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June 8, 2017

You’ve probably heard about them: Millennials. Who are they? They’re the demographic cohort after Generation X, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. What impact do they have on the manufacturing industry? In the years to come, Millennials will become the biggest workforce available for manufacturers as older workers retire. And those experienced workers are retiring in droves: 80% of the manufacturing workforce consists of Baby Boomers ages 45 to 65. Ten thousand boomers are retiring every day in the United States alone.


Threat? No. Opportunity? Definitely. With innovations such as high-tech robotics and production line automation increasingly common in plants, manufacturers have a huge opportunity to benefit from employing the tech savvy Millennial generation. These 20- to 30-year-olds grew up interacting with technology and adapting to the rapid pace at which new innovations evolved into even newer ones.

Not surprisingly, Millennials prefer manufacturing jobs that have technologic components. If they work in a plant, they’d rather control a servo-driven robot than perform a repetitive job such as putting a bag on a spout for a manual bagger. Consequently, in order to prepare for what some researchers predict will be 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2025, companies should consider how they’ll attract Millennials as employees. One way to help ensure manufacturers’ ability to do this is by introducing robotics and automation to their production lines. So, while the incoming tidal wave of retiring boomers may seem terrifying right now, this situation is actually an opportunity for manufacturers to consider the advantages that automation offers.

Introducing robotics and automation to your production line may be the best way to benefit from the demographic switch to the Millennials generation. That’s because introducing automation creates new, “high value” positions that are more attractive to this generation. For them, jobs that involve engineering, technology and robotics are attractive. Companies that want to circumvent the looming shortage of plant workers may want to think about investing in robotics and hiring Millennial-age workers to manage them.

This phenomenon does not affect only the United-States. Major manufacturing countries like China, India, Thailand and Brazil are starting to feel the impact of the Millennials’ presence. Thousands of companies around the world are facing this situation and are trying to jump into the automation era. If some of them were reluctant to consider robotics at first, this shift in demographics provides incentive to make the switch to automation.

In the last year, many studies have shown that jobs in the manufacturing sector are not the most attractive for Millennials. The reason is quite simple: When Millennials think about manufacturing, they’re not thinking of a high-tech environment. They’re thinking of a dirty environment and physically difficult, repetitive jobs. But with automation entering an increasing number of manufacturing plants, there are plenty of jobs in engineering, robotics, technology, research and development, and IT that await Millennials in the short and long term. The main driver of modern manufacturing comes from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) era, which is described as industries and plants using data and technology to bring more efficiency to the workplace.

The worldwide manufacturing industry has also been experiencing a major expansion during the past decade. Industry’s evolving at a rapid rate. It requires a manufacturer to constantly adjust, because it is influenced by many factors. This major growth is accompanied by the need for more experienced and skilled workers who can contribute to the expansion of the sector and meet demand. Since the national economic downturn several years ago, the manufacturing sector has one of the largest skills gap of any industry.

Are manufacturing companies ready to embrace the dual challenge of a skills gap and a demographic shift? While some companies already have a plan in place to handle the challenge, 65% of manufacturers have no plan to replace the retiring baby boomer generation in their plants. For some of them, technological advancements in plants are taking jobs away from workers. But, as stated before, it’s actually the opposite. By introducing automation for repetitive and dangerous work, companies offer their team members the opportunity to pursue jobs that require more than just physical work. This benefits workers by allowing them to obtain more diverse skills in other sectors. In this way, robots take care of the hard work so that workers can focus on more rewarding tasks.

Realistically, operating robotic technology in the manufacturing industry demands more training. As stated by the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturers need to do more to develop their talent pool. Companies can no longer wait for an educated workforce. Companies must start training the next generation of manufacturing talent now.

The constantly evolving sector of manufacturing holds great promise. Every generation, every decade, experiences its own challenges. The new era of workers will bring other challenges that companies will need to adapt to quickly in order to maintain their position in industry. Introducing automated solutions in plants will, in the longer term, evolve into machines collaborating with humans, rather than replacing them. It will also result in increased workplace engagement, and healthier, more rewarding employment for workers by creating challenging and creative jobs.

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