Maggie Slowik
Maggie Slowik (Research Manager, IDC Manufacturing Insights)

Talent is a much-talked topic across all industries at the moment, and there is a good reason for it: with baby boomers retiring around the world within the next 5 to 10 years, the global workforce will face a significant loss of skilled and experienced workers. Sure, the generations next-in-line out to fill this gap naturally, but what stands out is the rise of a very young demographic group: the so-called Millenials (roughly defined, those born between the early 80s and late 90s). According to the US Censor Bureau, Millenials have recently surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. And other sources of economic data point to the fact that sometime between 2025 and 2030, 75% of the global workforce could be Millenials. This means that a wave of far less experienced and skilled workers will need to start filling the gap, but the question is: are they ready for it?

Suffering from Talent Attraction Problem(s)

For manufacturing companies, this demographic development in the workforce represents a double challenge. First of all, young people are not naturally drawn to a career in manufacturing, supply chain or procurement. These types of jobs suffer from a bad reputation caused by the perception of low wages, redundancies, remote locations, etc. What may be even worse is the fact that these career options do not necessarily appear on a young person’s radar to begin with. Let’s face it: young graduates will naturally gravitate towards a career in marketing, finance, law and medicine.

The other talent challenge for manufacturers is the explosion of digital technologies, from IoT, 3D Printing, to Augmented Reality and Robotics, all of which are disrupting, if not changing, entire supply chains and industries. And with that, manufacturers are in sore need for fresh talent, and not just any talent. To support these new technologies and innovations, manufacturing has to attract people with data/mathematic, engineering, technology and other similar skills. In fact, IDC Manufacturing recently predicted that by 2018 “50% of manufacturers will realize their need to hire technology-savvy and entrepreneurial shop-floor workers and retrain existing ones.” (Source: IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Operations Technology 2017 Predictions)

Seizing the Opportunity

There has been a lot of negative press about Millenials lately, characterizing a self-obsessed, smartphone and Facebook-addicted generation that is extremely impatient and unreliable. In addition, HR studies have shown that the Millenial generation has a very different mindset as far as the workplace is concerned. Just to highlight some of those traits, they are less patient, want things to happen on their terms, and will not be shy to ask for a promotion after one year being into the job. Unless these needs are properly managed, this attitude poses a serious retention problem for any employer.

But there are equal opportunities associated with employing this new wave of talent. Thanks to the rise of mobile, cloud and social media, Millenials are tech-savvy, flexible and open to communicate with people regardless of location. As a result, Millenials will not put up with poor and dated enterprise technology. This aptitude and attitude towards technology are exactly the talent ingredient manufacturers lack and need to recruit for in the current era of digital transformation. Here are a few things to keep in mind and help to get into immediate action:

  • Advertise yourself. What have you done lately to make your organization and manufacturing as a whole more noticeable as an attractive career choice for young people? You may want to invest in building partnerships with school and universities to get more publicity. Also consider offering more internship and workplace opportunities, if you haven’t done so already.
  • Establish an early link to technology. To prepare talent even before they are hired on the shop floor, it’s worth investing in programs which deliver a virtual experience on the job or even during study. This will help future hires to familiarize themselves with practical factory concepts, and company culture, and in some cases, help decide that this might not be a suitable career to begin with.
  • Hire for attitude. If your recruiting process is still a tick-list of technical skills, you may want to refresh this approach. A tech-savvy graduate with a breadth of experience and an ambitious outlook might be just as much of a successful hire as a ‘straight-laced’ engineering graduate. Do not underestimate the power of soft skills.
  • The answer is not always outside. Sometimes, companies think that ‘fresh’ talent should be recruited externally. However, you might equally have high-potentials within the organization, but they might be in a completely different business unit. Consider pairing up such an individual with a data scientist for example, and through coaching, you could grow these skills from within.
  • Consider rotations. You work with a big network of suppliers, partners and competitors. Why not discuss your talent needs with a select few of these entities? Consider the idea of temporarily borrowing or swapping tech-savvy talent, as part of a formal rotation program of course. It’s not unheard of.
  • Provide the right opportunities to succeed. Once you have recruited the right talent, put them on meaningful and challenging technology projects & initiates, and give them the opportunity to succeed. It’s extremely critical to managing their expectations and lay out a career progression plan.
  • Treat your talent as you would customers. The days are gone where clients devote decades of commitment to one single employer, especially young people who are willing to switch jobs more quickly, to progress opportunities and salary. If you invest in your employees and their careers, chances are you will get more motivated, loyal and happier employees in return.

If you want to learn more about this or some other Manufacturing Insights topics, please contact Maggie Slowik.

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