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Manufacturing Looks To a New Generation for Employees

Could Generation Z help bridge the yawning workforce gap in manufacturing?


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Generation Z—adults aged 18 to 22—are more likely to have had manufacturing suggested to them as a career path compared to previous generations and are more open to entering industry than their older peers. Those findings and more are from a survey conducted by Leading2Lean (L2L).

Its 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index, an annual survey of the American public’s perceptions of U.S. manufacturing, found that adults in Generation Z are 19% more likely to have had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a career compared to the general population. By comparison, 32% of Generation Z has had manufacturing suggested as a career option, compared to only 18% of Millennials and 13% of the general population.

Generation Z manufacturing

Compared to previous generations, Generation Z is more familiar with manufacturing as a career path. 

Generation Z was particularly receptive to the suggestion, according to the survey, because of what they’d seen Millennials experience. “Generation Z grew up in the midst of the Great Recession, watched their older peers accumulate student debt, then struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs right out of college… they’re increasingly open to alternative types of education and training.”

According to the survey, Gen Z is:

  • 7% more likely to consider working in the manufacturing industry
  • 12% less likely to view the manufacturing industry as being in decline
  • more exposed to industry, as 32% have family or friends working in manufacturing

U.S. Manufacturing peaked in the 1970 when Baby Boomers started entering the workforce and 26.4% of all American workers were employed in manufacturing. After small contractions in 1971 and 1972, manufacturing employment rose again in 1973 but since then, it contracted every year after through 2010, bottoming out at 10.1%. In a nearly decade-long reversal, however, the number of people employed in manufacturing has expanded annually since then.

Generation Z grew up in the midst of the Great Recession, watched their older peers accumulate student debt, then struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs right out of college.

That growth, plus the retirement of boomers (10,000 people reach the age of 65 each day) is creating unmet demand for new workers and many shoes to fill on the shop floor. L2L reports that according to the latest government data, there are now 522,000 open manufacturing jobs in the U.S., which is an all-time high. A report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute projects that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next decade.

Those are high-paying jobs but survey participants didn’t think so. According to L2L over half (53%) of the general population assumes the average salary of a mid-level manufacturing manager is under $60,000. In reality, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500, according to IndustryWeek.

Generation Z manufacturing

As Baby Boomers retire, Generation Z (adults ages 18 to 22) could step up to fill their shoes on the manufacturing shop floor.