The metalworking industry does not have the luxury of inaction when it comes to attracting and retaining workers. “People aren’t beating down our doors,” said Drew “The MFG” Crowe, who is a social media influencer and leader of the New American Manufacturing Renaissance, which tours the United States. “Not because we don’t have anything to offer; it is because they don’t know what we have.”
People outside the manufacturing sector aren’t aware of the levels of robotics, automation, software innovations and advanced materials in use that would appeal to the upcoming generation of workers. A generation that constantly craves and seeks technology. Crowe refers to the generation in middle school, high school, and college as “screen agers.”
Gen Z represents nearly 25% of the U.S. population and are considered digital natives1, willing to embrace and seek out new technologies that seemingly roll out every day.
The metalworking industry needs to ensure Gen Z, and other groups for that matter, understand the stimulating work environments they want are waiting for them at their shops. And that the technology will keep them safe, performing their jobs efficiently and effectively, Crowe pointed out. For a generation that has lived through the pandemic and other crises, technology is a stable component in their lives.
These “screen agers” are fully integrated with technology from a young age, said Monica Pfarr, executive director, American Welding Society Foundation, which has awarded $2 million in scholarships to students pursuing welding educations. “They understand it; they live and breathe it every day. We want to showcase opportunities in the welding industry.”
Pfarr noted that the manufacturing sector recognizes there are not enough young people to fill the occupations of the future. “We need to look at other innovations to help us solve or address the labor shortage, and automation and cobots are perfect examples. We need to embrace productivity improvements and embrace automation and look at other ways to impact and address the productivity challenges.”
And for their part, guidance counselors and parents must fully understand the advances being made every day in manufacturing. “Due to a lack of updated knowledge, there is a great chance that most of today’s parents and guidance counselors do not know what we do,” Crowe said. “Or more importantly, how to identify trades and students that would be beneficial for these jobs.”
Rise Above the Noise and Grab Their Attention
It is one thing to highlight the advances in automation, robotics and software found in today’s shops, but it’s another to hold the long-term attention of the future workforce when so many messages are vying for their attention.
For the “screen agers,” Crowe said fabricators and machinists and their partners need to capture the excitement generated from conferences and MFG Days where students take tours of shops and technical colleges, and directly connect them to local company leadership and school representatives.
“The opportunities become real to them,” Crowe said. The experiences and networking will guide students to take the next steps and learn more about manufacturing opportunities, he added.
Through a combination of programming, networking with “influencers” (school counselors, technical program staff), and attending events, competitions and tours, students become “mini influencers” and share their excitement with their peers and their parents.
AWS hosts a multitude of events to reach potential workers each year. Earlier this year AWS hosted a women in welding webinar for students and others where speakers shared their experiences working with automation and the opportunities in welding. “The speakers did a great job of talking about the innovation that is on the horizon,” Pfarr noted. Speaker Connie LaMorte, principal engineer for EWI, spoke about tele-manufacturing. The process allows operators to remotely operate machinery or fabrication processes, while still being in control of the process.
AWS has its very own role model for both women and men in Stephanie Hoffman, who has an impressive background in the welding sector. Hoffman is an Army veteran and owns her own shop, Underground Metal Works. She also taught welding to high schoolers for several years. She was able to call on her extensive experiences and technical skills as a judge on the Netflix series, “Metal Shop Masters.” Hoffman also travels the country in the AWS Careers in Welding Trailer (which is on the road 16 weeks a year), speaking about the opportunities and technologies at work in the welding sector. More than 30,000 middle schoolers, high schoolers, instructors, and families tour the trailer each year.
AWS also partners with organizations and schools to support week-long welding summer camps for girls, and provides scholarships and other support for welding competitions. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to women in welding, as well as an AWS Member forum for women to network, brainstorm, etc. “It takes all of us to promote and support women,” Pfarr said.
Crowe concurs that support systems are beneficial in reaching out to not only students but diverse groups of potential manufacturing workers, such as youth offender programs and minority groups. Much like Hoffman, Crowe is a relatable role model, sharing how he got his start in fabrication and where his skills have taken him. A few years back, a mentor pointed out opportunities in manufacturing and encouraged Crowe to apply for a company that had two open positions: on the saw, and as a machinist. “Prior to this I had no idea what a machinist was, and I had no idea of the process of manufacturing,” he said. “I didn’t know this industry existed.”
Crowe offers a parting thought: If the digital generation isn’t seeing you, they are seeing someone else. Embrace influencers because that is what the next generation is looking for. They are used to getting their information delivered to them. It is not about what you want to see. Deliver what they want to see to attract them and strengthen your workforce pipeline.
- Sukanya Kulkarni “Understanding Gen Z,” www.ame.org/target/articles/2020/understanding-gen-z.
Internships and Apprenticeships Build Talent Base
As an organization of 200 employees, Beckhoff Automation LLC’s (Savage, MN) workforce is comprised of nearly 10% young engineers and newer talent. Beckhoff, a pioneer in automation solutions, is dedicated to bringing in new ideas and demonstrating to young talent a path forward in engineering and industrial automation.
Initiatives include Beckhoff’s internship program, which is in its third year, and includes 20 interns participating in a 10-week program at locations across the country. The interns are new college graduates who majored in mechanical, electrical, computer science, mechatronics, or multidisciplinary engineering programs, noted Paul Zurlinden, professional development manager for Beckhoff USA.
Interns learn Beckhoff’s technology solutions and how to engage in the process and with customers.
“We want to grow our staff in an organic way without having to rely on finding our future employees from the industry,” he said. Beckhoff has between a 70-to-80% hire rate out of the internship program.
The internship program feeds Beckhoff’s Talent Development Program, a new initiative that starts in June. The six-month program will provide in-depth training in the classroom as well as in the field, where talent shadows sales and applications engineers.
Zurlinden said Beckhoff also conducts workforce attraction initiatives at trade shows, participates in competitions, provides tours and collaborates with colleges. The company engages with college faculty members to bring automation to the forefront, as well as provides a product applicable across various fields of engineering.
“What people love about coming to work at Beckhoff is really the breadth of our technology, and the breadth of the industries we reach,” Zurlinden said. “They can work on something new and different, and it is always a challenge every day.”
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