It’s a puzzle that is yet to be completely solved. With thousands of manufacturing positions open across the state, companies are left to figure out how to attract the next generation of workers. And an ongoing worker shortage has only exacerbated the issue.
Nick Novak, vice president of communications and marketing at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said the organization estimates there are around 45,000 manufacturing jobs available in the state.
WMC’s first line of defense when combatting the ongoing worker shortage is educating students about their options.
“There really is a lack of awareness of the jobs that are available in manufacturing,” Novak said. “The first step is just getting the kids in the room with the manufacturers and letting them see for themselves. That’s a home run right away.”
WMC hosted its “Manufacturing Inspirations” event for the first time in April at Muskego High School. Over 1,500 students passed through the school’s gym and parking lot to learn about the 30 Wisconsin manufacturers that participated.
Improving social media strategies is another tactic WMC has seen manufacturers use.
“You need to go out and actually recruit them where they already are,” Novak said. “In many cases, that means finding them on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, … trying to build these brands that are recognizable and getting in touch with these people at a very young age.”
Manufacturers should also consider what they want their company culture to be. This is critical to not only attracting, but also retaining young workers. Novak said making sure workers feel welcome and building a greater sense of community are important aspects of building a positive company culture.
One Wisconsin manufacturer employing some of these techniques is Elkhorn-based Precision Plus.
The company works to maintain visibility by attending local career fairs and seeking volunteer opportunities. It also has a 10-year partnership with Elkhorn Area High School through its youth apprenticeship program. Precision Plus hosts an annual manufacturing day each October to get the community into its facility and get a feel for what modern manufacturing looks like.
In addition, the company spends $15,000 per year on scholarships for young adults interested in pursuing careers in the manufacturing industry. Its tuition reimbursement program offers students up to $5,250 per year.
“We do all we can to recognize them and their journey, recognizing there’s multiple jump-off points (into the industry),” said Mike Reader, president of Precision Plus.
The company has also worked to improve its social media channels by using hashtags effectively and creating engaging content.
“Besides our visibility at different events, we also have really great branding on social media platforms. We know for … Gen Z, (social media) is like their newspaper,” said Amanda Griffoul, human resources manager at Precision Plus. “Making sure you’re present there is very important.”
Precision Plus works to retain young talent by showing them opportunities for growth within the company and making sure they have a clear career path.
When mixing younger and older generations on the shop floor, consider keeping those with more experience involved in a positive way, said Griffoul. Precision Plus workers are asked to drop “knowledge bombs” to help train the next generation, and that helps create a positive company culture, she added.
At the state level, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is also looking to help teens and young adults as they transition into the workforce. DWD recently announced the creation of a “Welcome to the Workforce” video library, which features clips of teens discussing a range of topics including youth apprenticeship, working with a disability, workplace safety and what to do if harassed on the job.
“Teens are an important part of Wisconsin’s labor force, and we want their first experience in the workplace to be safe and positive,” said DWD secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. “As many of them prepare to enter the workforce for the summer months or upon graduation, we want them to know that DWD is here for them as well as the employers who hire them.”
Tips for attracting Gen Z workers
Recruit Gen Z where they’re at. This includes re-examining and brushing up on social media content and strategies.
Work to build brand awareness by maintaining partnerships with area schools and offering volunteer opportunities.
Examine your company culture and make sure you’re fostering a welcoming environment that will attract young workers and make them want to stay.