Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting Gen Y Interested in Manufacturing

Guest Contributor Derek Singleton of Software Advice

Shortly after graduating from college, I got a job working for Software Advice, third-party referral firm dedicated to providing; you guessed it, software advice for the manufacturing industry.

The fit was natural - lots of research and writing with a tech bent. After all, I went to school to acquire and perfect these skills. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about nitty-gritty manufacturing technologies like Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) systems and how they can improve manufacturing operations.

If you’re anywhere around the manufacturing industry today, you’re well aware of the skills gap that’s looming. Even as unemployment remains at record levels, manufacturers are having difficulty finding the right talent to fill open positions.

To make matters worse, the Baby Boomer generation is retiring - or soon will. Gen X’ers are well into their careers, and well, Gen Y seems completely uninterested in pursuing a manufacturing career. So where does that leave us?

I see three major factors that are keeping young people away from the manufacturing industry today.

* The industry has a negative media image.

* There are few manufacturing role models.

* We’re far removed from the process of building things.

But understanding the reasons young people aren’t pursuing a manufacturing career is only half the battle. To attract young people to the industry, there needs to be a cultural shift across the board to convince us that it’s worthwhile to pursue a career in the industry. I’d like to suggest three ways that we might be able to remedy this problem.

* Reach Young People Early - One of the key problems I see is that manufacturing is an afterthought for many young people. We need to be connected with building things before we decide our career path. One camp that does a great job of this is Gadget Camp, which was recently highlighted in The New York Times.

* Re-connect the Youth with Building - Shop classes and any kind of technical training have fallen by the wayside. Somewhere along the way, learning to work with your hands stop being considered professionally enriching. Technical education needs to be brought back into our schools because it reconnects us with making things - which ultimately improves our critical thinking skills.

* Gamify Manufacturing Education - We live in an age where many teenagers would rather be glued to the TV playing Call of Duty than learning engineering technologies. Instead of fighting this, we should use this to our advantage. This means making manufacturing training technologies more like video games to connect with young people. Siemens, the software company, provides an interesting example with their release of Plantville.

Derek Singleton graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles with a BA in Political Science. Shortly after graduating, he began writing for Software Advice - an independent research firm that reports on manufacturing technology, topics and trends - as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Market Analyst.

He covers the distribution, manufacturing and supply chain software markets with special attention paid to the business benefits of information technology.

You can read more from Software Advice by accessing their blog and following them on Twitter.

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