I recently read “Changing Minds: The First Step to Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap” By Frank Cavallaro and participated in an excellent discussion about it on LinkedIn. It describes the labor situation we find ourselves in perfectly.

The young don’t want to work in manufacturing. They have no interest in what we do and are scared off by the blue collar, working-class hero stereotype.

To me, this is casus belli. A call to arms. From owner to hourly, we are stewards of critical knowledge; it is our duty to our predecessors and society to preserve, expand and enhance our country’s manufacturing expertise.

We can’t wait for others to help us but we can help ourselves. I believe we can comb through the existing labor pool to find what we need. Call it a societal insurgency.

I have done a lot of recruiting and hiring over the years and hear it all the time, “Do you know any good machinists looking for work?” My reply, “No, all the good machinists are working.” Then it changes to, “Help me find a good employee, someone that I can train.” “Ok, then maybe I can help.”

You need to adjust your wants to your needs. You are too dependent on precise credentials and ATS. I’m not saying to lower your standards but look beyond them. Plus, at least from the operations perspective, most of you are looking in the wrong places.

Ever get your car repaired? Oil changed? Brakes? Some of the best machinists I have known started in the automotive service industry. Mechanically inclined, employees have to be quick on their feet, read schematics and probably have some community college under their belt. Many build their own cars or motorcycles. They know how the pieces fit. Plus, it is a similar environment so there is little culture shock.

You are a manufacturing ambassador. Express pride in what you do. Draw them in. We are makers of cool things. Tout the accomplishments of our sector. The bridges, the aircraft, the robots, the rockets and whatever else comes to mind. Then give them a business card.

I'm not saying to snatch them, and you need to be careful not to take them off their path for no good reason — but just talk to them. They may be in a dead-end job and watching them work is better than an interview anyway.

You are merely presenting a rare opportunity they hadn’t thought of, or had access to, and one they would like. If you are not hiring, make a call to someone that is.

Eighteen to $20 an hour is life changing to a twenty-something. Stewardship and good karma through personal contact. How novel.

You are in contact with quality people every day. You look right past them. They may already be managing people. Your barista may be working on an engineering degree. You don’t know until you talk to them.

Millennials, like the young of all generations, are adrift between what they want to do and what they are told they should do. Most are just looking for direction. Many of your neighbors have children or relatives of appropriate age. Do you have a homeowner’s association where you live? Contact your village hall too. If you have a shop, hold an open house.

It is all about exposure. The technology sells itself if properly presented. Tell them it’s not blue collar anymore, more like light blue.
The boomers are moving on fast. The system worked for them. But, sadly, I have only met a few that think of passing anything on. Before retirement, extract and preserve their knowledge. Interview them. Start alumni associations or use them as contract instructors if you can. The door should always be open and generally, the ones that show up are the ones you like anyway.

On the other hand, this wave of retirements presents the opportunity to change the culture. I don’t have to tell you manufacturing can be a harsh world. The people in particular. This is the biggest turn off for the young. Many are simply afraid.

It wasn’t always this way. When the greatest generation was still on the floor everyone in the office wore ties, and in the shop, uniforms. They displayed true professionalism and pride. After all, they put men on the moon. Then it became T-shirts and jeans with an attitude to match.

Change your toxic environment by restoring the mystique. I don’t mean dress codes are the cure but we need to radically change our image. Our workplace consists of gray machine tools, gray walls, gray metal and gray people.

There are various ways to transform the atmosphere and you need to tailor to your particular situation but don’t wait. Control who the young are working with and isolate the contagion until the bad ones move on. I use to hold the door for them.

Also, opportunity in manufacturing is stagnant. Real talent gets frustrated and leaves. To the millennials, manufacturing is social stratification and proletarian. At good shops, promotion is based on merit and they retain their people. Ability should determine advancement not seniority or politics. This is the key to attracting and retaining the best. If they are good, clear the path for them. Be their champion.

Fight the good fight. We have to. It is how we represent the profession to those around us that will determine our future. If you are already using similar methods, thank you. You are a credit to your field.

Stewardship is recruiting. It is also fulfilling. We can be both exclusive and inclusive. Represent. Educate the public, change what you can, and if you provide true opportunity we can get the young back.