The facts are indisputable: younger workers act and feel different than older generations of workers. Managing this talent base in manufacturing settings, which tend to be strict, controlled environments, can be challenging. Rest assured, there are ways to both support millennial desires for creativity and flexibility alongside your company’s ability to meet project timelines.

The focus shouldn’t be on how much time is spent to finish a project but rather that the project’s goals are accomplished.

“You can still stay on task in a creative culture through guidelines,” says Corey Carolla, vice president of corporate development, Red Rabbit Automation in Niles, Mich.

The company provides automation and integration solutions for businesses, as well as creates and builds cells for competitors to assist in embracing automation.

Managers should create work environments where younger workers are encouraged to think differently. This talent base expects high levels of communication and transparency. They want to understand the opportunities available — not only next week — but also next year as well as grasp the health of the company.

Telling the truth is essential, says Joshua Brooks, assistant program director of Manufacturing Connect, which trains and assists high school students in earning manufacturing skills certifications and which also offers a program for alumni to support industry retention. The program has connected youth with more than 100 manufacturing companies in the Chicago metro in the past 10 years.

“We tell youth about the opportunities in a way that gets them excited,” Brooks says. “They become hungry for opportunities in manufacturing, and they see the value of it.” For instance, the more certifications and experience these young workers have, the more valuable they are to companies. “It is a paradigm shift for these youth.”
In Chicago alone, there are 30,000 available manufacturing jobs, and these advanced manufacturing skills are a way youth can create change in their communities, Brooks adds.

Common Ground

There are common components in creating motivated young workers, including the ability to collaborate and access mentors.

Youth want to work in the same room and find solutions together, Carolla believes.

At Red Rabbit, the engineers, controllers and computer scientists are located in the same room and are constantly collaborating to come up with solutions. Leadership now accepts the control team, for example, may have to stop what they are doing for a while to work with other teams to solve challenges.

Mentorship and networking opportunities are also essential to young workers.

The Young Manufacturers Association (YMA) was created to foster retention, among other goals, for alumni of Manufacturing Connect.

At meetings held every other week, participants age 18 to 29, discuss the highs and lows at their companies and offer each other advice based on their experiences. Through this, they gain insight into what is expected and how to complete the activities.

“There are powerful young people who are working in manufacturing, and the other youths are looking at them,” Brooks says.

YMA members are also discussing cooperative and single-ownership business opportunities as the area’s retiring owners of manufacturing companies explore succession plans for their businesses.

Young adults can see that, not only can they find career pathways in manufacturing, but there are also opportunities for ownership. They see the opportunity to experience something different.

“Talent needs to perceive it is okay to think and do differently,” Carolla says. This line of thinking is challenging to those in leadership roles.

For instance, leaders may not be interested in investing money to train younger workers, just so these new trainees can leave with the skills after they complete training.

But Carolla asks, “What if you don’t train them and they do stay — what is the impact there?”

Rachel Duran

Rachel Duran is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan. She has written extensively about manufacturing, workforce and economic development for several years.