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How To Attract Millennials and Preserve the Future of Manufacturing

This article originally appeared in the CMTC Manufacturing Network Blog. Guest blog post by John Anderson, Director of Program Development of CMTC, Southern California’s MEP Center.

Millennials. If you Google the term, you get 3,190,000 results! There has been a lot of discussion and analysis about this group, which includes people born roughly between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, according to Wikipedia. Many have said, with the current and upcoming workforce skills shortage, that the future of manufacturing hinges on this generation. There is no more accurate statement.

The Numbers Are Scary

According to a Census report entitled, “The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060” published in May of this year, by 2029 (only 15 short years away), the Baby Boomers will all have turned 65 and will account for 20% of the population of the United States. If you extrapolate that to manufacturing, you can envision the mass exodus to come over the next 15 years.

The problem is that there is little backfill for skilled jobs from the generations after the baby boomers. Part of this is due to the inaccurate perception of manufacturing as a low paying, dirty career choice and the reluctance of high school teachers and counselors to promote manufacturing careers. Most high schools are not teaching Industrial Arts due to funding cuts and are instead preparing students to progress to college after graduation. However, some young people do not want to go to college, and are left with few career options and, often, a lack of direction.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( there were 248,000 manufacturing job openings in the United States in February of 2014. This seems to be a great opportunity to capture the attention of the students who feel that they have few desirable options after high school.

Who Is Going to Fill the Jobs?

According to a March, 2012 Time Magazine article written by Dan Schwabel (an expert on the millennial generation) approximately 10,000 Millennials (also called Generation Y) turn 21 every day. By 2025, three out of four people in the workforce will be from “Generation Y”. It looks like the Millennials will have to come to the rescue to save American manufacturing!

Consider the strengths of the Millennials generation (according to the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce Millennial Report):

  • Millennials are technology savvy (the report called it a “digital sixth sense”).
  • Millennials are optimistic. 41% of the people in this generation were satisfied with the way things are going in this country, compared to only 26% of those over 30.
  • Millennials excel at multi-tasking.
  • Similar to earlier generations, Generation Y cares about those in need, and this population desires a strong family life.

How Do You Attract Millennials?

So, how do you attract the Millennial population to manufacturing careers in great numbers? You first have to know what they value. According to the “No Collar Study” conducted by MTV in 2012, while no generalization fits everyone, many Millenials have the following characteristics:

  • Millennials require your immediate attention and feedback. No 6-month reviews for them.
  • Millennials want a casual workplace; they don’t separate their personal and professional life.
  • Millennials work when they want to work. As long as they get their work done, the amount of time they are there doesn’t matter.
  • Millennials aren’t all about the money (they value liking the job and being challenged over the pay).
  • Millennials want transparency and honesty.
  • Millennials like a flat organizational structure that promotes collaboration, not hierarchy.

The casual nature of many manufacturing facilities would seem to be of value to Generation Y. The best news is that manufacturing careers can be both high-paying and exciting for the Millennial population. This was proven by an Industry Week Salary Survey that showed that 87% of manufacturing professionals were satisfied with their careers and 42% said they were very satisfied. According to this same study, pay for managers in the manufacturing sector averaged $111,480 per year in the past year, which is an $8,000 increase over the previous year. So, Millennials can get the best of both worlds - good pay and job satisfaction.

How Can New or Advanced Technologies Attract Millennials?

Millennials are attracted to innovative technologies and love to use them in a collaborative environment.  Here are some examples of new technologies that would appeal to Millennials:

  • Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) - Some Millennials even have these printers in their schools and homes.  To see their application in the manufacturing workplace would be exciting for many in this generation.  The idea of designing something and seeing a model of that design within minutes fits with the Millennial generation’s desire for immediate feedback.  Creating design teams using additive manufacturing resources also appeals to the need for collaboration.
  • Nanotechnology - This involves taking material down to a minute scale, making changes to its “DNA” and building it back up into a product.  For example, a motor oil can be reduced to nanometer proportions (smaller than an atom) and manipulated to create better gas mileage for a car, then made back into a better motor oil.  The products resulting from this technology exhibit greater wear, fire resistance, and better engine performance.
  • Programs/Apps That Promote Collaboration and Communication- Programs and applications such as Basecamp and Nozbe allow for easy collaboration with colleagues. It is easier than ever, thanks to advances in computer technology, to send an idea out to a group from anywhere and get instantaneous feedback (which appeals to Millennials).  As a manufacturer, you can easily embrace a collaborative environment on the manufacturing floor by creating process improvement teams, and using tools such as SharePoint to share ideas, Value Stream Maps, data and project documents.  The more information is shared, the more those from Generation Y will feel transparency in the environment.

How Can You Get Millennials To Work For Your Company?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  You know how to attract them, and how technology can excite them, but how can you actually get Generation Y’ers to work for you?  After all, you will need the help, according to statistics!

Here are some tips for marketing your firm as a great place to work for the Millennial generation:

  • Participate in Manufacturing Day 2014 - Manufacturing Day 2014 will be held on October 3, 2014 and is great opportunity to reach out to Millennials. MFG Day is all about giving manufacturers a chance to share exciting, contemporary manufacturing techniques with visitors from their surrounding communities -- especially students and others who are interested in manufacturing careers.
  • Partner with local schools and colleges to host plant tours and speak at events – In addition to Manufacturing Day, you can host smaller groups of high school and college students potentially interested in manufacturing careers.  You can also speak at student organization events about new technologies you are using.
  • Ask Millennials you hire to recommend friends in need of a job - Many times, the best resource for new employees is current employees who are happy with their job.  Ask your current young employees to encourage their friends or classmates to apply for jobs at your company.
  • Institute an internship program - Work with local high schools and colleges to offer summer internships for those in technical disciplines. This provides an opportunity for students to see the “real world” of manufacturing and allows you to see if the person is a fit for your organization.  This can also be a great and inexpensive way to get projects done!


About the author

John Anderson

John Anderson is Director of Program Development at CMTC (NIST MEP's Southern California Center) and has more than 30 years of experience in the manufacturing industry.

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John: An excellent article which provides a set of strategies which advanced manufacturing companies can adopt to hire, retain and train the Millennials. The latest United States Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing has identified a number of gaps in the present U.S. Innovation ecosystem. In particular, the gap between R&D projects and advanced technology deployment into the manufacturing sector. To mitigate this national challenge, there is also need to engage the Millennials to innovate by teaching them the 21st Century Innovation enabling skills. These skills include innovation models, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and strategies to leverage the U.S. innovation ecosystem.
Great article. Young people should look into additive manufacturing and sustainability for future career options. These will definitely be the leading field of study in the years to come.
I think the earlier you can reach out to students about the values of the manufacturing industry, the better. College could even be too late. They need to learn early that the stigma surrounding the industry is certainly unfounded and that there are actual, high-paying and appealing jobs available to them quickly. Vocational internships to high school students - even middle schoolers if it's at all possible - seems like the best possible route. But it's definitely not a one-pronged approach, and I agree with the other points listed here. It'll take a lot of different factors to turn this thing around.

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