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Q&A: The Importance of Attracting Gen-Z to Manufacturing Roles

Discussion around the looming manufacturing talent gap has focused on Millennials over the past decade, but Gen-Z is likely to account for 30% of all employment by 2030.

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A U.S. manufacturing skills gap could leave as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs unfilled through 2030, resulting in a potential negative impact to the economy of more than $1 trillion. The industry’s ability to attract and retain new talent, especially from younger generations like Gen Z that is expected to make up more than 1 billion of the global workforce by 2030, may hold the key to manufacturing’s future. Launched in July, a survey by Parsable of recently graduated 18-24 year olds (part of Gen Z) revealed the generation’s perception of manufacturing careers, as well as some lingering negative perspectives about jobs within the manufacturing industry.

We connected with Lawrence Whittle, CEO at Parsable, to discuss Gen Z’s view of the manufacturing industry, how the pandemic impacted perceptions and how this younger generation can help solve the industry’s labor shortage. Why did you choose to survey Gen Z specifically? 

WhittleWhittleLawrence Whittle: Gen Z alone is predicted to make up 30% of total employment in 2030, up from just over 10% in 2019. Additionally, the “gray tsunami” is expected to increase the number of late-career workers retiring and a large number of older workers are choosing not to return to factories following pandemic closures. With so many jobs expected to be unfilled by 2030, we thought it was important to check in with Gen Z to see how perceptions had changed since the pandemic began and what their thoughts were on the manufacturing industry as they make their way into the workforce. The key reason is the potential is huge, because the manufacturing world is increasingly delivering exciting technology-enabled roles. And if there's a tech savvy mobile-only generation, it’s the “Zs”! 

Mnet: What makes Gen Z different from previous generations entering the workforce? 

Whittle: One of the biggest differences between Gen Z and previous generations is that this generation is made up of digital natives who grew up in a world with technology always at their fingertips. Being a digital-first talent group, Gen Z is more comfortable (and expects) rapid digital change and innovation in their workplace. Additionally, this generation is looking for jobs that can provide a secure and meaningful future, including a good salary and access to digital tools. This means the manufacturing industry must work to find better ways to communicate to younger generations on the reality of frontline manufacturing work, which is actually very advanced and future-focused, in order to attract the best and brightest candidates. We talk about digital-first and mobile-first, but for Gen Z it is basically digital only and mobile only. 

Mnet: What is Gen Z’s perception of manufacturing? Has the pandemic changed that perception? 

Whittle: Parsable’s research revealed significant discrepancies between the perception of manufacturing among Gen Z and the reality of today’s manufacturing careers. One of the lingering misperceptions about jobs in manufacturing and opportunities for Gen Z was around pay, with 65% of respondents believing that an entry-level manufacturing position pays approximately $20,000 less than the industry average for all entry-level jobs. 

Another misperception revealed by the survey was that 30% of respondents were concerned that a job in manufacturing “may be a low-skilled, manual job,” however, the industry is actually very advanced when it comes to technology and the use of digital tools. 

When taking into account the pandemic and the impact it had on Gen Z’s perception of manufacturing though, the survey revealed that 56% of respondents said their views on manufacturing changed because of the pandemic, with 77% reporting they view manufacturing as more important. The survey also showed that 54% of respondents said they had not considered a job in frontline manufacturing prior to the pandemic, however, 24% are now open to the idea. 

Mnet: What can hiring managers do to attract Gen Z to the manufacturing industry? 

Whittle: There are three key areas hiring managers need to focus on when attempting to attract Gen Z to a career in manufacturing. 

Manufacturing hiring managers should focus on highlighting the range of benefits that come with a career in manufacturing, from strong salaries to career growth opportunities to diversity and inclusion initiatives, as these are all important to Gen Z when reviewing potential job opportunities. 

Another great opportunity for hiring managers is to partner with local educational institutions (high schools, vocational schools and colleges/universities) to provide students with accurate information on the opportunities and current state of the industry. According to the survey, 55% of respondents said they do not personally know anyone who works in manufacturing, so school-based programs are a great way to reach this generation. 

Finally, hiring managers should strongly communicate how technology-forward the manufacturing industry truly is with examples of any digital tools a company uses, as well as any digital advancements in the works. 

Mnet: Manufacturing has a significant talent gap to plug. Is your outlook positive?

Whittle: We know that a significant amount of manufacturing jobs are predicted to be unfilled by 2030. However, with the knowledge that Gen Z does view manufacturing in a more positive light since the pandemic began, I am optimistic that manufacturing hiring managers will be able to further educate this generation on any lingering misperceptions and attract Gen Z to a career in manufacturing.

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