An exodus of older workers means that manufacturers will have to attract younger people.

With growing numbers of older employees approaching retirement age, manufacturing is facing its own mid-life crisis.

A 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte found that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade. The vast majority of these openings—2.7 million—will be the result of retiring workers leaving the workforce, and because of a lack of interest and limited skills in high-tech fields among students and younger workers, as many of 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled. The impact could be felt for years: 82 percent of manufacturing executives say that this skills gap will limit their ability to meet customer demand; nearly as many (78 percent) believe it will hamper their ability to implement new technologies and increase productivity.

2 million manufacturing jobs may go unfilled over the next decade due to a skills gap. Learn more. Tweet This

As the transition to advanced manufacturing continues, companies are finding innovative ways to attract younger workers into what is increasingly becoming a high-skill, high-wage field. Among the strategies found across the manufacturing sector:

Educate – Story after story bemoaning the lack of interest in manufacturing careers repeats the same litany of misunderstandings — millennials, among others, see the work as dirty, offering low pay and even lower prestige. The Manufacturing Institute’s 2015 study found that only 37 percent of the public would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

Many of these reactions reflect perceptions of what manufacturing may have looked like a generation ago—or even longer. To challenge misconceptions, it may help to introduce students and potential workers to gleaming advanced manufacturing facilities where skilled technicians guide precision machinery using computers. And to talk about pay: as this article points out, students at one Wisconsin school were visibly stunned when they learned that the average local manufacturing worker makes $52,000 a year.

Smaller manufacturers can join regional consortiums to collaborate on promoting the sector. The Dream It. Do It. network is one of several national initiatives that promotes manufacturing as a “top-tier career choice.”

Invest in Education – While manufacturers report that employees lack ever-important STEM skills, a lack of interest in technology careers among students remains an equally critical problem. Many strategies to engage young minds are emerging, ranging from manufacturing-focused summer camps to revisiting vocational programs and investing in 3-D printers for schools to creating community-based “makers spaces.” Engaging students in this way can help ensure the “M” in STEM stands for “manufacturing.”

Community and technical colleges don’t only provide specialized training and workforce development programs for older students and adults—they also can serve as partners in promoting manufacturing as a viable career in your region. Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, for example, highlights the career options available for each of its programs, including placement reports that clearly spell out local demand for each field and what students can expect to earn after completing.

Internships – There may be no better way to identify prospective employees than by offering paid internships. Community and technical colleges offering training and other programs in your field can serve as an excellent source of prospective interns; in many high-demand fields, internships become offers of employment once students complete their program of study. Sites such as Looksharp offer listings of manufacturing internships, and even small employers can find and hire interns in ways that benefit the company and the prospective employee.

Flexibility – Younger workers often expect flexibility in their working schedules. Clearly, few manufacturing jobs can be done by telecommuting, but some companies are experimenting with more flexible scheduling, including longer daily shifts so workers can have more time off on the weekends.

Know What Millennials Want – It’s easy to stereotype any age group, but research suggests that Millennials do have clearly defined workplace preferences regardless of what field they pursue. Among the things manufacturing employers can do:

Photo Credit: smgu3, Twenty20