Millennials in U.S. Manufacturing

Just having my 28th birthday, I am in a transition phase of my life, especially now the owner of a start-up founded on the principals of networking and knowledge. I reflect the last 10 years of my life, more specifically the last 8 where I discovered (more like stumbled into) the world of Manufacturing. IN those last 8 years I have been trusted with knowledge of those who walked a similar path before me. In terms of math, in 8 years I have gained the intimate knowledge of manufacturing and business totaling close to 250 years of hard earned experience simply by being a good listener and not being afraid to fail.

If knowledge is power, and with great power comes with great responsibility, I know I am able to make an impact and add value to each of my clients, in fact it is my responsibility. I will ALWAYS be able to provide a living for my family based off of the knowledge that these men entrusted to me over those short 8 years.

Knowing that U.S. Manufacturing is the best way to impact our economy (Please read this link from the Wall Street Journal How to revitalize U.S. Manufacturing )we are going to be in some serious trouble as an industry and country if we do not add more skilled labor to our ranks.

That being said, I want to shed some light on my personal observations over the years.

Why are there not more of you Millennials out there with me?

In the 500+ manufacturing plants that I have toured, 50+ plants that I have worked a project in and the 25+ manufacturers that I worked with intimately, WHY are there not more of you out there?

A large part of the manufacturing workforce is on the verge of retirement if not retired already, jobs cut by global outsourcing (for one reason or another) and even worse than the first two, the 10s of thousands of open positions that CAN NOT BE FILLED. There is a major lack of skilled labor that is spreading like wild fire in this country and it is our job to stand up and take it back. I get genuinely excited to tell others from my generation about my line of work. I found my niche and more importantly it was mypassion. That passion for knowledge is what helped me gain the trust of those older and more experienced to, in turn, entrust and empower me to do it again for the next generation.

But my question still remained unanswered, why are there not more of us?

Using my own personal experience, I encountered intense adversity as a young man in an ‘old man’s’ world. My product knowledge was ALWAYS questioned because there is no way that a person that many years younger could have a better solution than the existing “proven process”. In order to gain the respect of my elders I had to go far above, above and beyond to prove that I was the real deal. At first I didn’t understand it, I kept thinking, “wouldn’t they want to teach me this?”. TO get a better understanding, I rolled my sleeves up and dug in.

As I studied these situations, I could begin to see a trend in the divide. Being a “Young Man” myself it was easy to identify with the other young people in the work place because I was having a similar struggle to them, so I can help with that. But, I had to put myself in the shoes of a man that started in the industry on an engine lathe in the hull of an aircraft carrier floating in the middle of the Pacific 35 years ago, or the man who has been a machinist for 40 years and has a story behind every missing finger, scar and callus on his body.

At first, I thought it was as simple as “The young guy is trying to take my job and get paid less to do it”. That was sometimes the case but not the most common. The common response and reason behind the divide and scoffs were one of three reasons.

One – “They [young person] don’t listen”

Two – “They are lazy”

Three – “They make too many mistakes”

It is those 3 things that I kept noticing the rift between young and ‘experienced’. Then I had to take a hard look at myself and the ones around me the same age. In the event I run into someone in their 20’s on the shop floor, I usually B-Line to them to find out more because I am excited to see them, even though I don’t know them. It is very rare to have a 20-something-year-old on the control of a machine. That being said, a very common problem we would encounter is that we were not being taken seriously.

But, I began to see the more experienced point of view as I grew in my career. I found it harder and harder to identify with these other “young men” as I began to understand the prior generation more and more. So I had to rethink this whole thing yet again. I then began to put myself in the shoes of a young person who does not have kids, and is in the beginning of their adult life.

In an age where the average American spends on average over 4 hours a day looking at a screen in their hand, it is no wonder the children of today can use tablets and smart phones at 8 months old. We young people are driven by curiosity, that constant fear of missing out. So, the majority of the younger people that are operating machines today, see a $250,000 piece of technology where they are told “Don’t touch anything”. Of course they are going to be standoff-ish to the trade. We want to know more about this machine that turns a block of metal into a part that goes into a chinook helicopter of a part that goes into a giant brewery. So, naturally, we get bored. And this boredom is easily viewed as laziness.

EVERY young person that I have encountered has shown at least an interest in the trade when I spoke with them, just no one has ever taken the time to seriously ask them “Have you thought of this as a career” and taken their naturally curiosity and made it exciting to work on a machine because they might “Make too many mistakes”

In an age where it is not acceptable to make mistakes, most young people entering the manufacturing world start the job instilled with a fear of breaking something that costs more to fix than they will make in a year.

It is there where I saw why, at least in my opinion, why there are not more younger people in the trade. We [young people] are not awarded the opportunity to make mistakes to learn from, then couple that with the constant fear of ‘Messing Something Up’. So in a trade where the ONLY way you can get better is to MAKE MISTAKES, we are caught in a catch 22. So what do we do next?

It is the responsibility of the young person to be able to have the resilience and ability to dust themselves off and try again, as well as the responsibility of the more experienced to help the green horns entering the trade, that have the aforementioned characteristic, to be confident knowing that, YOU, the EXPERIENCED one will be there to lend a hand and help them up.

I have had the privilege to bridge this gap on several occasions, and it makes that Company UNSTOPABLE. With the guidance of the more experienced and the young person that is born and bred into technology, these combinations help companies thrive and sets them up for long term success.

To the 20 something year olds out there. Stop being afraid of failure and put your big boy panties on prove that you are worth the time to the people that have been in this trade for longer than you have been alive. Be ready to go above and beyond and teach yourself until you know enough to get the attention of the more experienced. Be ready to be told NO, time and time again. Be ready to NOT GIVE UP. Be hard headed enough to keep coming back for more and this will help you EARN the respect of those before you and in-turn be able to earn a great living for yourself.

To the people who “Have been doing this longer than they’ve been alive”, find the young person that shows the above traits and teach them something. Save them the headache of learning a few things the hard way. Give them a boost to be able to use the knowledge that you gained and entrust them with it. You will be pleasantly surprised at the ideas they come up with. Not all of us ‘Millennials” are a lost cause or whatever stereotype buzzword is being tossed around these days.

And to my peers that are in this same phase as me, you already know about the above and that is why you are right there next to me telling this same message to the people in your network. So keep up the good work and know you are not alone!

The industry is hurting for people in a bad way right now and it is our job to get more young people into this trade because, you, the ‘Experienced’ know there is a major demand for skilled labor in this day and age.

It is strictly my educated opinion based on personal experience to know that lowering tax rates will not fix U.S. Manufacturing, it will not be new technology that fixes U.S. Manufacturing and it will not be whoever gets elected to fix U.S. Manufacturing.

It is us the PEOPLE who need to stand up, young and old and EDUCATE all those around us about what we do. Get fresh new PEOPLE into our industry that have the natural curiosity, willingness to fail and learn. Because when everyone works together symbiotically we are able to achieve true greatness.

Knowledge and Passion get it done.

Thank you,

A millenial in US Manufacturing

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