The Future of Manufacturing is Right in the Palm of Your Hands.

One of the biggest things that sets Gen Z apart from other generations is that they were born as digital natives. According to the Pew Research Center, “Some 45% of teens say they are online ‘almost constantly,’ and an additional 44% say they’re online several times a day.”

But Gen Z uses the internet differently than Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. While previous generations use it to seek information, Gen Z uses it for entertainment…along with pretty much everything else. This opens up a huge opportunity for Manufacturers to use technology to reach them “where they live”, especially in rural areas. Pew goes on to report that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and a similar share (97%) use at least one of seven major online platforms.” The key is to leverage this medium in a way that helps to convert them into a viable workforce.  

The Global Gaming Market Could be Worth $159.3 Billion by The End of 2020

mobile gamers chart

“In 2019, mobile games were responsible for 60% of the total revenue of the global video games market and registered over 1.36 billion gamers in the process. The number of mobile gamers worldwide is expected to reach 2.6 billion in 2020,” per New Zoo. According to techjury, “mobile is set to make up 48% of the world’s gaming market share this year and that 45% of U.S. gamers are women.” So it’s conceivable that what Grand Theft Auto has done to driving dexterity, customized manufacturing gaming can do for problem solving and soft skills. Augmented reality and virtual reality are already crossing over from entertainment to education; a recent Forbes article explains that, “AR brings new flexibility to on-the-job training.” And with the expansion of 5G service, including to rural areas, Manufacturers can now “meet”, recruit and educate Gen Z no matter where they live.

Virtual Learning Gives Manufacturers an Unprecedented Opportunity to Attract New Talent

It’s becoming increasingly clear that schools’ and industries’ widespread implementation of digital learning strategies is long overdue. While the value of in-person instruction continues to persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and Gen Z is adapting. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Millennials and Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

boy doing virtual reality

If manufacturers can attract Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that engage, entertain and educate them on the opportunities of middle-skills careers at an early age, not only will they begin to reverse the ‘Plan B’ mindset, but they’ll be fueling their talent pipeline when it’s so desperately needed. Between 2014–2024, 48% of job openings will be middle-skill and filling these jobs is critical because the global talent shortage could reach 85.2 million people by 2030.

Gamified Skills Development

Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition is an example of how Gen Z succeeds at gamified learning. This edition of Minecraft has taken off in the wake of the pandemic as 63 million pieces of its content have been downloaded since March. Deirdre Quarnstrom, GM of the Minecraft Atlas division, says “We started with this premise that Minecraft is a game used in education, and not an educational game.”

It combines three major things that fuel the next generation’s success at virtual education including entertainment, engagement and social interaction. Minecraft explains that its remote learning toolkit “includes more than 50 lessons, STEM curriculum and project-based learning activities so educators can use Minecraft: Education Edition with their students whether they are in school, at home or in another remote learning environment.” This can help students learn and play wherever they are, including in rural areas.

Manufacturers: Upping Your Game in Attracting Talent

Simply put, Gen Z plays to win. The majority of them are competitive with their eyes set on making it to the “top of their game.” Keith Barr, CEO of L2L, says “The industry needs to consider developing and deploying plant-floor technology that utilizes gamification and transparency to take advantage of Gen Z’s unique skills.” 

Manufacturers will also need play to win Gen Z by delivering game-changing content that finds and engages them wherever they are in their digital world. 

Breaking Gen Z’s Misconceptions About Today’s Manufacturing … and Why it Matters.

Americans’ traditional road to the middle class cannot be traveled easily in today’s world. Gen Z is learning this all too well as they’ve seen the world around them change drastically throughout their formative years. First, they grew up watching millennials take the more conventional route of obtaining a four-year degree, only to accumulate student loan debt and struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs. And now with COVID-19, those same kids are watching their parents get laid off or furloughed from their white collar, “stable” jobs. 

Breaking the stigma around manufacturing careers isn’t only the key to their future…but ours as well.

The Misconceptions of Manufacturing Careers 

Since the end of WWII, it’s been ingrained in us that if you bypass college, a career path leading to financial stability is a pipe dream. This makes middle-skills jobs, typically requiring a two-year curriculum post secondary education, less sought after than jobs requiring a four-year degree. But here’s the rub: Middle skill careers are paying the same, or even higher wages than those other jobs do, even when starting out. Mitch DeJong, chief technology officer of Brooklyn Park manufacturer Design Ready Controls, credits this misconception to the “dirty hands stigma.”

The stigma is reminiscent of an industrial wasteland. Early 20th century manufacturing facilities still conjure up images of dirty and dangerous places where an entire skills-centric workforce is relegated to a back-breaking career in dismal conditions, simply because they didn’t go to college. But today’s advanced manufacturing facilities have revamped and revitalized their operations, not only to upgrade their AI and robotics, but to maximize the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, whom they desperately need to retain and promote in order to remain competitive in the 21st century.

Skills Gap, Meet Gen Z 

Simply defined, the skills gap is a global talent shortage of skills-based workers that could reach 85.2 million people by 2030. According to the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, “Among U.S. teens, 52% expressed little or no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why, the respondents said, “Manufacturing was a declining field, with unprofessional, dead-end jobs, dirty factories and frequent layoffs.” Industry Week also highlights the fact that parents aren’t as likely to talk to their kids about the industry because they believe manufacturing is outdated, low-paying or unchallenging. Not only that, but only 3 in 10 parents would consider guiding their child toward a career in the field according to the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute. 

This means that the skills gap isn’t driven by a shortage of people, but rather a shortage of people with skills. And this crevasse is only deepening because 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching retirement age for the next 14 years. The $1.748 trillion-in-potential-lost-revenue challenge here is for industry, government and educators to get parents and Gen Z excited about the surplus of middle-skills manufacturing positions about to become available that are as respectable as they are financially rewarding. According to a Salary Survey report from Industry Week, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500.

Modern Manufacturing Today

It’s images like this one of Ford’s Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, that perpetuate the “dirty hands stigma”,  yet it hasn’t looked like this in years.

old and new factory photos

Ford, like most other advanced manufacturers, has transformed its facilities into environmentally-conscious workplaces with ultra-modern features, including a  “living roof” as a safeguard to preserving air and water quality. This is an example of a big win for attracting Generation Z. According to Gen Z expert Corey Seemiller, “Many of them want to work in an organization that is committed to environmental advocacy, as evidenced in their spending, products and organizational practices.”

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling the interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while their employers create a happy workforce they can groom from an early age.

In general, here’s how it works. According to Kelly Steinhilper, vice president, Communications SC Technical College System, “High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.”

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

Is Gen Z Worth Your Attention?

The short answer is yes. The skills gap will cost companies trillions of dollars in lost economic opportunity if the talent shortage continues. This has created an unprecedented demand for middle-skills jobs that is guaranteed to remain strong for years. Between 2014–2024, 48% of job openings will require middle skills.

Simply put, manufacturers need to invest in reaching Gen Z today in order to thrive tomorrow. Stigmas take time to break, so why not spend it getting to know each other a little better.