Do Australian manufacturers really need millennials in the workforce? Yes!

Some negative stereotypes haunt the millennial generation. But here’s why Australian manufacturers need them in the workforce.

Distracted, disloyal, narcissistic, attention seeking … not the usual words a business would want to use in describing its workforce. Negative stereotypes seem to surround the millennial generation.

Yet according to the “Harvard Business Review”,  Millennials comprise half the workforce, and on top of that, more than a quarter are already in management positions.

But do Australian manufacturers really need this bunch of Snapchatters?

Frankly yes. However more than that, manufacturers who embrace millennials in their workforce actually stand to gain.

So who are ‘the millennials’ again?

Previously known as Gen Y, in a nutshell, the “Digital Generation” or “millennials”:

  • broadly refers to those born between 1980 and 2000-ish
  • account for 20% of the Australian population
  • more than half are university educated
  • were the first generation to grow up with computers at home
  • and by 2025, will make up 75% of the global workforce

Why your workforce needs millennials

According to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, technology is the most sought-after industry for millennials choosing careers. They are naturally digital driven, having grown up with computers at home being the norm, unlike their older colleagues they’ve always been around sophisticated technology. Digital technology is a ubiquitous part of their lives; it’s how they play, relax, learn, shop and socialise.

So for manufacturers, these digital natives offer tremendous opportunities for innovation and change. They can, and will, pave the way for a digital transformation in your company. As champions for emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), collaborative robots and the Internet of Things (IoT), they enable you to test out next-generation technologies and drive innovation.

Consider mobile apps — the millennial “lifeblood”. Accessing machine data, checking equipment, inventory management … these are all tasks that millennials will expect to be able to do remotely. If they can’t, they will quickly push you to put the technology in place.

So how do you manage them in the workforce?

Beyond their techno prowess, millennials have significant behavioural differences to their older colleagues. While on the surface this might seem like a challenge, it opens up a world of opportunities for your business:

They desire flexibility. According to a PwC survey, less than a third of millennials expect to work regular office hours. Another study by Bentley University in the USA revealed that 77% of millennials believe flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age, and given their reliance on digital technology, this really isn’t a surprise. It’s also important to note that 82% of millennials say they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.

Shared social values are important. The PwC survey revealed that 59% of millennials actively seek an employer with the same attitudes towards corporate responsibility as their own. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey showed millennials want businesses to focus more on people (employees, customers and society), products and purpose, and less on profits. Manufacturers can use this as impetus to push a sustainability agenda and corporate responsibility program, which is not only the “silver lining” to retain great talent but a good thing for the company’s reputation.

They’re highly educated. Social researchers McCrindle reported that 33% of millennials has earned a university degree, compared with 20% of their parents. But this doesn’t mean they expect to know it all. In fact, research shows millennials expect more coaching and mentoring than any other generation in the workforce.

They are insatiably curious. Rather than just being told to “do something”, millennials want to challenge the status quo and “make a difference”. Whether it’s simple things such as processing timesheets or bigger changes – for example machine automation – manufacturers can embrace as an opportunity to improve “the way things have always been done”.

Collaboration is ‘it’. You need to accept that millennials don’t work for you – they work with you. Millennials want employers to nurture a highly innovative, collaborative culture where there are plenty of opportunities to learn, grow and move up. It’s worth looking at developing a leadership and mentoring program that will tick these boxes if you want to retain great talent. Don’t expect these best and brightest to stick around unless their goals are being met.

Summing it up

Millennials offer tremendous opportunities for future-thinking manufacturers. But you cannot expect to manage your multi-generational workforce with a “one size fits all” approach. Embrace their differences, work with them and invest in them; after all, they are the future leaders of your company.

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