Millennials: the Next Generation of Michigan Manufacturing

Manufacturing, both in Michigan and in the United States, is experiencing a renaissance. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of this industry, both in terms of technological advancement and overall profitability. There are a number of growing pains manufacturing is experiencing, however, and one of the largest is a shortage in labor. In order to optimize the economic future, Americans and Michiganders especially will need more young people to consider manufacturing as a career opportunity and focus on acquiring the skilled trades the industry needs to succeed. The Millennial generation has an important part to play in 21st century manufacturing.

In the most recent NAM Manufacturing’ Outlook Survey more than 70% of companies listed their greatest challenge as recruitment and retention of their workforce. The need for young workers is so great that the State of Michigan is now stepping in with an additional $100 million in funding for specialty education programming funding. Employers are also investing in training for their workers to assure they have the skill sets they need.

While there is less need for unskilled labor, for almost any skilled job across the industry workers are in great demand. In April Michigan Manufacturers Association President Chuck Hadden stressed this: “Welders — I can get almost any of those people jobs any place in the state,” Hadden said. “If you’ve got a skill of some sort, (employers) will help work with you. If you’ve got a skill, I’ll find you a place you want.”

There are a number of reasons for this skilled labor shortage. Low unemployment and Baby Boomers retiring are two of the biggest. Why Millennials aren’t flocking to fill those empty positions in manufacturing is complicated, though. Some of it can be blamed on the industry’s image problem.

Michigan’s manufacturing birthed a middle class lifestyle for unskilled workers, and every sector of the state’s economy benefited. However, for decades now young people have been encouraged to shun jobs in factories in favor of pursuing white collar jobs. They’ve come to associate manufacturing jobs with older generations and think of them as boring, outdated, and dead-end. Many young people want jobs that will fulfill them personally, and they do not envisualize that happening in manufacturing.

Today’s manufacturing jobs are not the same as the ones available in 1960 or 1980, though. With the advent of automation, more of the jobs available require skills and training. They are personally challenging and often interesting and engaging. They’re also well paid. Few Millennials emerge from college without student loan debt, but manufacturing offers them the opportunity of work without accumulating debt at a rate of pay many college graduates can only dream about.

For example, the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program, also know as MAT2, is available in a number of colleges statewide. The MAT2 allows employers to sponsor student workers who study and work at the same time. When they graduate with degrees in mechatronics, IT, or product design they go to work for the companies that sponsored them for at least two years. This is a win-win for both companies and workers. Employers get the skilled workers they need for a reasonable investment and workers acquire their educations without acquiring tens of thousands of dollars in student loans – and they have a job guaranteed upon graduation.

The MAT2 is only one example of incentives companies are giving in their search for skilled employees, of course. There are many others. If you are young and undecided on your career choice, consider pursuing a skilled trade. For Millennials with energy, drive, and commitment, manufacturing offers a great deal. Going forward into the 21st century, Michigan needs you.


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