Podcast: Why younger generations aren’t pursuing a career in manufacturing

Podcast: Why younger generations aren’t pursuing a career in manufacturing

April 25, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, Jake Hall, the Manufacturing Millennial, examines how to get the next generation excited about a career in 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.

Below is an excerpt from the podcast:

PS: To lead off, tell us about the Manufacturing Millennial brand. I'm guessing a lot of our listeners will know it already, but tell us how you started the brand, and the journey you've been on.

JH: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So you know, as you mentioned, I've been in manufacturing for a long time. During part of my career, I worked for an automation distributor and I attended a conference on leadership and how companies will grow and move forward. And to keep the conversation short, at the conference they talked about “how do you future proof your business” and they talked about “how do you raise leaders in the company.” I thought well, this is really interesting where there's no young people at this conference to raise and become leaders.

We were the Millennials and the GenZ’s at the time, and so that's what the name The Manufacturing Millennial came about, was attending a conference and I said, “hey, I'm going to be an outspoken Millennial because it sure doesn’t seem like there's a lot of them going to these shows and events right now.” That's evolved where in 2020, with everything else that was happening during that time, I started to be more a lot more active on social media, highlighting new technologies. What are companies doing to move the industry forward? How are they adopting solutions? What's working, what's not working? What should you know? What trade shows should you be a part of? 

From there that’s how my brand has grown, by creating original and engaging and thoughtful content that gets people excited, and at the same time gets our industry excited about how we do a better job getting this next generation of young professionals and adults and kids to be a part of our industry.

PS: You know the most dramatic example I can remember of Millennials trying to navigate this industry was a conference session. I won't name the conference. There was a session on workforce and it was three Boomer guys up there talking about workforce, which is good, they've got some HR knowledge, but there was one Millennial manager who was there to learn about how to be a better manager. He simply got up and walked out mid-comments and it was such a commentary on the moment where there's this generation of new workers coming in, and this guy clearly wasn't feeling supported by what he was hearing, it was not useful to him at all, to the point where he simply walked out and didn't care who saw him walk out.

JH: Yeah, I think it's one of those things too where we need to recognize that each generation has phenomenal characteristics and phenomenal qualities that are going to move the manufacturing and automation space forward, but we also need to recognize that each generation learns differently. Each generation wants to collaborate differently, and we have to work together to find that commonality across all generations.

PS: I want to get to the generational commonalities in a minute, but let me first ask you before we move on to those topics, what is it about heavy industry that keeps you specifically in this sector? Did you have a manufacturing background in the family? For example, my grandfather was a tool and die worker, so some of that runs deep with my family here in Chicago.

JH: So my family, not a ton now. My grandpa worked on the equipment on a printing press way back in the day. I mean, so I guess there's some similarities that way. But for me, I was strongly encouraged by my father to go get an engineering degree. It was, hey, you go to college, you go get a four year degree, you do engineering because you'll be always be employable. And he was very much right in that case. Convincing me to go get a four year degree is one thing, convincing me to get a four year degree in engineering was another thing completely because that's a four year degree that will always be valued compared to some of the other ones out there. 

So for me, I've been around manufacturing going back since I was 16 years old, working for a custom automation machine builder. I was the broom boy, cleaning all the manual mills and the bridge ports and wiping down components with acetone before they went into grinding and welding. That was kind of my experience, so I would say since a kid I've been around manufacturing.

PS: As a millennial yourself who is covering the industry, you're starting to see this next generation coming up into it, right?

JH: Yeah, absolutely, just yesterday in fact we had an event called My Career Quest where we bussed in 8,500 high school students to meet with manufacturing companies and other industries to get a better idea of what type of job opportunities exist. This next generation is excited. 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.

PS: Time was, the most often places I would see Millennials in this industry were coastal conferences. There was one in Boston, PTC LiveWorx, which focused on augmented reality, virtual reality, CAD drawings for heavy machinery; and the other one was Pi World in San Francisco, focusing on data collection, data science. And I truly am seeing now the millennial generation moving to managerial roles in heavy industry. At the MARCON conference in early March, a woman in early 30s gave a presentation on what it meant to be a Millennial manager. Then just this past week I got home from Fluke Xcelerate, and I'll bet you half of the customer attendees were Millennial managers who wanted to learn how to use the software better. So it's happening in front of my eyes, finally.

JH: Millennials are the most common generational workforce that's working now, because Millennials are the are the largest generation. But you know, it's one of those things where with being the largest generation, it's not reflected within manufacturing, I think is the big thing. They’re in a lot of other industries besides this industry, and rightfully so. In a lot of cases it’s what they were taught, what they were encouraged to do, what their parents recommended and their guidance counselors recommend them to do. so as one of those things is, is we’ve got to focus on this, you know, upcoming generation of GenZ's who are now going to be going into college or apprenticeships or skilled trades programs and graduating high school in the next year. That's where our focus needs to lie is, how do we get them excited about our industry.

PS: That gets us to our great question for the day, which is, how do you get this new generation excited about this? The older generation way to frame it is, is there any secret to attracting and keeping new generations? But for the question itself, what do you see draws the next generation of workers into this field? Is it the field itself? Is it the engineering degree they've got? Do they enter laterally, or is it a bit of everything?

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

Sponsored Recommendations

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...

The Importance of Air-To-Cloth Ratio when Selecting Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
Selecting the right filter cartridges for your application can be complicated. There are a lot of things to evaluate and consider...like air-to-cloth ratio. When your filters ...