The next-gen workforce: How to attract and retain great workers

Thomas Wilk says technology isn't the only thing evolving on the plant floor.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

As I write this, Manufacturing Day 2015 has just gotten under way. There may not be many events starting precisely at midnight on Oct. 2, but the machines and the people who operate and maintain them are no doubt hard at work right now.

Over the past year, Plant Services has been covering the ways that technology is disrupting or otherwise changing the ways that maintenance and reliability work gets done. This month's cover story by Managing Editor Christine LaFave Grace tackles the biggest disruption, the one has been quietly under way for years – the incredibly rapid change in the makeup of the plant workforce.

At each industry event I’ve been to in the past year, the same questions keep surfacing: What skills do we need to stay competitive? Where do we find these skilled workers?

And if we do find great workers, how do we attract and retain them?

Manufacturing Day started three years ago to help answer some of these questions, with 240 events designed to inspire future manufacturing leaders at all educational levels. By 2014 it had grown to include 1,650 events, with an estimated 100,000 people attending across all 50 states.

“The first issue that we’re trying to address is, What is modern manufacturing?” says Manufacturing Day co-founder Ed Youdell. “We’re trying to change the perception or the thought especially in parents’ heads of the image of maybe 1970s manufacturing, of dirty and dingy and unsafe. And I think if we can get manufacturers to open their doors up and show people what’s going on in the plant, then we’ll have a better chance to attract the best and the brightest to manufacturing.”

In Youdell’s opinion, one crucial Manufacturing Day strategy is the show-don’t-tell approach.

“It’s as simple as inviting a school to tour your plant,” says Youdell. “It really is as basic as that: getting somebody inside your factory to consider what you have and what you do, and get people to really value manufacturing.”

When it comes to recruiting, Gina Max, senior director of talent management and diversity at USG, says that a dual effort has worked. “You need the local team to engage in the process, and ensure that our talent brand is strong,” she says, combining a feet-on-the-street approach with a more centralized recruiting structure to help process and close the deals with applicants. She also mentions the importance of engaging with applicants on their own terms: 20% of job applications to USG are now submitted by mobile device.

You can read our full interview with Ed Youdell at, and further thoughts from Gina Max on recruiting are included as part of this month’s cover story.

Finally, we want to hear from you! Take our 2015 workforce survey at and share what’s happening at your plant.