In the business world, and especially in the manufacturing world - if there is one constant, it’s change. Competition and the introduction of new technologies can create (or destroy) markets very quickly. Advancements in manufacturing capability can create efficiencies which give a business the edge it needs in a crowded marketplace. One of the larger shifts that is on the horizon for many companies is the transition of work in manufacturing jobs from older baby boomers to younger millennials. There are many reasons why this shift has the potential to be impactful. Perhaps the largest, though, is the skills gap between these groups of employees. Luckily, new technologies and solutions are in development that may help lessen or eliminate the effects of the workforce shift.
What Is the Workforce Skills Gap?
Today, the majority of workers employed in manufacturing jobs are from the baby-boomer generation. That is, they were born between 1946 and 1964, and have been in the workforce since the mid to early 1980s or before. Many of these workers learned vocational skills while still in school and have spent their careers honing and deepening their skillsets. The youngest of the baby boomer generation are rapidly approaching retirement, and when they leave, there's a good chance that their skills and knowledge will leave with them. Younger generations, such as millennials, are starting to move into the roles vacated by older workers. Unlike the older workers though, millennials in production jobs typically don’t start their careers with the same skills that the baby boomers did.
There are many reasons for the skills gap. One is that many secondary schools have stopped offering hands-on classes such as woodworking, metalworking, or auto shop. Another is that there has been a general shift in mindset over the past decade that a college education is the only way to achieve success in life. A combination of these two things, plus a few other factors, has contributed to many in the millennial generation not having the practical skills or abilities fit for production-line work.
How Can Technology Help to Attract Younger Workers?
Businesses are starting to use new technology in a bid to attract and retain younger workers. Two of the most common ways include the use of virtual reality and the increasing prevalence of online training programs. Using virtual reality as a training tool has benefits for both the employer and the employee. Employers can educate their workforces more quickly and without the added expense of machine time or additional raw materials. Employees can train in an environment that is quieter and less stressful than the factory floor. The use of online training tools means that companies can offer training during employee downtime, rather than during production time.
How Can Advanced HMIs (Human-Machine Interfaces) Help?
Companies are continually trying to modernize their production facilities in an effort to make them more efficient. As individual production line components get networked and connected to cloud-based control systems, methods for controlling the system are evolving as well. Taking cues from common technology today such as smartphones and tablet PCs, modern HMIs aim to allow operators more control so they are able to adapt more easily to variations in demand. Fortunately for many companies, the younger generation of workers grew up surrounded by this type of technology. They tend to be better able to maximize the utility of HMIs to drive production efficiency.
For more information on how human-machine interface technology can be used to attract Millennials in manufacturing, watch the archived webinar Building a Better Engaged and More Efficient Workforce with Technology.