The manufacturing industry still struggles to change the perception of dead-end jobs and layoffs from 30 years ago

Manufacturers contributed $2.8 trillion to the economy last year, so why does Generation Z view manufacturing as a notoriously bleak industry?

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reports that, “Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.”

According to the Pew Research Institute, Gen-Z accounts for more than 25 percent of America’s population, and has just begun to enter the job market.

Unfortunately, manufacturing is often misunderstood.

Mark Paggioli of the manufacturer consulting organization CONNSTEP believes manufacturing misconceptions often begin with size. Americans have been led to believe manufacturing operations only occur on a grand scale.

“In actuality, the percentage of companies with 50 employees or under is roughly 75 percent,” Paggioli says.

Paggioli feels working for small manufacturers will help Gen-Zers grow into themselves.

“They have to show engagement, be on time, demonstrate dependability. That’s what manufacturers are really looking for to make an investment: predictability and desire.”

Mark Paggioli, CONNSTEP

“The vast majority of manufacturers are smaller companies. This offers younger people the opportunity to be much more involved in what’s happening, to be more than just a number, and to work closely with older folks who have plenty of experience,” he explains.

Vocational programs for the gifted

NAM gleans hope from the rising popularity of vocational education programs. A 2016 study conducted by the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy found a better marketing strategy is desired by school administrators in order to obtain funding for Career/Vocational Technical Education (CVTE).

The study observed the surprising length of vocational school waiting lists. It went on to dispel the stigma that CVTE programming is directed solely at academically and behaviorally challenged students. This simply isn’t the case. In fact, the study detected a strong demand for vocational programming among high-performing students, which could become problematic without the necessary growth of CVTE opportunities.

Researchers concluded, “without further support, young adults planning to enter the occupations and trades for which it was originally intended could be squeezed out by the college- and professions-bound.” 

Replacing the retiring workforce

Problems of perception may stem from the fact manufacturing hasn’t always been on the upswing. Baby Boomers recall the job market 30 years ago when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 5 million more manufacturing jobs existed than today.

Only now are Baby Boomers in manufacturing starting to transition out of the work force and enter retirement. Paggioli explains some companies are taking advantage of mentorships, allowing veteran workers to pass on the knowledge they have amassed over the years.

“There’s definitely a challenge,” says Paggioli. “The companies that are out there are all looking, but there’s a shortage of talent.”

He often hears from manufacturers who are willing to train somebody without experience, but fear that Gen-Xers will fail to understand the basic pillars of professionalism.

“They have to show engagement, be on time, demonstrate dependability. That’s what manufacturers are really looking for to make an investment. Predictability and desire,” he says. 

Opening their doors

In order to bridge the gap between students and employers, NAM has instituted a National Manufacturing Day in October. With 3.5 million jobs on the horizon, manufacturers are clamoring to shift the Gen-Z narrative.

At present, Connecticut has six events planned throughout the state in celebration of Manufacturing Day, which will include tours and educational seminars geared toward young people. It is NAM’s hope that by literally opening its doors to the next generation, it can paint a fresh picture of manufacturing for Gen-Z.