Survey: U.S. Manufacturing Success May Hinge on Success with Gen Y

But expectations for increasing the number of Gen Y in manufacturing remains low.

More than half of American manufacturers (55 percent) grew in 2012, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) expect to grow this year, according to’s latest Industry Market Barometer report. The report, which gives results from a survey of more than 1,200 American manufacturers, showed that among other factors, respondents credited people and technology as assets helping them to compete.

According to the report, technologies are making manufacturing a “hotbed of innovation.” For example, more advanced computer-aided design software is being employed and additive manufacturing is being used more often for custom production. Forty-two percent added technologies in the past three years, and slightly more say technology is key to their competitiveness this year.

The influx of a younger generation might support some companies’ continued technological improvement, according to sources for MDM’s 2013 Trends Report in Generational Shift Drives Changes in Technology, Customer Expectations. Meg Hulme, director of application development and e-commerce for building materials distributor BlueLinx, says younger workers coming into the company have different expectations around technology, which has driven the company to develop instant-messaging, screen-sharing and video conferencing capabilities. Mike Workman, professor emeritus of Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University, says that unlike the older generation, younger leaders often view technology upgrades as a necessity, accelerating new technology adoption.

According to the report, though, three-quarters of manufacturers said that 25 percent or less of their workforce are in the Generation Y age group, and 49 percent say they expect that percentage to stay the same over the next two years.

While three out of four IMB respondents (73 percent) believe that negative perceptions about manufacturing careers are deterring young people from joining forces with them, many have developed creative partnerships with schools to help develop and recruit the next generation of workers. According to the report, manufacturers are calling on high schools to offer more skills training and to increase their emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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