Build Your Workforce, Connect with Gen Z

This story originally appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Ag Innovator.

by Kylene Zenk

As the manufacturing industry continues to transform and the need for new talent swells, manufacturers cannot afford to lose focus on nurturing their talent pipelines. With 4.6 million jobs to be filled over the next decade, there’s an immediate need for manufacturers to reshape the employee experience to match the needs of the future workforce. If not, they risk losing them to other careers and industries.

According to new research from the Workforce Institute at Kronos, Generation Z is characterized by their desire for schedule flexibility, face-to-face interaction with managers and teams, and employers who support work-life balance.

Manufacturers must understand this talent pool’s expectations and develop a work environment to inspire them. Here are five initiatives to create a people-centric culture that will help attract and retain this next-generation workforce.

Invest in Your Community

To inspire Gen Z, manufacturers must look beyond meeting the expectations set by young workers today to also anticipate the wants and needs of tomorrow’s workers — i.e. those in middle and high school.
By generating interest and inspiring all generations with community events and opportunities for collaboration, manufacturers can be one step ahead. Here’s how:

  • Engage with local schools by sponsoring STEM activities or coordinating plant tours so that students can see the ins and outs of advanced manufacturing.
  • Launch a community-wide training program to encourage hands-on educational opportunities.
  • Don’t overlook the opportunity to engage the existing workforce. Leaders should establish mentorship programs within their organizations that can build a channel to combat the skills gap by transferring knowledge from experienced employees to newly hired talent.

Meet Technology Expectations

Outdated workplace technology is a nonstarter for Gen Z: One in five would not consider working for an employer that didn’t have technology up to par with today’s digital standards, and one in three actively seeks a working environment equipped with the latest technology. Their expectations around digital enablement are matched by their thirst for work-life balance through schedule autonomy: About 30 percent say they would never tolerate being forced to work when they do not want to, being told they cannot use vacation days when they want to, or being made to work back-to-back shifts.

It’s more important than ever to adopt intelligent and mobile workforce technology that allows employees to swap a shift in real time without manager approval or update their schedule preferences without pushback. It’s all about empowering employees with technology.

Embrace Ideas for Improvement

With Industry 4.0 technologies on the rise, manufacturers seeking to revolutionize the way they operate will need the innovation and critical thinking of an engaged workforce to make it a reality. Employees are working in operations every day, which means they have ideas for innovation and reinventing daily business processes. So, what can manufacturers do? Collaborate to innovate: Listen to employees. Give them space to develop those ideas on their own. Be willing to take risks while encouraging employees to do the same.

Show Employees You Value Them

The average employee spends a ton of their time at work—why not make it an enjoyable place to be? Small things make big differences in how employees view their employer if you understand what motivates them. The Workforce Institute finds that 32 percent of Gen Z-ers crave performance-related recognition from managers, and in fact will use this as a basis for how they measure their success at a company.

On top of that, the vast majority of Gen Z-ers (93 percent) want to be rewarded at work for a job well done. Cash is king, naturally, but they also appreciate public recognition by senior leadership—perhaps being named shift MVP or employee of the month. Recognizing everything from small wins to big milestones will go a long way in driving employee retention.

Trust Employees, Be Transparent

Good things come when leaders trust their employees, and vice-versa. Building a culture of trust and reliability is dependent on both employees and managers having the data they need to make good decisions and deliver great results.

The rising Gen Z workforce expects open and flowing communication. They want frequent check-ins with their manager related to performance and professional development, and 43 percent would opt for feedback in real time rather than during a scheduled performance review. Hold managers accountable for giving Gen Z the regular feedback they crave to promote trust and transparency.

Wrapping Up

The next frontier of advanced manufacturing is upon us, and industry awareness makes a difference in changing the perceptions of those who are unlikely to associate salaried work (79 percent), AI and machine learning (76 percent), or modern workplace technology (75 percent) with a career in manufacturing. However, once armed with knowledge about the industry’s surging growth, strong economic outlook, and availability of high-paying jobs, a Kronos survey found that 67 percent of parents would encourage their child to learn more about career opportunities in manufacturing.

Prioritizing the employee experience will help, not hinder, manufacturing’s digital transformation. When organizations create an atmosphere where people love to work, it’s a gamechanger: Work life is more fulfilling for employees, managers feel more connected with their teams, and the bottom line naturally benefits from an engaged and more productive workforce.

Only by inspiring the next-generation workforce can organizations create an equally inspiring next-generation manufacturing industry.

Kylene Zenk is the director of the Manufacturing Practice Group for Kronos Incorporated. | Copyrighted 2019. Informa.