Is technology the key manufacturers need to attract Millennial and Gen Z workers?

Is technology the key manufacturers need to attract Millennial and Gen Z workers?

April 25, 2024
"This next generation is ambitious, they want to accomplish a lot. They want to make a lot of change, but we need to figure out how do we best harness that motivation to be a part of our industry."

Jake Hall is best known as the Manufacturing Millennial. A true industrial influencer, Jake talks about the latest technologies in the automation and manufacturing space, while making it engaging for all audiences. He has more than a decade of experience working with manufacturers, system integrators, and distributors, and he understands the importance of advocating for smart automation, robotics, and skilled trades. Jake recently spoke with Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk about manufacturing's need for companies to attract and mentor the future skilled workforce.

Listen to Jake Hall on Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast

PS: You mentioned a really key word – democratization – and it seems like these technologies are even more democratized among Millennials and GenZ than they are other, older generations. There is a real thing to this issue of a digital native where, for example, you talked about the belt alignment example. Well, I could imagine these same Millennials coming in saying, “where's the video that shows how to do it? Did anybody wear a pair of smart glasses and record the video to show where your hands go on the technology?” That's the expectation and companies can't be afraid of that, even if the older generations are nervous about how it’s going to work. This is simply the expectation, the reality.

JH: Yeah, 100% and I look at it as well where it's one of those things when you look at 3D printers, for example. It's such a common device where almost every single teenager or kid or a young adult has a 3D printer in their house because they're cheap, they're easy, but it's a piece of manufacturing equipment! Kids are learning how to code in middle school and even younger, where all of a sudden we had to have the engineers to code and all of a sudden people can go on there, they can go on GitHub and go online and they can hook up their Raspberry Pi or Arduino board or propeller, and learn how to code it at an incredibly young age where they're not intimidated by this technology. 

Robots these days, instead of crazy old teach pendants that haven't changed in the last 40 years, are now on tablets where every single kid knows how to run an iPad. Every single kid knows how to run some sort of Android tablet device, and so this drag and drop programming method, that is not foreign at all to these kids. They're willing to go out there, they're willing to take the ambition of putting in a robot cell or putting in a piece of equipment because they learn from a very young age on how to use technology and work with technology.

PS: Every time I see an Xbox type controller used to manage heavy machinery, it cracks me up because it is exactly the way in for so many people. You know the interface already! It's a video game controller. Everyone's comfortable with that.

JH: Yesterday, for the My Career Quest event, we had those 8,000 students, 8,500 students walk through and so I have robot dogs that I use as an outreach. It's a quadruped robot that you can drive around and operate and make it dance and all that stuff. And I didn't even have to explain to almost any of the kids, I just hand them the controller and it says it's just like a video game, and they literally go out there within minutes they're pressing all the buttons or making the robot move around, and it's completely natural to them. I try and explain that to an adult, they're like, wait, what does this one do? Again, what's this button do? What's this button do? Where it's just comes second nature to kids, and these kids are driving around these $1,000 expensive robots like it's nothing.

PS: Wow, that's great.

JH: I think it just goes to show that, for example, my daughter loves Lego, she's into a Lego phase right now, so we're getting lots of Lego sets. She, instead of using the paper based instructions that comes with it, she can go on to her iPad, open up the app, find the digital work instructions of that, which is a 3D CAD step-by-step with parts highlighted where she could take the model, she could rotate the model. And she's doing this as a six year old! Even when she was doing a couple years ago as a four and five year old, she was doing sets that were very complex but are able to accomplish that because technology is just making it super easy and understandable on how to assemble these parts.

PS: I'm going to go on a limb and suggest that there's a lot of people my age and older, 55 and older, who didn't even know that Lego had 3D rotatable CAD drawing instructions online. I mean, we're all so used to the paper, but of course there's this kind of instruction. People are going to demand it for Legos and beyond, too. 

Let me ask you one more question about the jobs themselves. You've delivered the keynote at MARCON this year. It was a terrific keynote, and you dropped a lot of data on the attendees on the extent to which Millennials have penetrated the industrial workforce. Industry simply has to recognize there's not much they're going to do about a generation that simply does job hop every two or three years. It's not a slap in the face of the company. People leave. This is simply what these workers are used to in the world of work for themselves, right?

JH: Yeah, absolutely. I think the statistic I threw out there for one of my slides was, when I was talking about the four different generations working in manufacturing, the average Baby Boomer will have three different jobs their entire career, and the average Millennial will have 11 different jobs by the age of 30. 

