Manufacturing employers, have been expressing the need to deal with the skills gap, i.e. the need for workers that can fill their current openings versus the workers that are available and their individual skill sets.
The gap is regularly broken down into two areas, hard skills (technical knowledge and know how) and soft skills (work ethic, people skills, punctuality, team skills, etc.).
Solving the hard skills issue is a daunting task, spanning multiple fronts. From overcoming perceptions of manufacturing, to teaching trade and industry related skills in high school again. The bulk of that effort being educational in nature, making a presence in high schools, reestablishing industrial arts classes and creating apprenticeships. Solving the soft skills issue is being approached the same way, through education. Meaning employers have expectations regarding the soft skills and we just need to educate youth on our expectations. I say to employers, you have taken a rather HARD stance regarding SOFT skills.
Presently, thirty-eight (38) percent of the workforce is comprised of Millennials and by 2020, nearly half (46 percent) of all U.S. workers will be Millennials. This generation, by no fault of their own, is more unique than the GenX’ers or most any other group to hit the employment scene before them. They have grown up with technology that provides them instant gratification, right at their fingertips. All their effort and work is typically shallow and short term from an accomplishment standpoint. If they need to know something, Google it, use it and forget it. They have MANY friends, but few close relationships and face-to-face deep interactions. They have had parents looking out for them, “helicoptering” their needs AND running interference for them with teachers and coaches so they rarely problem solve their issues. They also have been taught that just participating, at any level, gets them recognition and an award. Lastly, many younger Millennials went through this last depression during their formative years. They saw it disrupt their families with parents experiencing job upheaval and tightened budgets. It increased their inability to find employment due to displaced adults taking jobs normally occupied with young adults. The resulting personality byproducts are those stated above, coupled with a distrust of employers (based on observation and listening to their parents) and their lacking in the skill sets early teen employment offers and instills in young adults.
Everything I have read, says for manufacturing to also solve this SOFT skills gap through education. Pundits and manufacturing insiders are expressing the need to get into the schools and acquaint young adults with an employer’s need for showing up on time, showing up every day, being focused on constant improvement, helping the company to succeed, and being rewarded for past work. It appears that the “bridge” to solve the skills gap, is to build it from the Millennials’ side of the gap, and lead them to the employers’ side.
Every physical bridge I have seen built, whether spanning a stream or a river, construction is done from BOTH sides, meeting near the middle. Here too, manufacturers will need to determine how to accommodate Millennials into the workplace AS IS. And then communicate how soft skills have worked in the past. Employers didn’t make Millennials the way they are, so it sucks to be in this predicament, but if we don’t learn to adapt, we risk not having the staff we need when our current workforce begins to sunset. A rate which increases at an alarmingly faster rate every year. We need to get Millennials into our plants, where we can acclimate them. Show/teach them the value of personal relationships with coworkers, face-to-face interaction rather than through their cell phone. We need to acclimate them to the rewards of working and completing a project that takes time. Show them that there are winners AND losers in business, and that just participating is not justification for celebrating or getting an award.
So my advice, is to analyze your own systems, look for the means to incorporate flexibility and effectiveness into your organization. Make you organization more “Millennial lifestyle” like. Getting Millennials to the production floor is the first part of the battle, but it needs to happen, or we’ll be looking out at a vacant plant floor.