Changing Workforce / Career Development

How cereal bowls will affect the next generation of plant professionals

Thomas Wilk explores the myths surrounding Millennials.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

Millennials are slowly but surely becoming the largest generation in the workforce today. They also were on the receiving end of a lot of bad press in February.

First there was the customer support employee for Yelp, who wrote a letter to the CEO about not being paid a living wage and then posted it online as an open letter. The blogosphere was quick to respond, with intergenerational antagonism running high, and she was let go from Yelp about two hours after posting the letter. (She has had at least one job offer since.)

Then The New York Times published a story in its food section about the breakfast cereal industry being at a crossroads, with sales dipping more than 28% since 2000. The article captures a number of reasons why this might be and reports on the ways that cereal makers are researching their target markets, especially Millennials, to better understand their eating habits and preferences.

Almost predictably, the detail the mass media picked up on was one of the least flattering: One survey from 2015 found that Millennials thought cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.

As a colleague remarked in jest last week, “And we wonder why it’s difficult to get them into maintenance and manufacturing.”

Now, there’s probably more to the cereal-bowl story than we’re getting from just the one point of survey data. Most if not all of us have cut corners on chores at home or engaged in various life hacks that can sometimes backfire by costing us more time than doing things the conventional way. Even Plant Services’ digital editor admits to occasionally eating popcorn out of the hot microwavable bag, enduring the pain of holding the bag instead of just pouring it into a bowl and then cleaning the bowl.

Fortunately, students attending the recent MARCON event in Knoxville, TN, reminded me that a bit of bad press is not the full story. The event is hosted by the team behind the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center, and one of the elements that make this a standout event is the high participation by students attending UT, both undergraduate and graduate, many of whom are planning careers in our industry after graduation.

This year I had the chance to speak in depth with four of these students. One was inspired to enter maintenance and reliability after wondering in his teen years how it was that commercial airplane manufacturers incorporated reliability thinking into keeping planes aloft and passengers safe. Another began his working life as a math teacher and is currently inspired and intrigued by the possibilities that predictive modeling has to offer our industry.

You’ll read more about these students, their interests and their projects in future stories, but for now, it’s safe to say the passion is out there, regardless of how anyone eats their cereal.