Manufacturing Skills Gap, Maybe It’s Time for a Millennial Approach

Anyone in manufacturing is familiar with the long running conversation about the skills gap that exists in this industry. In fact, the Manufacturing Institute, in partnership with Deloitte, has been publishing a “Skills Gap Report” since 2001. The original report was a landmark study identifying the mismatch between the skills of available workers and skills that manufacturers demand. Later reports, in 2005 and 2011, confirmed that gap and showed an increasing mismatch of skills. The most recent 2015 report states “Over the next decade nearly 3 ½ million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled. The skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

There is no doubt that the aging and retirement of the Baby Boomer Generation has widened this gap but recent examinations uncover the problem may run a bit deeper. The newer generations, like the Millennials, have a perception about manufacturing that may be preventing them from considering this a viable career alternative. One piece of evidence to support this is the serious shortage of talent in manufacturing but unemployment remains higher than normal, especially among the Millennials. They don’t have the skills for the jobs, and don’t have the interest in acquiring what is needed, or at least what they think is needed.

Changing the perception of opportunities in the manufacturing industry is definitely an important step in addressing the talent shortage. However, accomplishing this might need to include “meeting them where they live”. Every generation has a view of life that is different than that of the generation before. Understanding what is important to the newer generation may hold the key to attracting, motivating and retaining them.


Millennials have grown up with technology. This is a generation that can’t imagine NOT being connected, constantly, to anyone or everyone. Cell phones, internet, social media, interactive online games, etc… Connectivity is a fact of life.

The manufacturing has some of the most technologically advanced roles available. With automation being such an important part of the industry (robotics, IIoT, etc…) many of the opportunities within manufacturing involve technology. Attracting young talent with technology may be helped with including them in the decisions around technology. This is a generation that can do more than “hit the ground running” with regards to technology. In many cases, they can show us the path. If you doubt this, hand a new piece of technology (phone, tablet, game, pretty much anything) to a Millennial and see what happens.


A recent Millennial Branding report found 45% of Millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay. They do not have the “9 to 5” view of previous generations. Technology allows for some jobs to be performed remotely. With the addition of technology in manufacturing looking for ways to provide flexibility could be a major attractor to millennials.

Every generation has approached working with the goal of “making a difference”. We all have that desire to do work that aligns with our values. Previous generations have frequently had to compromise on this to pay the bills. One big difference with millennials is that they don’t feel the need to compromise on this. That may be why so many younger individuals still live with family. They have opted to truly “live their values” and for the most part they choose no work over the wrong work, or the wrong work for them.

Our global connectivity has opened this generation’s eyes to issues and people in a way not experienced previously. This awareness is, fortunately, met with concern and compassion. Millennials don’t shrink their world view as they enter the workplace. According to Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey, “Seventy-five percent of Millennials believe businesses are too fixated on their own agendas and not focused enough on helping to improve society.”

They also want to make a difference in a direct sense. More than any previous generation, Millennials want to be involved in decisions and to feel they have an impact on the direction of the organization. They don’t feel a need to do it the way it has always been done.


Millennials have been introduced to more information and opinions during most of their life than any generation before them. They haven’t been limited to news from their town or even their state. They truly have grown up with a “global” view. They also have been taught that “teamwork” matters. Participation trophies are a good example of that. They have been shown that inclusion and collaboration are important. They also represent the most diverse generation in the workforce that we have experienced yet.

According to a survey by Pinpoint Market Research:

  • 83% want tuition reimbursement for education sought while employed
  • 83% want a clear path to promotion and they will leave if they don’t get it
  • 81% want companies to invest in their professional development
  • 78% want learning opportunities in leadership
  • 34% want management training
  • 73% want to attend conferences, networking events and seminars

Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer for the Intelligence Group notes:

  • 72% of millennials would like to be their own boss. But if they do have to work for a boss, 79% of them
    would want that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor.
  • 88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.

As with anything, you can’t paint EVERY Millennial with the same broad brush, but understanding the perspective of this generation is necessary in the development of strategies to address the manufacturing skills gap.