With the severe fiscal problems facing our federal and state governments, there is a growing interest in government to revitalize the manufacturing sector. This interest is grounded in the realization that the information and service industries cannot easily match the wealth and job creation of manufacturing.   Manufacturing’s extensive supply chain, ability to reduce and balance imports, and role in boosting national competitiveness has been largely overlooked until recently. A healthy manufacturing sector is fundamental to our long-term economic health.

In Connecticut, where I live, the focus on stimulating job growth has rested on the shortage of high-skilled labor to operate automated production equipment. Government is acting to fill the gap by expanding vocational technology learning programs to graduate more trained workers. While the size of these programs is small, the good news is that there are interested candidates to fill the educational opportunities. This tactic is designed to yield short-term results to the present crisis. I believe our leadership has to also address how manufacturing can attract our “best and brightest” long-term.

The Millennial Generation (born 1982 – 2002), has grown up with a very different view of the world than the Baby Boomers who dominate manufacturing today. Andrea Hershatter of Emory University’s Business School describes it this way, “Work for work’s sake is not going to cut it. They need to understand what the organization stands for and what their role in it is; they are much less likely to be focused on their next step in terms of career progression, and more likely to care about making a meaningful contribution in their workplace.” Much of the manufacturing news over the last two decades has focused on workforce reduction, shuttering factories, environmental and safety issues, and unethical labor practices. Manufacturing and its advocates need to upgrade the perceptions and images the emerging workforce has about their industries.

It might seem daunting to a single company to take on this branding campaign. I believe that there are some simple steps companies can take to reverse the tide:

  • Host local high school students for programs that explain their vision, career possibilities, and steps they can take to approach that career path
  • Create content for the Web and social media that targets a younger generation. The US military services create top-quality video “that pops” to support their recruiting efforts. Companies also need to suggest that they can make a difference in their organizations.
  • Sponsor non-profit fund raising events that support causes aligned with social responsibility

As suggested in earlier postings, sustainability makes good business sense. Feel free to take the Sustainability Assessment.

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