Build Up the Workforce, Build Up the Future

PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network sheds light on the challenges and solutions for the current and future manufacturing workforce.

As millennials now make up the largest segment of the workforce in the United States[1], employers face both opportunities and challenges as they seek to engage and retain talent. Additionally, Generation Z, those born in the mid- to late-1990s, will soon be entering the workforce too and what once served as workplace incentives will require readjustment in order to leverage worker interests and skills.

Prevailing misconceptions surrounding industrial occupations present an even greater challenge for manufacturing. Patricia Andersen, Director of Human Resources for Delkor Systems says, “Part of the problem is that for the past 30 years or so the public perception of manufacturing has been very grim. Jobs in this field have often times been viewed as repetitive and dead-end which has resulted in many young people ignoring a promising career path in an industry that is thriving.”

The good news is that there are initiatives to educate and provide young workers with a dose of enthusiasm for the manufacturing industry.

A Price Too High to Bear

According to a 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace report, actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. an estimated $450 to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. In the spring of 2015, the OpX Leadership Network released the Workforce Engagement Framework with the primary goal to help individuals, teams and organizations reverse the trend and re-engage employees. The Workforce Development Framework, generated by a diverse group of subject matter experts within the network’s Workforce Development Solutions Group, offers an industry insider perspective on today’s workforce and outlines some strategies for improvement. The framework’s focus is on increasing engagement to ensure manufacturing workers are invested in a company’s success. The OpX Leadership Network, was founded in 2011 by PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Its mission is to help consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) and original equipment manufacturers solve operational challenges, make smarter decisions and achieve excellence.

Given the high price tag of employee disengagement, efforts to inspire, engage and keep talent continue to be managerial priorities for any business that wants to thrive. Cultivating the largest generation in the workforce, and generations to come, with the knowledge and skills to keep manufacturing moving forward, is crucial in today’s fast and highly competitive marketplace.

A Sense of Purpose, Growth and Pay

Nancy Cobb, an independent consultant with more than 25 years of experience in training and development at Kraft Nabisco, notes that there is a different mindset that distinguishes young workers from previous generations.

“Millennials have a completely different expectation from their employers compared to previous groups,” says Cobb. “Within the past decade, young workers have become much more concerned about the organization's purpose, and how the culture lines up with their values and expectations — especially when deciding whether to stay with that organization.” Cobb, who serves as a training facilitator for the PMMI Certified Trainer program, also notes that successful integration into a company’s culture begins during recruitment and continues throughout development and promotion.

Greg Flickinger, Ph.D., vice president of manufacturing operations, HEB, and chair of the Workforce Development Solutions Group of the OpX Leadership Network, notes that there has been a generational shift in terms of workplace expectations. “Millennials are much less willing to compromise and they will take action to either change it or find a place that fulfills their expectations,” Flickinger says. “Previous generations looked at work as required tasks. Today’s workforce looks at work as an opportunity for fulfillment.”

Furthermore, The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that two-thirds of millennials across the globe plan to leave their current organization by 2020, and one-quarter plan to change companies within the next year. One of the contributors for job-hopping and little loyalty to employers among millennials is that they do not see enough opportunities for growth. Moreover, the same survey shows that pay and financial benefits are major factors when millennials consider where they want to work, but they do not work in isolation. Purpose and advancement are key influencers when millennials have to choose between similar companies.

Another distinction between millennials and more seasoned workers is their tolerance for waiting. While baby boomers have generally accepted the notion of starting at the bottom and working their way to the top, millennials seem to follow another trend. “They believe if they have a necessary skill to get the job done, and can demonstrate the ability and maturity to handle it, the time of service at an organization is almost irrelevant,” says Jill Costelow, vice president of operations and supply chain at Pressed Juicery and a member of the OpX Leadership Network. As a result, Costelow notes that Pressed Juicery focuses on rewarding performance and skillset. For example, certain positions are broken up into multiple levels to accommodate more room for growth and promotions among staff.

Given the aspirations of the millennial workforce as detailed in these surveys, forward-thinking manufacturing companies are finding ways to provide challenging and exciting opportunities. Organizations that clearly communicate a purpose to staff and offer opportunities for growth within the company support a sense of collaboration and accomplishment. Similarly, companies have an opportunity to communicate how manufacturing can play an important role in society and how workers, through their daily activities, can make a positive impact. For example, manufacturers may consider emphasizing their role in tackling environmental issues and food supply safety while providing convenience and innovation for consumers in a variety of sectors.[2]

Raising the Profile of an Industry

“As an industry, we must work with the education community to help the younger generation see that manufacturing is a worthwhile option,” says Daniel Sileo, vice president of manufacturing at Sugar Creek and vice chair of the OpX Leadership Network. “Out of the roughly 102 new hires in one of our facilities, which started up in July of 2015, the hardest demographic to attract has been the younger generation,” Sileo shared.

