How Can Manufacturers Attract More Millennials? Spend More Money
Ian Wright posted on June 13, 2016 |
Investments in education can close the manufacturing skills gap.
Is this the next generation of manufacturing labor?
Is this the next generation of manufacturing labor?
Ah, millennials: the latest generation to confound the previous one.

Depending on your perspective, this group is either the cause of most of today’s problems or the solution to them. In either case, one thing is undeniable: everyone is trying to figure out how to recruit them.

There have been many proposals for attracting millennials to manufacturing, but it’s surprising how often the need for actual financial investment is overlooked in favor of things like ping-pong tables, workout rooms, flex time and casual wear.

Even when the financial benefits of a manufacturing career are mentioned, it’s generally only as an aside. What millennials really care about, we’re told, is technology: create ads for manufacturing jobs specifically tailored for smartphones, or dazzle young engineers by using virtual reality goggles on the factory floor to show that manufacturing is still hip.

That all sounds good, and trending topics like virtual reality are great for search engine optimization.

But what if the solution is actually much simpler?

If manufacturers want to attract more millennials, they must be willing to pay for them.

Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap

I’m not suggesting that this is simply a matter of increasing manufacturing wages—though I suspect that if the average machinist was paid over $100k per year, the skills gap wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue.

Where should manufacturers invest to attract and retain millennial machinists?
What does it take to attract millennial machinists?
Whether millennials are underpaid and underappreciated or lazy and entitled is an intensely controversial question and the economics of increasing manufacturing wages are just too complex to address in a single article. However, increasing wages is only one way to close the skills gap.

A better approach is to start earlier along the path and invest in manufacturing education.

Manufacturer Investments in Education

To take one example, Okuma America recently donated an MC-V4020 CNC vertical machining center and an ES-L8II CNC lathe to the engineering technology programs at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC.

Training is essential to creating millennial machinists.
Training is essential to creating millennial machinists.
“The lack of skilled labor is one of the biggest threats to the manufacturing industry. We’re excited to partner with CPCC in educating and training the next generation of operators, machinists, and programmers,” said Jim King, Okuma America president and COO.

“Teaching students with the Okuma machines creates a machining graduate with a more diversified set of machining skills. This set of skills appeals to a larger portion of employers, making our graduates highly valued. Okuma’s generosity is a great benefit to our students,” said Mike Hogan, CPCC associate dean of STEM programs.

Okuma’s is only the most recent donation of this kind.

Earlier this year, the Polymers Center of Excellent (PCE), coincidentally also located in Charlotte, received four Arburg injection molding machines and nine screw-and-barrel assemblies from PolyLinks Inc. More recently, the Haas Foundation donated $20,000 to Lakeshore Technical College in the form of scholarships for students enrolled in the CNC technical program.

All of these examples could be taken at face value as simple charity, but a better description might be long-term investments.

Sowing the Seeds of Manufacturing’s Future

Manufacturers need to recognize that they’re all in this together.

An upfront investment by machine tool companies in the short-term, such as scholarships and gifts of machines to schools, can lead to long-term returns for all manufacturers. Having more skilled operators in the job pool enables SMEs to expand more quickly, leading to higher-volume production and concordantly greater demand for the machines on which those technicians learned their trade.

And when it comes time to purchase another vertical machining center or CNC lathe, which company do you think your millennial machinists will recommend?

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