Baby Boomers and Millennials in Manufacturing – A Good Match?

Manufacturing Day was this past Friday, and there are plenty of articles written about Millennials and why they need to be recruited in order to ensure that manufacturers continue to have the labor they need to succeed. One aspect of generational change that is often overlooked, however, is that Baby Boomer workers are retiring from manufacturing in increasing numbers, and certain skills they have will be lost – unless companies encourage collaboration between these workers and those from younger generations.

So much of the emphasis in manufacturing is on breakthroughs in technology and increased automation and how these affect process and output. It’s assumed that Millennials, since they’ve been exposed to continuously updated technology since they were children are better suited to the new tech. However, Baby Boomers have their own skill sets. Baby Boomers, for example,  learned a strong work ethic from their parents. They also have longer attention spans and need less encouragement to complete their tasks. They don’t have the same expectation Millennials do that their daily tasks will be exciting or important. They just want to be paid and promoted, not praised.

Baby Boomers also have a lifetime of experience under their belts. They watched the progression of technology from mechanical to computer-driven. They also have a lifetime of knowledge about workplace interactions. While Generation X workers have the reputation for wanting to work independently and disliking micromanagement, both Baby Boomers and Millennials are comfortable working within groups, and Boomers make for good mentors – something Millennials consistently report wanting more of at work.

Given that Baby Boomers have a lot to teach, if at all possible they should be paired with Millennials to transfer their knowledge and their ideas about work to younger coworkers. In some industries, Baby Boomers are being let go because companies think younger workers are more of a bargain. Their wages or salaries are lower, and benefits far less expensive. This is a short-sighted approach. Many Millennials come out of the school system unfamiliar with the way the workforce runs and struggle with absorbing the rules and norms and settling in. They are known for bouncing around from job to job and not staying in one position for very long – the opposite of Boomers.

Manufacturing needs workers who can be trained and who will stay in the positions they were trained to do. Pairing a Baby Boomer who has experience, knowledge, good social skills, and will pattern necessary workforce habits with Millennials who need guidance and crave connection in the workplace is a win-win. Some companies are rewarding late-stage Boomers for this mentoring with time off and other benefits. They want them to postpone retirement to do this critical work.

Older workers often feel like the high tech world we live in is passing them by, but Baby Boomers already have a lifetime of experience adapting to change and a host of other skills. This Manufacturing Day we should focus on how workers of all generations can help make our industry stronger and better by using the variety of strengths and skills they possess and helping each other to succeed.


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