The mark of a great brand is when it evokes a single universal message for its audience. Volvo = safety. Walt Disney = magic. There’s power in the strength of brand association. Many of the world’s top brands have their place firmly fixed in our culture and thrive for generations as a result.
But what happens when the image of a brand no longer matches reality?
The manufacturing sector is facing this problem right now. Arguably it’s been the most disrupted industry over the past decade, yet many people are unaware of the massive changes happening behind the scenes. As a result, the sector struggles to attract and retain top talent in an increasingly tight labor market – especially the younger tech talent it needs most.
When people think of manufacturing, they often picture gritty environments with workers dotted along conveyor belts, piecing together products by hand. But that’s a far cry from what manufacturing is today.
Today’s workers aren’t holed up in dirty factories doing mindless, repetitive tasks. They’re highly-skilled, creative problem solvers working with cutting-edge technology – both hardware and software – in a dynamic environment. It sounds like a millennial’s dream job – yet, according to a 2018 Leading2Lean survey, less than half of millennials believe manufacturing offers fulfilling careers. Their parents have influenced their views, as another survey found that fewer than three in 10 parents would consider guiding their child toward manufacturing.
Compounding the gap between reality and public opinion are the various narratives surrounding job security in manufacturing. Globalization has had a major impact on the sector over the past 20 years, and a lot of attention gets paid toward job outsourcing and competition from developing countries. And, while rapid technological advancement should help attract skilled talent, fears about job loss due to automation abound.
The truth is the sector is facing a critical labor shortage and skills gap that threatens future growth and the health of the economy. A 2018 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) found an estimated 2.4 million positions in the U.S. may be left unfilled by 2028, putting US$2.5 trillion in manufacturing GDP at risk over the next decade. Even the recent slight contraction of the sector will only provide temporary relief. Baby boomers are still retiring at historically high rates, and the skills required are shifting from what the current workforce was hired to do to what is needed to support an Industry 4.0 production line.
So how can we improve manufacturing’s brand and become a magnet for new talent? The first step is understanding how technology has changed the nature of work and the skills economy. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that currently don’t exist. And the skills that have the most value in the job market are also changing. The in-demand skills of the future are industry-agnostic: creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and communication, to name a few.
As jobs evolve to require more technology and soft skills, the whole notion of a career bound by industry is starting to dissolve. Now manufacturers aren’t only competing with each other for top talent, but with leading brands across all industries. These companies are all targeting millennial and Gen Z talent, and many have built workplace cultures that suit the needs and expectations of these younger workers.
Manufacturers can catch up and change how the industry is perceived by modernizing their employee experience (EX) and investing more in employee engagement. According to the recent Gallup study How Millennials Want to Work and Live, millennials are the least engaged of any generation (only 29%). And it’s not just the younger workers who lack engagement – only 25% of employees in manufacturing are engaged at work, the worst across industries.
Manufacturers can change our image and stand out to the next wave of talent with a great EX. Some key criteria to consider:
Timeless brands stay relevant by evolving with the times, which starts with a deep understanding of their customers. This is exactly the path the manufacturing sector should take to change its employer brand – closing the gap between what employees want and how they see manufacturers falling short.
Changing the perception of our sector will be key to winning the hearts and minds of millennial and Gen Z talent and creating a positive employee experience is critical. Happy and engaged employees are the best advertising – and manufacturing can’t rebrand without them.
To learn more, check out Ceridian’s guide: Manufacturing Change: Building a next-gen workforce for Industry 4.0.
Adam Aguzzi is Senior Principal, Industry Advisory at Ceridian. Adam helps leaders transform their operations and strategies to make better decisions that drive business value. He has spent the last 15 years directing programs in manufacturing, aviation, maintenance, and mining. He holds a CPA and an MBA from the University of Toronto.View Collection