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How To Win The Next Generation Of Manufacturing Workers

Mar 19, 2021 by Mark Dingley

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How To Win The Next Generation Of Manufacturing Workers

Ask any business owner or CEO and they'll tell you: one of the biggest headaches is finding and keeping good employees.

But for manufacturing, there’s an even bigger challenge at hand: finding and keeping the new generation of workers with the right skills to lead the future of manufacturing.

The reality is the workforce in manufacturing facilities around Australia has been the same for decades: predominantly males with an average age of 40's and 50's.

Yet digitisation and automation are increasing demand for new skills. Skills in data and digital tech that are being honed by a new generation of workers, Gen Z.

Research by Forrester showed the most sought-after digital elites will grow by 33% in Australia's workforce, fuelled by demand for technical skills in areas such as data, process automation, human-machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain and machine learning.

There are even new terms for these workers: "new-collar workers" and "green collar workers".

According to James Magee, CEO of Operations Feedback Systems (OFS), there's a huge opportunity for Australian manufacturers is to bring in and nurture this new talent.

"I've been fortunate to meet so many talented young manufacturing professionals during my career, but they are far outweighed by an aging workforce," he said.

"How can you attract the next generation into your organisation, to help you transform and evolve?"

Be an employer of choice

James said the focus for every manufacturer and supplier should be to be "recognised as the employer of choice for any young professional considering a career in manufacturing."

"They will achieve this by introducing a program in their business to attract, reward, recognise, promote and provide unique opportunities for the best young manufacturing professionals in their organisation," he added.

Take inspiration from the best places to work in Australia.

At number 5 in Australia's Best Workplaces 2020 for large employers (1000+) was MARS Australia.

How did they do it? Mars Petcare General Manager, Barry O'Sullivan said:

"Our commitment to our employees is that we are always listening and improving our versatile work environment; identifying development, training and secondment opportunities for their professional and personal growth; providing flexible work hours to maintain a work life balance and offering a range of other benefits such as health and wellbeing programs and a bring your pet to work program."

[breakout] Who are Gen Z?

Gen Z are those born after 1996, the generation following Millennials. The oldest Gen Zer is now 25. They are digital natives and don't remember a world without the Internet.

Find out what Gen Z needs

It’s not enough to try to attract digital elites to your workforce. You need to keep them. This means motivating them to do their best work and inspiring them.

If you’re going to develop an enriching work environment, you must understand this generation's needs and expectations. This is a generation that seeks to align personal values and lifestyles with work.

What exactly are their values and expectations?

According to new research from The Workforce Institute at Kronos together with Future Workplace focusing on the Gen Z work experience across 12 countries including Australia and New Zealand, this talent pool is characterised by three key expectations:

  1. 1 Flexibility in schedules to deliver their best work
  2. 2 Face-to-face interaction with managers and teams – despite being digital natives, three out of four Gen Zers (75%) prefer to receive feedback in person.
  3. 3 Employers who support work-life balance

The research also showed that Gen Z feels well-equipped to handle working in a team (57%), hitting project deadlines (57%), and working with customers (56%).

According to Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, "This digital generation, primarily relying on technology to communicate, suffers from anxiety."

"Thus, Gen Zers are looking for leaders who are trusting, support their needs, and express care for them as humans – not just employees. Focusing on Gen Zers’ human needs will be the best way to address their workplace needs," he said.

Once you know their needs, how can you use this knowledge to attract and retain young talent?

Go the extra mile to show you value employees

Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in how workers view their employer. The Workforce Institute found 32% of Gen Zers crave performance-related recognition from managers and will use this as a basis for how they measure their personal success at a company.

The vast majority of Gen Zers (93%) also want to be rewarded for a job well done. Look at ways to give recognition – anything from gift vouchers to public recognition by senior leadership.

Build a culture of feedback and communication

Trust is everything to Gen Z workers. They expect open and flowing communication and want frequent check-ins with their manager related to performance and professional development. But we’re not talking about scheduled performance reviews – 43% want feedback in real time.

Use technology to improve the employee experience

Gen Z grew up on technology. They can’t remember a time without it, and they use it in almost every aspect of their lives. The reality is they expect the same level of technological conveniences in their workplace.

If your organisation is not providing technical benefits like ease of use, self-service and mobility, then top talent will look elsewhere for jobs that do meet their digital expectations.

The Bottom Line

The stakes are high. Australian manufacturers need to rethink the traditional workforce if they want to attract and retain top talent. This could mean redesigning every aspect of the employee experience, from how you recruit and train workers, to the benefits and rewards you offer, right through to the interactions between managers and teams.