As a Chemical Engineering major at Yale, I spend a fair amount of time around STEM students. We take the same classes, study in the same libraries, and attend the same office hours. 

The Center for Engineering Innovation and Design at Yale (source)

We hang out in the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and do STEM-y things. We use 3D printers to print miscellaneous (and quite frankly, often useless) objects. We build various apparatuses with our own hands. We build clever apps to simplify our lives and code games. 

And we very much enjoy doing all those things – 3D printing, building, writing software – that modern manufacturers do. 

Yet if you ask any of these students what they want to do after graduation, none will say they want to go in manufacturing. Into business or finance, yes. Anything in Silicon Valley, yes. But manufacturing? No…

I would know, I’m one of them. 

The stats agree with this reality, as depicted by the 2017 U.S. Public Perception report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. 

Less than 5 in 10 Americans believe manufacturing jobs to be interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure.

And less than 3 in 10 Americans would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Over the next 10 years, Baby Boomers will start retiring from manufacturing companies, leading to many job openings – especially in high-skilled and high-tech manufacturing occupations. Too many, actually.

In the coming decade, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2.4 million are expected to go unfilled because of the skills gap. Manufacturers need qualified talent. And a limited number of skilled workers are looking for jobs in the manufacturing industry. 

Younger generations’ perception of manufacturing  is the main culprit. Millennials and generation Z do not perceive manufacturing as “cool”. In our minds, manufacturing jobs are monotonous, repetitive and unstimulating. They are the jobs of our grandparents. We imagine factories are full of old and rusty machinery. Dusty, dirty, and slowly decaying…

Factory for assembly of electronic componentsThis image could not be further from the truth. Modern technology has officially reached manufacturing. Factory floors are becoming modern, digital, and connected. Factory jobs are much more interesting and innovative.  

Manufacturing is “cool” again.

And with their new coolness, manufacturing companies have a fighting chance in the war for talent.

Their biggest ally in this war: Industry 4.0. 

The fourth industrial revolution is taking the manufacturing world by storm. This technological shift is connecting people, processes, and machines on smart factory floors. Industry 4.0 promises a very cool Factory of the Future. 

Manufacturing companies also have all the right ammunition to enter the talent war: Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, 3D printing, Big Data, Augmented Reality, Advanced Robotics, Machine Learning… 

These are the words we youngsters want to see in job descriptions. How could working with robots be boring? How could training Artificial Intelligence systems be dull? How could analyzing massive data sets be uninteresting?

Technology is eliminating the tedious aspects of manufacturing jobs. Operators and engineers are increasingly able to focus on more fulfilling and interesting work, such as solving problems in real time and optimizing processes.

And finally, manufacturing companies have a secret weapon: a new mentality. Manufacturers are now empowering all of their workers to innovate and problem-solve. 

Manufacturing companies are adopting agile ways of working. By dropping the traditional top-down structure, and adopting a bottom-up approach, ideas flow from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top. Young adults new to the workforce appreciate this approach.

On factory floors, those closest to problems understand them best. Now, manufacturers give their workers a voice, and encourage them to find solutions and opportunities for growth. With this new mentality, everyone in the company strives to continuously improve their processes and performance. What could be cooler for achievement-oriented millennials or independent generation Z?

If manufacturing companies want to bridge a skills gap that could cost  the US economy $2.5 trillion over the next decade, they need to play on their cool factor. Digital technology, and new approaches to work are essential to their success.  

If you had asked me one month ago what I thought about manufacturing, I wouldn’t have had much to say. 

But now, one month into my internship at Tulip, I can officially say that manufacturing is cool again. Let’s spread the word.