In an effort to reach learners as early as possible, it is important for manufacturers to collaborate more closely and extensively with schools and colleges.

Noting that since 2010 manufacturing has created over 100,000 jobs each year around the country, Andersen suggests that manufacturing initiatives can attract more skilled workers into the field by improving awareness of an industry that is both dynamic and flourishing. She cites programs such as Project Lead the Way, First Robotics, and Vex Robotics as examples meant to create excitement and connect students to a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum. Andersen adds that although it may be hard to quantify the impact on students’ final career path decisions, these programs help create general interest by engaging them in hands-on experiences and mentor-based opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

Additionally, a national celebration event called Manufacturing Day (MFG Day), officially held the first Friday in October, is intended to highlight modern manufacturing technologies and careers and address misconceptions about manufacturing. “In 2014, there were nearly 400,000 participants in MFG Day activities. It is great that manufacturers have an opportunity to open their doors and showcase jobs for young people, and that they can do so collectively in order to promote the public image of manufacturing,” says Andersen.

According to a 2015 Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute study, 81 percent of students were more convinced manufacturing provides careers that are interesting and rewarding as a result of Manufacturing Day, and 62 percent of students were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing. The study also suggests that MFG Day has helped develop a positive perception of manufacturing with educators. According to the survey, 93 percent were more inclined to view manufacturing as offering careers that are interesting and rewarding.[3]

PMMI’s Emerging Leaders Network, which serves to advance manufacturing through leadership development, offers a number of initiatives and tools to engage the millennial workforce. Chris Canna, project manager at Schneider Packaging and chair of the Emerging Leaders Committee, shares some themes that PMMI’s Emerging Leader’s Network addresses via its LinkedIn community. Topics address finding emerging leaders within a company, presenting processing and packaging as a high-tech profession rather than as a gritty factory job, as well as communication methods of millennials versus baby boomers.

PMMI also provides opportunities at specific events that take place during PACK EXPO shows, where members and customers are able to network in an inviting atmosphere. Moreover, PACK EXPO initiatives such as the Amazing Packaging Race and PACK Solutions Challenge are intended to connect college students with exhibitors at the show. The “Future Innovators — Robotics Showcase”, meant for high schoolers, provides a platform for students to show off their robotic talents and introduce these students to future careers in processing and packaging. These efforts and more help to inspire young people to leadership in science and technology and engage them in exciting, mentor-based programs that foster science, engineering and technology skills. Essentially, they encourage excitement and reinforce the message that manufacturing can be “cool”.

Finally, the OpX Workforce Engagement Team is completing work on a Foundational Diagnostic for the Engagement Framework, led by Greg Flickinger. The Foundational Diagnostic is an assessment of the foundational elements of the Engagement Framework which serves as determination of whether an organization is adequately prepared to proceed to work on engagement or if they need to do remedial work to prepare. It will be tested across a number of organizations in the coming months. Key elements of the Engagement Framework are developing organizational empowerment, enablement and connection — universal principles across all industries.

As with other OpX initiatives, the goal of the framework is to provide a pathway to improved organizational performance. The objective is to improve the workforce of today and encourage young innovators to join the world of manufacturing. “As we continue to take the necessary steps, we can create meaningful work, purpose and recognition that engages the current and future workforce within manufacturing,” concluded Flickinger.

To learn more about the OpX Leadership Network, visit For more details on PMMI, see

About PMMI
PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, represents the voice of more than 700 North American manufacturers of equipment, components and materials for processing and packaging. We work to advance a variety of industries by connecting consumer goods companies with manufacturing solutions through the world class PACK EXPO portfolio of trade shows, leading trade media and a wide range of resources to empower our members. The PACK EXPO trade shows unite the world of processing and packaging to advance the industries they serve: PACK EXPO International, PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Pharma EXPO, PACK EXPO East, EXPO PACK México, EXPO PACK Guadalajara and ProFood Tech, launching in April 2017. PMMI Media Group connects manufacturers to the latest solutions, trends and innovations in processing and packaging year-round through brands including Packaging World, Automation World, Healthcare Packaging, Contract Packaging and Packaging + Processing OEM.PMMI Business Drivers assist members in pursuing operational excellence through workforce development initiatives, deliver actionable business intelligence on economic, market and industry trends to support members' growth strategies, and actively connect the supply chain throughout the year.

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