And yeah, it's one of those things where it's not industry related. It's generation related. I think it's one of those things where a lot of times younger adults don't necessarily have a direct career path, and they don't have necessarily the allegiance that older generations had with companies. It was one of those things where before, you could go work for a company, work 40 hours a week and have a white picket house fence for a lot of jobs, and that doesn't exist anymore. You look at households, you go back 30 years, the amount of one adult working in that household compared to now both adults working in the household is substantially higher. The amount of adults working two jobs, two part-time jobs is substantially higher. 

So when you look at just the shift of it, it's just the way people have to work in order to live in a lot of cases and then be able to buy a house and be able to pay for the expenses and bills compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago is insane. I mean, I look at it now, when my dad bought his house, I can drive up to a GM dealership and there's cars now more expensive than what he paid for a 3,800 square foot house back in 1991. It's insane.

So I think it just goes back to generations, now my generation, Millennials and GenZ’s are working a lot more jobs because they're trying to find one, they're trying to get better pay, they're trying to get better career opportunities, they're trying to grow. They're not going to put up in a lot of cases with the bullcrap a lot of companies make either. I think Millennials and GenZ’s are very vocal with their opinions and I think a lot of times the older generations have the same opinions, it’s just that Millennials and GenZ are a lot more vocal. I think this is a characteristic of my generation, good or bad. 

But they're not going to be ones that are like, “ohh hey, company X had record profits. We're going to celebrate with a pizza party.” They’s be like, “what the heck? So we worked our butts off and you got record profits. But our celebration is a pizza party? It’s  not bonuses? Well, that's not the culture of a company I want to go work for. I'll take the pizza and go.” Beforehand that was one of those things where in an older generation, like, OK, yeah, that makes sense, we’ll just have the pizza party and we’ll be happy because I can still survive on my income. That's just that's not the case with younger generations these days. And so that's something that we just need to understand and acknowledge.

PS: Something you just said about the pizza party example reminded me of a presentation at the Fluke Xcelerate event this week. It was a presentation on the job search process where the first three stages are application, then nurturing, and then the interview. Most companies focus on Steps 1 and 3 of that, but Step 2, nurturing, is where Millennials live. They're going to look online, they're going to look at the rankings of the jobs, they're going to find out, what are the perks, what are the benefits? Why do people stay? Why do people leave? If people are upset, that it was a pizza party instead of a bonus, that will come out.

JH: Oh yeah. 100 percent, 100%. I'm on Reddit a lot and there's several different companies that I follow. You constantly have engineers posting on these places saying, “hey, I'm a Level 2 engineer doing this, what's your experience?” You’ll literally have 20, 30, 40 other engineers diving in and sharing exactly: “Here's the good. Here's the bad. Here's the qualities. Here's the opportunities. Here's the bonuses. This is how many hours you're actually going to work.” Like all that stuff is now completely open and accessible. And I don't think a lot of companies realize how much is shared about them in terms of the culture and the work environment, and what actually happens versus what you say actually happens. 

When companies say, “oh yeah, there's promotion within two years of working at the company,” people will say, oh, yeah, well, I did get promoted, I did go up within two years, this is my experience. Or they'll say, no they haven't changed any promotion. They haven't moved anyone up in the past five or six years. Well then all of a sudden, a person's going to be like, well, hey, I'm not going to go work for this company if everyone inside the company is obviously saying, “no, that's not the case.”

PS: It sounds like a massive opportunity for companies who want to get ahead with specifically these workers to pay attention to that to that area.

JH: Yeah, absolutely. It just it goes back to transparency is a big thing now.

PS: Well, let's close with the Cubs. I'm a Chicago native. I grew up on Addison and Narragansett. I hopped the Addison bus when I was 12, 13, 14 to go see Dave Kingman and the Cubs lose to everyone. You love the Cubs. How does how does it look for this year? And what do you think of Craig Counsell jumping jobs from one to the other?

JH: I'm still iffy on Craig Counsell because I despised that guy for years, and then all of a sudden he's coming on board. Anytime I see him in in a in a Cubs jersey it just feels weird. And I think they did Ross really dirty, with how he found out that he's no longer the manager. I think we’ve got some good talent this year. I think they've done a really good job getting some young talent and pulling them up on board. We'll just have to see how well we perform, how injuries go, how well does our bullpen perform this year. I think those are all things that we'll see. But you know, regardless, I'm excited to go make it to some games this year. Of course, it's always great just to be able to turn on a Cubs game and just watch it and hear the “Go Cubs Go” at the end of each game that we win. That’s how I view it.

PS: The first one is night in Texas! Can't wait.

JH: Yeah, that's going to be a good game night.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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