When an entire industry needs help recruiting talent, there is no easy answer.

According to a survey by SME, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the manufacturing industry, 80 percent of manufacturers are concerned about being unable to meet their workforce needs within the next five years.

Yet as the talent shortage in the manufacturing industry grows more acute, millions of Millennials are preparing to enter the workforce. "Match up even a fraction of this group with manufacturers needing to fill open positions, and the skills gap is solved," says Jeannine Kunz, director of Tooling U-SME, which offers training and professional development solutions for manufacturers.

If only it were that easy. The manufacturing industry has struggled to attract Millennials for years, battling young people's perception that the jobs are menial and low paying. SME's survey and resulting whitepaper examines ways manufacturing employers can revamp their recruiting and training practices to attract more young talent. A critical method is to show new hires how they can advance at the company. All employees, Millennials in particular, want to see clear career pathways when they join an organization.


One company working with Tooling U-SME, for example, created a formal program for identifying high-potential entry-level machine operators, and outlined steps for them to reach the next career level, progressing as mechanics, toolmakers, technicians, trainers, team leaders, or engineers.

Giving Millennials opportunities to advance their skills is just as important. To recruit potential employees, many manufacturers have partnered with educators, offering internships and apprenticeships to students. These partnerships also can be great ways to give current employees a way to go back to school and learn new skills.

Tooling U-SME also recommends giving Millennials the chance to work on meaningful projects—teaching a co-worker technical skills, for example, or joining an internal sustainability task force.