A person wears a welding mask as they work on a piece of metal. Sparks fly.
An individual working in the manufacturing sector. Credit: Josh Beech / Unsplash Credit: Josh Beech / Unsplash

“In 2020, the manufacturing industry faced unprecedented challenges. Now, as we look ahead to 2023, the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) is returning to Toronto with a focus on the technologies driving the future of Canadian manufacturing. This event unites all facets of Canada’s manufacturing industry, offering a platform for knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and innovation in the manufacturing sector,” said Bob Willig, executive director and CEO of SME, the organization producing the conference.

Despite the optimistic outlook for Canada’s manufacturing industry, truth is it’s still facing tremendous opposition in terms of parents, guidance counsellors and individuals who still may not see manufacturing as a job that embraces a promising future.

A new report on the manufacturing workforce highlights the opportunity to solve the industry’s talent challenge by engaging Millennials and Gen Zers.

A report by Tooling U-SME titled, Solving the Talent Challenge: Millennials and Gen Z in the Workforce from a Manufacturer’s Perspective notes there will be a shortage of skilled workers over the next decade. Millennials and Gen Z workers will be essential to addressing the talent gap.

Born between 1981 and 1996, Millennials are surprisingly well established in the workplace. Meanwhile, Gen Zers, born between 1997 and 2012, are just embarking on their careers.

Workplaces, including manufacturing, need to embrace both generations because they make up the majority of the workforce needed to replace aging Baby Boomers as they retire.

The report suggests that attracting these workers to manufacturing is only part of the solution. Insight into what motivates them and understanding their work styles is vital to recruiting, retaining and training these professionals.

The report also analyzes the expectations of Millennials and Gen Zers offering key insights into managing a multigenerational workforce that includes these younger workers.

“Millennials and Gen Z workers are vital to the manufacturing industry’s ability to thrive in the post-pandemic economy,” said Jeannine Kunz, vice president of Tooling U-SME.

“By better understanding and embracing their strengths, manufacturers can build high performers, providing exciting career opportunities and boosting productivity throughout the entire organization, and offering companies a competitive advantage in a crowded talent marketplace,” she added.

Currently, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are all working within the same spaces. Yet, each has their own unique way of learning and working.

That means employers are going to have to embrace generational learning needs in order to train and retain younger workers.

Millennials – also known as Gen Y — and Gen Z may not have the technical skills that prior generations had, but they definitely have different expectations of employers regarding how they need to be trained and what advancements they’re offered.

That means employers must adopt better practices for training and developing the younger generation that is entering manufacturing in order to avoid creating a revolving door of talent.

Generally, Millennials in their late thirties and early forties are successful because they have an ability to grasp important facts; see inter-relationships between elements; can brainstorm big picture solutions; and are used to working in groups to come to democratic solutions. Perhaps most importantly, Millennials really understand and value a good work/life balance.

Millennials also have an innate desire for self-learning and self-improvement. They value face-to-face contact with staff in-person as much as they do over zoom.

In short, Millennials make great leaders and bosses.

Overall, Millennials and Gen Z both value internal feedback and genuinely want to be part of the process for continuous improvement. That really seems to be key to improving Millennial and Gen Z employee retention.

That’s going to require employers to look at the onboarding programs they currently have in place. A one-day orientation on human resource policies is not going to cut it. Instead, these generations want a solid 90-day development plan.

Millennials and Gen Z need goals to be visible and achievable through a structured training plan with dedicated time to training. They also want to be made to feel part of the company’s mission and value opportunities for meaningful career advancement.

The Pew Research Centre in Washington, DC is a nonpartisan fact tank. A recent study found that 80 per cent of Gen Zers say YouTube has helped them become more knowledgeable about something. While 68 per cent said that they had gained or improved skills that will help them in the future.

Seven in 10 Gen Zers surveyed said they watch videos with others in order to feel more connected. While 80 per cent admitted to sharing videos with their parents or other adult family members.

That makes videos a fabulous learning vehicle and one that Tool U-SME has tapped into with the development of a micro-video strategy that helps new workers relate to their training.

By developing a resource library of self-learning assets, employers can ensure that employees have the ability to create individualized learning plans to expand their learning base and look for new opportunities.

A mentor program creates a supportive cross-generational learning relationship whereby an employee can share their knowledge, experience and wisdom with new hires.

Tool U-SME has been around for over a decade addressing skill gaps in manufacturing. Their products fill the knowledge gap and help baseline the workforce while building confidence in workers.

A recently released series of virtual-reality labs enables users to practice their skills in a controlled, safe setting while building confidence before testing their new skills in their workplace.

Consultative services are also available to help companies adopt and standardize all aspects of a best in-class learning program. With nearly 600 online classes, virtual labs, instructor-led training, certifications, apprenticeships and consulting SME provides the tools to help train and retain younger workers.

According to Mark L. Michalski, 2019 SME President and SME Member Since 1992:

“Manufacturing is not a dead-end industry. Entry points can be many. Yes, it is great to earn an engineering degree, which we encourage; however, the reality is that employers are less focused on degrees and more focused on skills. An individual who can write code, use a 3D printer, analyze data or fill a wide range of roles and abilities will be the most sought after. This is true for all generations. The reality is that manufacturing is where you can have fun and work on the coolest, most bleeding-edge technology, while giving back and creating a better world.”

Those interested in finding out more about careers in manufacturing should plan on attending the CMTS at the Toronto Congress Centre from September 25 through September 28, 2023.

This is Canada’s largest industry event produced by SME, a non-profit committed to accelerating new manufacturing technology adoption and building North America’s manufacturing talent and capabilities. Tooling U-SME is the workforce development division of SME.

Over 500 suppliers and original equipment manufacturers, more than 8,000 manufacturing professionals from across the country and around the world, and a staggering array of equipment will be featured.

More than 50 educational sessions and panel discussions will provide insights into the latest trends and advancements shaping the manufacturing landscape.

Opening keynote speaker Massimiliano Moruzzi, CEO of Xaba, a Toronto-based startup focused on intelligent automation will explore artificial intelligence (AI) integration from industrial robotics to sustainable materials.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association will open Day 3 sharing insights about the ways in which Canada could drive the next transportation revolution.

Kitchener-based Acerta CEO Greta Cutulenco will deliver the Day 4 keynote dedicated to next-generation talent including the celebration of women in manufacturing.

Educational sessions will bring together the brightest minds in the industry so that attendees have the opportunity to gain knowledge, expand their network, and explore collaborative opportunities.

SME was established in 1932 as a nonprofit organization headquartered in Southfield, Michigan. SME elevates manufacturers, academia, professionals, and the communities in which they operate. Learn more at www.sme.org.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...