Select Country
Follow Us

3.5M Manufacturing Jobs Need To Be Filled – Will Millennials Step Up To The Plate?

With a looming manufacturing skills gap that’s expected to lead to 2 million unfilled jobs, the industry is trying to recruit today’s youth and Millennials. How are they doing it? It turns out inviting students and communities to see what manufacturers actually do is the first step, according to Jennifer McNelly, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute.


Manufacturing has undergone a makeover. Today, manufacturing is modern. It is about adapting to new technological advancements, tackling big issues, and making the world a better place with the creation of products we use every single day.

But manufacturing is facing a serious problem. Over the next decade 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled, and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs being unfilled. Manufacturing needs people, and reaching the next generation of workers is a top priority for those of us in the industry.

What Millennials may not realize is that modern manufacturing is full of cutting-edge technology. We make lifesaving medicines, we make cool cars, and we are problem solvers on a global scale. National Manufacturing Day helps showcase how manufacturers truly design and build the future. Designated as the first Friday of every October, Manufacturing Day invites students, parents, teachers, and the community into their local manufacturing facilities. Without fail, those same students, parents and teachers leave the day with a changed view of the industry – and we have the data to prove it.

This year, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte released a perception survey for Manufacturing Day. The survey was distributed to more than 2,700 Manufacturing Day hosts, and the impact was evident. After Manufacturing Day:

  • 89 percent of students surveyed were more aware of manufacturing jobs in their communities.
  • 90 percent of educators were more convinced that manufacturing provides careers that are both interesting and rewarding.
  • 89 percent of employers thought there was value in participating in the event.
  • 71 percent of students were more likely to tell friends, family, parents or colleagues about manufacturing.
Industrial TurnAround Corporation (ITAC) hosted the 3rd Annual Dream It Do It Manufacturing Technology Camp for area high school youth July 29 – August 1 at its facility in Chester, VA. The camp is sponsored by area manufacturers, the Hopewell/Prince George Chamber, and school systems in the City of Hopewell and the counties of Prince George and Dinwiddie,Virginia. “The camp, one of seven in the state, provides a free hands-on learning opportunity for rising 9th, 10th, and 11th graders,” says Rachel Pest, project manager at ITAC. “Attendees will learn how technology is applied in manufacturing and skilled trades through field trips and through the curriculum they will learn about career paths to these jobs.” Students had an opportunity to win a scholarship to a post-secondary educational institution. Scholarship funds are made possible by area manufacturers such as DuPont Teijin Films, Service Center Metals, GDF Suez – Hopewell Cogeneration, Gerdau, and others. The Hopewell Manufacturers Association is a principle benefactor of the machining equipment and software for the program. Becky McDonough, CEO of the HPG Chamber of Commerce, says, “This camp is an eye opener for students as it provides an education on the manufacturing process from raw materials to finished goods in a team environment. It connects what the students learn in math, science, technology, engineering, marketing, business classes to the real world in our region.” Several of the camp sponsors have been in the news recently for new investment, expansion, and renovation. They include Ashland, Service Center Metals, Honeywell, and WestRock. “What’s not immediately apparent to those who do not work in the manufacturing and skilled trades sector is that manufacturing has evolved into a more technology intensive sector and offers new opportunities and challenges. Another factor that is not evident is the competitive pay and benefits for these jobs,” says Pam Allen of Accel

Above: Industrial TurnAround Corporation hosted the 2016 3rd Annual Dream It Do It Manufacturing Technology Camp for high school youth at its facility in Chester, VA, in the summer. Top image: Many future manufacturing jobs will involve additive technologies like 3D printing. Here, additive manufacturing engineer Brian Adkins in full gear at GE’s Center for Additive Technologies Advancement (CATA) in Pittsburgh. Image credit: GE Reports.

We can see the shift in attitudes surrounding the industry and the excitement that stems from Manufacturing Day. Students, and their influencers, come out with a better understanding of manufacturing and more assured that these jobs are well paid, sustainable and offer unlimited opportunities for advancement. By illustrating the career opportunities available in advanced manufacturing environments, the industry is making positive progress in changing the perception of manufacturing.


While it’s great people are noticing the manufacturing makeover, so much more still needs to be done. Manufacturers need to reach out to their communities and engage their local schools to help attract the next generation of workers into the industry. Manufacturers cannot fix this gap alone. They need all facets of the industry to come together to help build our workforce.


Jennifer McNelly is Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers.


All views expressed are those of the author.


Subscribe to our GE Brief