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Why No One ‘Wants’ to Work

Michelle Miller, Offering Manager | February 28, 2024
General Blog

Newer generations…

…“just don’t have a good work ethic.”

…“aren’t willing to put in the hard work.”

…” have no sense of company loyalty.”

Does this sound familiar? These are examples of some things I’ve heard when talking with leaders in manufacturing about their staffing woes.

And it’s no secret that high turnover rates continue to plague the manufacturing industry – most organizations still list staffing and turnover as a top issue in 2024. One of the largest contributors to this issue continues to be the large amounts of employees in the baby boomer generation that are retiring, leaving excess vacancies to be filled by these newer generations that are entering the workforce (Generation Z and later portions of the Millennial Generation). Hiring trends show us that a disproportionate amount of these newcomers are pursuing careers in industries like tech as opposed to manufacturing, really exacerbating this need for people. These findings1 then have led some in manufacturing to blame the newcomers themselves, saying they are not driven or hardworking. When in reality, the blame is actually on the manufacturing industry itself.

Tom Golway, Chief Technology Officer at Hewlett Packard and well-respected technologist and thought leader, told us, “Our life experiences shape who we are and how we think.” Said differently, our experiences shape our beliefs and our priorities. Just as the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War shaped the working nature of the baby boomer generation, the pandemic, major social movements, and rising inflation are shaping our newer generations today. Where past generations valued dedication and gratitude to their employer as a result of political uncertainty and turmoil, the newer generation values purpose and equality brought on by social movements, as well as job stability after witnessing a vast number of pandemic firings and layoffs.

Where other industries have adapted to the changing needs of the workforce, manufacturing has, by and large, remained stagnant. To continue to attract talent, the manufacturing industry needs to understand what newer generations value in the workplace and how they can support these needs.

So what do these newbies entering the workforce value exactly? And can these values be accommodated on the manufacturing frontline? The following points highlight some of the most critical values these newer generations look for in an employer and prove that the manufacturing sector can, in fact, address each and every one so long as the desire to change exists.

Working at a company that leverages technology

Many manufacturing facilities today are still running on paper and Microsoft Office. Frontline employees manually document checks at their workstations or enter information into an Excel database. While we have automated much of our personal lives with phone apps and web-based platforms, manufacturing jobs are not nearly as digitally connected. This leaves our newer generation at odds with what comes naturally to them. They have grown up with technology – many of them are coined ‘digital natives.’ They yearn to work with technology that not only automates tasks to be as efficient as possible but also to use technology that will simplify their lives. For our frontline employees, systems like manufacturing execution systems (MES) give them the ability to work in this way through the automation of things like material consumption, equipment downtime, and work order management rather than managing all of this information on paper or in Excel. Also, incorporating things like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced automation are desires of this group, and the usage of it in manufacturing has the potential to draw more interest in the industry than we see today2.

Improving and enhancing communication with all employees

The uncertainty created by COVID-19 took away a lot of control with regard to job security during the pandemic. One study from the Pew Research Center3 found that half of those in the older range of Gen Z reported that either they or someone in their household had lost a job or received a cut in pay due to the pandemic. As such, these workers seek clear and transparent communication rather than operating under a ‘need to know’ type policy as we typically do with our frontline workers. Connecting to our first point on leveraging technology, connected worker platforms excel at building a community around communication and sharing of information. They also help standardize and streamline the information that employees need to perform tasks adequately and optimally without needing decades of tribal knowledge and experience. Finding a way to routinely incorporate sharing company updates and insights, manager feedback, and social events will go a long way, and doing this through a connected worker platform is a fast and reliable way to do that.

Supporting diversity and providing workers with a sense of purpose

While it may be true that some workers just want to punch the clock and get a paycheck, many are looking for something more – including our newer frontline workers. Many corporations today are incorporating social and ethical responsibility into their branding. However, taking that one step further into the manufacturing plant can be even more influential. Giving workers the opportunity to be part of teams that improve things like waste to landfill, energy usage, or internal policy can provide a voice and a purpose where that has been historically lacking. Specifically, regarding diversity and inclusion, a large majority of the newer generations prioritize this as a need in companies they are considering working for. Embracing a respectful and diverse working environment is critical to attracting and maintaining retention of this group. We see more and more organizations developing resource groups to support diverse groups of employees – sometimes, this tends to only exist at the corporate level, though, and can be supported further by including members on the frontline to ensure their voices are heard and spread the communication of these efforts to more of the organization.

Supporting career growth and manager relationships

The newer generations are excited about the opportunity. This is also something that can be easily overlooked with a frontline workforce. Although difficult to manage with large frontline teams, facilitating routine one-on-one meetings with the employee’s supervisor or manager is critical. These employees are interested in continued advancement, training, mentorship opportunities, and career growth, so providing these growth opportunities is a major benefit with regard to employee morale and retention.

Connection to technology, to information, to a purpose, to diversity, and relationships

These four priorities that newer generations value center around creating a connected worker experience. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, I strongly believe that embracing a connected worker platform in an organization is a way manufacturers can begin to bridge this gap. Through technology, these applications facilitate learning, communication, and interaction on the frontline in ways that we haven’t been able to before.

More broadly, the dynamic of the working world is shifting – and persisting to believe and socialize the idea that the younger generations “don’t want to work” will continue to send talent in other directions. The manufacturing sector needs to understand that just as older generations did before them, this newer generation has different ideas about what constitutes a desirable workplace. Creating a connected working environment is key to attracting new talent and will be a major factor in what makes companies successful in the years to come.