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When 'Slackers' Take Over Manufacturing

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 10:01am
by Joel Hans, Associate Editor, IMPO

We all know that manufacturing has an old age problem. Something has to be done—and rather quickly—to fill in the massive gaps that the Boomers will leave in this industry once they retire. One of the main initiatives to solve this crisis of sorts is to market manufacturing as a career option for the members of Generation Y, of which I am a part.

Gen Y-ers are hard to pin down, but most “experts” in the field have them pegged as born between 1982 and 1995, while others extend the range all the way to 2000. Regardless of the specific year, they’re almost entirely part of the “Echo Boom,” meaning they’re the children of the Boomers themselves. Beyond that, what Generation Y consists of is more a guessing game than hard facts, and everyone seems to have an opinion.

Those in manufacturing, particularly, seem to be having trouble in characterizing what Generation Y consists of. While some have pointed out our strong suits—we’re technological wizards and have new ideas to tackle the specific issues of 21st century life and business—others have focused on a perceived set of faults, like our inability to move out of our parent’s houses, a distinct selfishness, the consistent battering of the English language into something made entirely of acronyms, and a pathetic work ethic. In most cases, analysis has shifted toward the negative, leaving many managers in power right now—the Boomers—absolutely terrified that they have to hire these kids, who haven’t worked a day in their life, or can’t write a proper sentence, or don’t know anything beyond how many Twitter followers Ashton Kutcher has. That’s right—we’re all stupid, narcissistic, and spoiled rotten.

I hear this sentiment across the board, and frankly I’m not at all surprised that my generation is avoiding manufacturing at almost any costs because of it. Who wants to get hired into a toxic environment?

Manufacturing needs to drop the shallow criticism of Generation Y if they really want to market this industry to teenagers and twenty-somethings more interested in Facebook than lift trucks and gear motors. Manufacturing is suffering enough as it is; fewer and fewer youths are interested in what they still consider the “manual labor” jobs of their grandparents. Gen Y-ers don’t need to feel as though they’re second-class citizens when approaching the industry. It’s both amusing and pathetically ironic to see so many initiatives to convince America’s youth that manufacturing is not all about manual labor, dark and dreary facilities, and poor pay—all while these same men and women snicker and shake their heads at what they believe is an impossibly unqualified generation.

Generation Y is no different than many of you were at our age, and I’d wager they’re not all that different from you now, if you look beyond the shallow criticisms. Some of us will be everything you’re looking for in a new generation of employees, and some of us will text and tweet our way to irrelevancy. Some of us are remarkably smart. Others are unfathomably stupid, but I guarantee that’s no different for any generation.

If you want these workers, go out and get them. Convince them manufacturing is a viable career choice, and they’ll figure it out soon enough—Mom and Dad will kick them out of the house eventually. Find the right people, and treat them well, and they’ll do great work for you. But if manufacturing continues to treat Generation Y like fools—with one face of acceptance and another of harsh rejection—don’t be surprised at the vacuum left in the industry once the Boomers retire. The next generations have already seen it coming.

Is manufacturing shooting itself in the foot by rejecting its next generation of workers? Or am I also generalizing too much about the perception of Generation Y in the current manufacturing body? Send me your thoughts at Joel.Hans@advantagemedia.com.

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