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September 6, 2017

Volume 17 Issue 52

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Bringing in the NextGen Workforce

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Manufacturers across the United States are reporting a shortage of skilled workers and applicants, as millennials shy away from training programs and careers in manufacturing. A panel of manufacturers met to discuss how to cater the hiring process to millennials’ workplace desires and increase employee retention rates at last week’s Petroleum Packaging Council’s fall meeting held here.

Roughly 61 percent of manufacturing executives report difficulties finding the skilled workers they need, according to research conducted by the Manufacturing Institute. To fill these empty positions, many companies are shifting their hiring strategies to attract millennials.

Jeremy Henry, director of operations at aftermarket supplier BG Products, said his company is revamping job descriptions to show opportunities for advancement within the company, something millennials are looking for. Other companies, such as bottling and filling equipment manufacturer EPAK Machinery, make use of head hunters who are able to verify applicants have the skills they claim on their resumes, said the company’s president, Tony Swedersky.

“You can’t tell if they’re good for the job just from an interview,” said Henry Wolfe, maintenance manager at Kem Krest, which provides fulfillment solutions through shipping packaged chemicals, parts and accessories direct to dealers and for major original equipment manufacturers. Wolfe takes applicants out on the floor and puts their knowledge to the test to find the most skilled workers. He also allows the millennials he currently employs to help in the hiring process, hoping this may give current employees a sense of importance and adding an extra vetting step before an applicant is offered a position.

With the decline of technical classes offered in schools, manufacturers are struggling to find applicants that perfectly fit job descriptions. Rather than looking for that perfect fit, the Manufacturing Institute recommends hiring applicants who have potential. An important quality to look for when interviewing is a willingness to learn, said Wolfe. Applicants should be attentive learners who take in new information “like a sponge,” he continued.  

The Manufacturing Institute found that up to 11 percent of net earnings could be lost due to a lack of skilled workers, making training programs for new employees highly important. 

Swedersky noted that the gaps in training have led his company to have its own training sessions, which also offer millennials an opportunity to network. Explaining how and why something needs to be done is also a key part of properly training new employees, according to Wolfe.

The Manufacturing Institute recommends collaborating with educational institutions to upskill current employees and build a pipeline of future skilled workers. The nonprofit also encourages utilizing certificate programs and apprenticeships.

The panelists all noted millennials are focused on different work place qualities than the baby boomer generation before them. Millennials value a sense of purpose, flexibility and opportunities for growth above a higher salary, the panel claimed.

Lubrication Engineers Vice President of Manufacturing Operations Darren Booth said millennials want to be involved with upper management, be able to see a promotional track and have transparency when it comes to workplace performance reviews. Millennials also crave a regular routine which fits into their position’s job description and competitive benefits, said Steve Estok, corporate vice president of operations at independent lubricants blender, packager and distributor Warren Oil.

Each panelist agreed that making the industry more visible would also bring in more qualified applicants. According to the Manufacturing Institute, 67 percent of Americans believe manufacturing jobs are interesting and rewarding, but only half believe those jobs provide good pay relative to other industries. One third of parents would not encourage their child to pursue a career in industry due to security, stability and monetary concerns.

Manufacturing Day, an event started by the Manufacturing Institute, educates students, parents and community members about the day-to-day elements of a manufacturing job, and the benefits of having a career in that field. The institute believes this will lead to the influx of skilled workers the manufacturing industry needs.