together. But in order for it to work well, it is key for manufacturing leaders to understand how they can become more attractive to this new generation.

Changing perceptions, all the way around
This proposed millennial/manufacturing marriage can only work if perceptions are changed. According to the Industry Market Barometer, 81 per cent of manufacturers do not plan to increase the percentage of millennials in their workforce. This could stem from 43 per cent of those surveyed perceiving this generation as lacking work ethic and discipline to succeed, despite their role in founding disruptive cultural powerhouses like Facebook, Pinterest and Airbnb. Millennials aren’t bad workers; they simply work differently and technology is often a major part of that.

Similarly, manufacturing isn’t necessarily considered a glamorous job to millennials. According to the article, Attracting Future Generations of U.S. Manufacturing Workers, this generation has an outdated view of shop floor jobs. A Republic 3.0 article noted millennials view factory work as “dirty, dangerous and offering little job security.” Instead, available jobs in technology, gaming and healthcare receive an abundance of attention. If perceptions don’t shift, this could lead to a stagnant era in manufacturing.

The power of technology
So what can be done to ensure that jobs in the manufacturing realm become more enticing to young workers? If manufacturing facilities desire young talent, they need to emphasize a common passion — technology. They can use this as an opportunity to improve their workplace and/or adopt a new way of thinking. These new methods are a great way to keep millennials (who bring with them the Internet of Things) engaged.

A Stable Kernel blog on the millennial workforce says, “Integration of technology in the workplace is a must for millennials.” It goes on to say that “millennials have mastered how to use technology… and they expect to take those technologies into the workplace.” Thus, companies who embrace technology faster will attract more young workers.

A mutually beneficial solution
The good news for companies is that an integration of technology will be mutually beneficial. Not only will it attract millennials, it can also give businesses an operational edge and enable growth. In our customer development efforts, we have found a positive correlation between a company’s willingness to adopt data-driven technologies and its ability to engage millennials as part of their workforce.

An example is machinery-monitoring solutions that empower engineers with a real-time stream of information regarding the status and health of their systems. Through data analytics, these tools provide real-time insights into the slightest changes in operating conditions — changes that directly affect quality, operator and machine safety, and a machine’s ability to meet production targets. This varies from traditional maintenance programs that do not offer real-time insights.

The goal of continuous machine monitoring is to identify weak or poorly-implemented controls so that they can be corrected or replaced before yield is affected. Consistent operation and smoothly-running machines directly contribute to a higher yield, increased safety and decreased downtime, which will benefit companies.

Continuous monitoring = an easier onboarding process
Oftentimes, manufacturing companies operate with the, If it works, don’t fix it, principle, and some facilities will tolerate the oldest and the most temperamental machines for the sake of keeping the production line running. This leads to operational decisions being driven by “tribal knowledge” as opposed to data-driven intelligence. (“You’ve got to warm her up before she’ll start. She’s really sensitive.”) Continuous machine monitoring provides an easy way to glean said knowledge and apply it to technology, making the entire organization more aware of machine/component health and operational efficiency metrics. This results in easier onboarding for new employees, better retention of operational knowledge, and faster training because the data is available to everyone, not just employees who have been around for years.

Millennials can change the workforce for the better
As millennials enter the workforce, and eventually flood the market, they will steadily replace baby boomers who retire. Hiring them is a way to bridge the growing skills gap, while filling the demands of the labour force. And so the question is not “Are you hiring millennials?” but “How are you attracting them to your workforce and is it mutually benefitting your company?”.

Anurag Garg is the CEO of Dattus. He is a published researcher in the field of reliability and micro/nano devices, and can be reached at agarg@dattus.com.

This feature was originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.