I’ve always wanted to be a journalist, but I’m fascinated with the choices of careers available. Earlier today I read that petroleum engineering is the top-paying undergraduate major, with 2013 grads earning an average starting salary of $97,000. I’m not sure I know what petroleum engineering is. There are so many industries out there to explore, but I’ve noticed Gen Y stays far away from manufacturingand other trade careers (I’m not the only one to notice).
According to ThomasNet.com’s 2013 Industry Market Barometer report, which gives results from a survey of more than 1,200 American manufacturers, three-quarters of manufacturers said that 25 percent or less of their workforce are in the Generation Y age group, and 49 percent say they expect that percentage to stay the same during the next two years. According to the report, technologies are making manufacturing a “hotbed of innovation,” but Gen Y still isn’t convinced.
I interviewed Dan Campbell, CEO of Hire Dynamics, to find out why this is the case and its impact on hiring and retaining Gen Y in general. The issue affects all industries.
Let’s talk general millennial career trends first. What jobs are they seeking most?
Young professionals today haven’t placed a career in manufacturing at the top of their dream job list. Much of this stems from a stigma that has followed the skilled trades for a couple generations, imposed by their parents and reinforced by society. Attending technical school to learn a skill has instead been waylaid by the promise of status and money after graduating from a four-year college or university.
These views are outdated, as the manufacturing industry has evolved into one that exemplifies leading-edge technology and highly specialized work. The skills gap is being fueled by the fact that jobs are changing rapidly. And because manufacturing jobs are being driven by increased productivity, big data and Internet commerce, the demand for qualified candidates in STEM careers rises.
Innovation and creativity power this generation, and millennials are going to be attracted to a manufacturing role that is deemed a hot, cutting-edge opportunity. They are now filling positions that didn't exist 10 or even five years ago — digital manufacturing, supply chain consulting and 3D imaging or additive manufacturing. Therefore, students today are preparing for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we aren’t aware of yet.
Why the lack of interest in trade roles? Do you see that changing?
With the misconceptions surrounding careers in skilled trades, millennials are missing the fact that these jobs entail highly sophisticated and specialized work. In PwC’s 2013 NextGen study, millennials agreed that a strong, cohesive, team-oriented workplace culture and opportunities for interesting work are important. Placing such a high priority on working in an environment that emphasizes innovation, it’s apparent that manufacturing jobs today would be a great culture fit. But, there isn’t a natural tendency to think of this type of workplace experience in relation to manufacturing.
There is a real opportunity to educate millennials on the increasingly innovative environment of manufacturing and the role they can play in driving the industry forward. These careers can offer immediate opportunities, continued growth and job security — advantages universities and the current job market can’t always deliver on. By revamping industry and company cultures and the way manufacturing job opportunities are presented, we’re beginning to change perspectives and attract young professionals to trade jobs.
What’s the universal lesson here? What can organizations do to better attract Gen Y to their open jobs?
Our current workforce has thousands of open trade jobs and we can look to the millions of out-of-work millennials who are facing an unemployment rate double the national rate to fill those ranks. Hiring young employees is a way to bridge the growing skills gap, balance a company’s talent mix and prepare it for future growth.
There’s no reason to turn a business on its head to attract and retain millennials with Zen rooms and free lunches. Companies can start by acknowledging the different motivators that drive a new generation of workers. Create programs and internal structures that encourage and support new ways of thinking and accepting ideas. Enlist the help of outside expertise that can pinpoint some specific ways to do that so it’s more effective and less disruptive.
How does organizational training fit into this?
The focus is on soft skills — communication abilities, willingness to work, etc. — as much or more than the technical aspects of the job. Millennial employees can learn the skills of the job more easily than a character trait. To get a foot in the door, young employees should present themselves as trainable, progressive and thoughtful. Technical school placement rate is higher as these graduates are willing to roll up their sleeves, do the work and move up by proving themselves.
Across many industries, there is a disconnect between what colleges are teaching and what the jobs today require. As business leaders and employers, it’s important to be sensitive to this and adapt where necessary. This means shifting focus from being a job advocate to a career advocate and look at the long game.