• By Patrick O’Rahilly
  • Workforce Development

By Patrick O'Rahilly

"How can we recruit more millennials into the industrial workforce?" That is all anyone seems to be talking about nowadays. So why this fascination with the younger generation? One of the biggest problems manufacturing companies face today is a lack of young, skilled workers entering their facilities as the older generation retires. Millennials make up today's workforce, yet they do not view the manufacturing sector as an attractive career. Over the next decade, 3.5 million jobs will sit unfilled, and a whopping 2 million of these unfilled jobs will be skilled positions like engineers, machinists, and maintenance technicians. Workers with years of training are retiring, and, as millennials continue to choose other industries over manufacturing, we are left with the "manufacturing skills gap." This gap is growing by the day as companies struggle to fill their open positions with fresh talent.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Even companies like GE have launched humorous TV campaigns targeting millennials to educate them on the amazing technology being used in the manufacturing world. There are also numerous government initiatives being launched to recruit students at the high-school level. But these are all longer-term strategies.

The industrial sector is going to have to figure out a way to work with this thinning workforce. How can companies retain the skills and knowledge of the retiring baby boomers, while also attracting talented young people to join their teams? The solution can be found by first understanding why this problem exists.

Why aren't millennials interested in joining the manufacturing sector? Today's graduates are pursuing other fields, and even starting their own companies. This generation has grown up in an era where social media and the on-demand Internet created a fast-paced, ever-changing environment with constant stimuli and immediate access to a wealth of information and services. This landscape has given rise to a worker who does not care as much about stability and job security as past generations did. Modern workers thrive in fast-paced roles where they can constantly innovate to solve problems. Technology has created a more independent worker-someone who would rather work a series of projects or "gigs" than pursue a full-time career. In fact, the Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study found that today's graduates "are wary of large companies." Only one in seven graduates wants to work for a large company in the traditional 9-5 sense. To the older generations, this may seem silly or even flippant\, but millennials are on the hunt for jobs that give them flexibility and autonomy.

It is for this reason that the "gig economy" has taken off recently. The gig economy refers to a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Workers jump from project to project\, never settling into a full-time role, and constantly working on something new and exciting. Many other industries have recognized this millennial trait and have adapted their business models so the gig economy's nature works for them.

Still dubious about the effectiveness of a gig economy? Just look at how many services we use today that are based on this model. When is the last time you called a taxi? Nowadays Uber or Lyft are the preferred choices when you need a ride. Need help moving, or some errands done around the house? Hire someone on TaskRabbit or Thumbtack. Need someone to redo your website? Find a developer on Upwork or Gigster. These platforms allow the average person to become his or her own boss, dictate his or her own hours, and provide a real and valued service to customers. The manufacturing industry should take note. The trickiness lies in the traditional nature of the manufacturing industry. This sphere is ruled by personal references, handshake deals, and good old-fashioned job loyalty. Companies are hesitant to incorporate new technology that could disrupt established ways of doing things.

To solve the skill gap plaguing the manufacturing industry, there are a couple of options. One, the industry could start hardcore recruiting of students out of high school, spending money to train them on the technical skills required in this industry. This is a viable option, but would cost a lot of money and require a lot of time, and it still does not confront young people's aversion to 9-5 jobs. The second option is to follow the example of many other industries and adapt to the idea of a gig economy. All manufacturing companies are facing the skills gap, and everyone has a demand for skilled, knowledgeable workers, so why not share the existing supply? A platform that allows top industrial talent to jump from job to job and company to company would solve the lack of labor resources, while also appealing to the gig-economy-oriented worker. Borrowing workers would help shrink the manufacturing skills gap.

Would a platform facilitating the gig economy in this industry be successful? This platform would allow companies to operate leaner, thereby cutting costs, and it would also give them access to skilled labor. Maybe the future of your workforce is not a team that works 9-5 Monday through Friday. Just maybe you will have a small team tending your core operations and a button on your phone to summon on-demand, skilled talent for busy times or special projects.

The idea of a gig economy is harder to sell in the manufacturing sphere, but ultimately, "times are a-changing." The manufacturing industry is going to have to evolve as well if it wants to stay afloat.

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About The Authors

Patrick O’Rahilly, is the founder of FactoryFix.com, a website and mobile app that allows manufacturers to hire vetted skilled workers on demand for service needs, part-time gigs, and full-time jobs.