Today is Manufacturing Day, a celebration of modern manufacturing. It was created in 2012 with the mission of positively changing the public perception of modern manufacturing with the goal of inspiring the next generation of manufacturers. I think this is a noble cause and at Tulip, we celebrate it every year. However, I think much more is needed to address the challenge of attracting a new generation to manufacturing, starting with an upgrade to the shop floor.

This public perception challenge should not be downplayed. Despite the proliferation of automation in factories around the world, people still play a pivotal role in manufacturing–but they are quickly becoming a scarce “resource” as the demand for skilled workers exceeds their supply. Furthermore, millennials are the fastest-growing population in the workforce. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that the future of the industry depends on its ability to recruit younger talent.

US Labor Force By Generation

According to the Manufacturing Workforce Report by ToolingU, 99% of manufacturers have a hard time finding new hires, and 84% think there is a talent shortage in US Manufacturing. Furthermore, 72.9 percent of manufacturing companies surveyed listed recruitment and retention of a workforce as their number one business challenge, and over 30 percent of respondents noted that a shrinking labor pool correlates to lost business opportunities.

This environment won’t get easier any time soon. Only 35 percent of Americans say they would encourage their children to pursue careers in manufacturing. The average welder in the US is 55 years old; as their generation retires, the worker shortage is likely to worsen. In fact, 2.7M jobs are expected to be unfilled by 2025 as boomers retire and on average each unfilled position costs manufacturers $23K a year.

Manufacturing Day can certainly help shape the public perception about the industry. At Tulip, we support Manufacturing Day and celebrate it every year (this year we’re hosting people at our Somerville, MA, headquarters – join us if you’re around!). However, in my opinion, changing public perception of the industry will not be enough as it only addresses the symptom, not the root cause of the problem. Helping the new generation have a positive view of manufacturing doesn’t mean they’ll want to work in it.

Pioneering companies are already going a step beyond. Some are offering apprenticeship programs that offer an alternative to student debt and paid internships to let the young try out manufacturing jobs before committing to them long term. Some manufacturers are sponsoring training programs and makerspaces to teach workers the skills they need, and others are embracing a more diverse workforce.

But the one thing largely missing from all of those initiatives is a technology upgrade that improves the way people work.The new generation is perhaps the most tech-savvy generation in history. They grew up with smartphones in their pockets, so their expectation is that if they have a question, they can google it, ask Siri, learn about it on Wikipedia, or consult their friend in the social network of their preference. They are used to using internet-based apps in their personal lives, so when they come to a factory and see that even the most advanced facilities are still run on pen and paper, no amount of PR will help change that perception. Understandably, they see an industry that hasn’t caught up with ttheway they are used to working.

This is why the one thing the most forward-looking companies are doing to attract new talent is modernizing their shop floor with technologies that empower the new generation to work like they are used to – digitally.

At Tulip, we see the positive impact of this approach first hand with our customers. From process engineers that can now build their own apps to run their factories, to operator associates who can now leverage those apps to be more productive and make less mistakes, to managers that can now make decisions with real-time data, digital technology is helping our customers attract, train and retain the best talent.

From 3D printers, to IoT enabled devices, to Manufacturing Apps – the future belongs to the companies that upgrade their shop floor with the tools that both attract the new generation and enable them to improve the way we make things.

Happy Manufacturing Day!