What you need to keep the next generation of manufacturing employees engaged and equipped with the skills they need to succeed
Manufacturers are on the cusp of a major generational shift. Baby Boomers are preparing to retire out of the workforce, and Gen Y is poised to replace them. However, several obstacles are preventing a seamless transition of Gen Y-ers into these soon-to-be vacant roles. After decades of watching jobs being sent overseas, young workers perceive manufacturing as a sector offering few opportunities, poor job security and limited growth potential. Meanwhile, established manufacturing professionals think incoming workers lack the math, science and problem-solving skills critical for success in this evolving industry.
If ignored, these factors will paint a grim picture for the future of manufacturing. However, the good news is that industry players are taking action. They’re developing exercises and programs that engage and educate today’s young manufacturing professionals, and in the process, they’re changing the way manufacturing is perceived.
Evolve Training Methods
The most important skill for production and technical workers is problem solving, especially given the many changes manufacturing has undergone in the last decade. Advances in equipment and automation, coupled with lean manufacturing techniques, require more involvement and decision making on the factory floor. Dealing effectively with these new conditions requires a level of skill that many potential hires simply do not possess. In order to build and retain the type of workforce consumer goods manufacturers want, they may have to train potential hires themselves. This is where innovative training programs are being developed.
Companies are increasingly collaborating with local community colleges to develop curriculum that helps ensure that future employees have the right blend of skills. In Ohio, for example, Hormel worked with the local community college to develop a training center that simulates its plant floor environment in order to teach continuing improvement and problem-solving skills they look for in their hires.
Other companies, such as Sunny Delight, have adopted training programs popularized by training-for-profit organizations, such as Kepner-Tregoe. These programs include on-the-job training with mentors, setting lofty goals that require a high degree of problem-solving.
Mentoring: Have It Both Ways
Regardless of their different knowledge base, entry-level Gen-Y workers bring substantial attributes to the table, often possessing a wealth of technical knowledge organizations can leverage for positive results. It’s important that companies and their more senior employees recognize this, and approach mentoring as an exchange of ideas rather than a one-way lecture.
Additionally, not all innovative ideas happen from the top down. Companies can get caught up in their policies and procedures and inadvertently stifle the creativity of the workforce. Informal learning, such as passing along a helpful YouTube video or engaging in “water cooler” conversations, can be a great way to share lessons learned for workers on both sides of the generational gap. The result is a less hierarchical company culture where new and more established workers are comfortable intermingling and sharing ideas – a model that is very much in keeping with Gen Y’s character.
Leverage Industry Resources
Ongoing education and training keeps employees up-to-speed with the latest technologies, but it also delivers an important sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Organizations like PMMI offer a wide range of educational tools and events to share insights among member companies. For example, the PMMI Certified Trainer Program helps supplier companies provide the best instruction possible to end-users when working with them to maximize productivity, enhance reporting or reduce waste in applications of their equipment. The program also enables consumer packaged goods companies to develop their internal capacity for training.
PMMI U also offers various online tools that provide manufacturing education and training, including various certifications and mentoring programs.
Additionally, events such as PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013 (September 23-25; Las Vegas Convention Center)  bring together end-users, suppliers, regulatory authorities and academic institutions, providing valuable educational opportunities for workers new to the industry.
Gen-Y employees are motivated by new experiences, flexible work schedules, collaboration, and diversity —attributes not always associated with the manufacturing sector. However, by keeping these workers engaged with opportunities to learn, mentor, be mentored, and interact with the industry on a broader scale, companies can develop the talent they need to grow their business. The crossroads we find ourselves at is a challenge – but it’s also a chance to transform the manufacturing work environment in a way that offers a lasting positive impact on both the success and perception of the industry.
Manufacturers are on the cusp of a major generational shift. Baby Boomers are preparing to retire out of the workforce, and Gen Y is poised to replace them. However, several obstacles are preventing a seamless transition of Gen Y-ers into these soon-to-be vacant roles.