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 Jan-Al Case's young workforce.

Industry Report: Investing in a Young Workforce

by Dan Sanchez on May 9, 2019, 06:30 pm MDT

Call them Millennials, Gen Y, or Gen Z, the younger generations are the future of manufacturing.

While many companies are frustrated with this subset of workers, others strive to recognize their needs and are connecting with them in order to build a better, more resilient workforce.  

Learning from experience, some manufacturers have taken a successful approach towards younger workers and have ultimately changed their own methods of management through various avenues of mentoring and training that work best for them. The results are positive and indicative of the way business and the workforce is evolving.

Changing the perception

According to Pamela Kan, owner and CEO of Bishop-Wisecarver in Pittsburg, California, the new generation of workers are also the same consumers who can instantly purchase and operate through technology, a key element in understanding their experiences.

"People are now using technology to get what they want quickly," says Kan. "The number one thing for someone to stay in business is to produce and react to the function and speed to each individual consumer."

To achieve this, Kan believes the manufacturing floor is evolving to become more tech-driven which can help attract younger workers who have a negative perception of manufacturing. "In the Bay area of California, we really have a need for engineers," says Kan. "Manufacturing isn't as glamorous as going into the software industry. Yet, manufacturing often pays more. We need to change the perspective and bring in new talent."

Finding motivation

Many companies come across young employees who simply don't believe in a 40-hour work week.

While some may see this as an unwillingness to work, Marilyn Peters, president of Aluminex Inc. in Riverside adapted to keep younger workers motivated. "My newest hires are looking for a balance between work and personal time," says Peters. "A work week of 30 to 32 hours seems to work best for them, but my vested employees believe they shouldn't have choices."

In response, Peters decided to offer different working hours. "We made it so you can come in at 4:30 a.m. or at 7 a.m.," says Peters. "This way, having a short day or after several days of 4:30 a.m. clock-in times, it helps my younger employees stay motivated throughout the week."

Understanding cultural differences

Manufacturers who have a young workforce in their business believe they need to respond to a changing work environment. This was an issue that Muffie Alejandro, president at Jan-Al Cases, and her son, Erich, are tackling in L.A.

Erich, who is now helping to run the business, recalls his experience with the old work ethic. "I worked in the restaurant industry 10 years ago and these were run only one way," he says. "You had to try out and work for free in order to work under a famous chef. Young people don't want that. This old way of business thinking leads to a dead end. At Jan-Al we realized that trying to fit a 1990s mindset to a 2019 workforce will never work. Millennials have a different experience. They were in high school when the recession happened. Entry-level jobs were taken by people who needed them and Millennials got sidelined.

"Today's younger people do not expect to work for one company their whole lives, so we're working to create a new kind of company culture where you don't need to think about where you'll end up, but rather to build an environment where we ask what kind of skills and education do you want so we can help you. We're trying to reformulate employees."

There's no right or wrong way to mentor

Jan-Al Cases tried a mentoring program that paired younger workers with experienced ones, but it didn't get to the point they were hoping for. Instead, it opened the door for younger workers to ask questions freely. "When our younger workers got to the point where they had to work on projects normally suited for the more experienced workers, they didn't hesitate to get training and ask the experienced workers for feedback," says Erich Alejandro.

Aluminex also tried a similar mentoring partnership, but Peters says she's had to constantly reinforce openness to ask questions and even offer ideas for improving the process. "I'm constantly communicating with the new employees to make sure they are learning from the experienced guys and also asking them for ideas on new processes that can improve what we're doing," says Peters. "Knowing why we do something will help in sharing new and updated methods. I want younger workers to not be afraid to go out of their comfort zone and share ideas from what they learned in school."

While making it easier for younger workers to ask experienced ones for assistance has proven helpful, these manufacturers also realize their own policies and the way they approach a younger workgroup has to change. "When it comes to hiring and working with a younger workforce, look at your history with them,” says Erich Alejandro. “If it hasn't worked out, then you have to ask yourself if the common denominator is you.”

"Labor costs are higher now and employers need to see employees as assets,” says Muffie Alejandro. “If younger workers see that their employer is not willing to teach them, then they probably shouldn't be there. We realized that the issue wasn't older workers versus younger workers, but that the workforce has changed, and to succeed, the company needed to be in line with that."

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