by Susan Hileman, NWIRC Strategic Business Advisor

We frequently hear manufacturers discuss the inadequacy of the newest generation in our workforce. Something along the lines of: “They don’t have the work ethic we had. They don’t want to come to work. They don’t know how to solve problems. All they want to do is look at their phones.” Have you considered…’they’ are us? Working together as a cohesive team means not separating workforce by ‘they’ versus ‘us’. Companies that have learned to think outside the box and implement strategies, not only to attract and retain this newest generation but also to utilize the best skills they can bring to the table, are going to be the winners in the war for qualified people. Those are the manufacturers who are using generational diversity as a competitive edge. They take advantage of this generation’s abilities with technology and incorporate it into their business operations and communicate in a way that allows each employee to feel respected for the unique abilities they bring.

According to the Social Security Administration, the 76 million baby boomers are currently in a mass exodus for retirement—nationally exiting the workforce at around 10,000 per day. The Gen Xers who follow are around 50 million in size, obviously not enough to fill the vacancies. Millennials are currently ‘all in’ at around 80 million. Forbes Magazine noted that by 2030, Millennials will be 75% of the active workforce—that’s only 12 years away. Generation Z, still being formed, just began entering the workforce in 2018. But wait, we haven’t figured out how to work with millennials yet!

A generation is typically formed over a period of around 20 years. Each generation thinks the one that came before lacks something and then goes about correcting it. In the 1950s, people often held onto jobs with a single employer for a lifetime. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes only 30% of all workers, both men and women, now are at the same jobs over 10 years, with the average tenure across all ages being 4.2 years. Specifically, baby boomers job tenure is now 7 years, versus 5 years for Gen Xers and 3 years for millennials.

It’s a changing world. Are you changing with it? Do your policies offer flexibility? Do you ask for input on what employees want? Millennials grew up over-scheduled and over-managed. Perhaps they tend not to be good problem-solvers because someone else always did it for them. Coaching and mentoring is typically well received. Good with technology, this generation has never known life without it and wants an employer who invests in technology for their business, as well as the freedom to shape and give input to what they do. It’s no longer about work-life balance because the two are integrated: work is part of our lives. Sometimes not the most important part—just a part. Millennials seek happiness and personal fulfillment within their job and believe it’s okay to change jobs to try new things, to figure out what they want to do. Ideal employers are those that can offer a career path showing how to try new things, gain new skills, and reward increases in competency with wages. So, consider offering a career pathway within your company or a mentoring program. Just like customers come to you because you offer a competitive edge or value in some way, there are great opportunities to attract and retain young talent—if you’re willing to look at the way your company operates and be open to change.