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3/28/2017 | 2 MINUTE READ

Proto Labs Finds Millennials Upbeat on Manufacturing’s Future

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Survey indicates increased optimism and changing perceptions about the industry among those from their late teens to late 30s.

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The results of a survey from digital manufacturer Proto Labs, Inc., Maple Plain, Minn. are very promising for the future of manufacturing. The key: millennials have both a more optimistic outlook and a changing perception of the industry, which could help turn the tide on a nationwide skills shortage.

This public-opinion online poll was commissioned by Proto Labs and conducted by ORC International’s CARVAN Geographic Omnibus in September 2016. It consisted of a sample of 1,023 adults comprising 512 men and 511 women, 18 years of age and older. The margin of error is ±3.1% for the full sample.

According to the survey, nearly half of U.S. millennials (47%) believe there will be enough qualified professionals to fill manufacturing job demands in the next 10 years. This represents a marked increase from the only 35% of Generation Xers and baby boomers who think the jobs demand will be met. 

Manufacturing is viewed as a high-tech career choice by 37% of millennials compared to both Generation Xers (27%) and baby boomers (23%), as indicated by the results. Moreover, 49% of millennials believe engineering is a needed skill in today’s manufacturing sector, compared with only 41% of baby boomers.

Proto Labs sees digital manufacturing as having paved the way for a larger breadth of opportunities in addition to the plant floor roles solely and traditionally associated with the manufacturing industry. Today’s top manufacturers seek to fill a range of skilled positions—from mold techs, to applications engineers, to software developers. 

Proto Labs cites a 2015 article in the Deloitte University Press that within the next decade, 2 million out of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled due to talent shortages, according to Deloitte. For this reason, Proto Labs says it is crucial for the manufacturing industry to continue to shift its outdated public image. “I expected to begin my career at what you might consider a traditional technology company, like Facebook, Amazon or Uber…..manufacturing wasn’t necessarily on my radar. But digital manufacturing has changed everything. It’s created a high demand for skills like mine, and it has provided me a great career opportunity,” said Andrew Crocker, a 25-yr-old software developer at Proto Labs, who joined the company straight out of college.

Meanwhile, a manufacturing career’s financial benefit is another perception that has been changing among young people. According to the survey, 40% of millennial respondents think a career in today’s manufacturing industry is high-paying, compared with only 26% of Generation Xers. In fact, according to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the average U.S. manufacturing worker makes more than $70,000 a year.

Said Proto Labs president and CEO Vicki Holt, “Digital manufacturing is revitalizing our industry and is igniting new opportunities….The skills gap presents a critical roadblock for all of us. But it’s encouraging to see a renewed optimism from a new generation of workers, and to hear that they understand this isn’t their grandparents’ manufacturing industry. Much work remains ahead of us, but this is a good start.”