Using Automation To Attract Millennials To Your Workforce
Looking for ways to appeal to the next generation of workers as Baby Boomers Retire?
Here’s how an investment in automation technology can help.
The mass exit of Baby Boomers from the workforce — including their long-held jobs in manufacturing and warehousing—has been well documented in both business and mainstream media. Both Pew Research1 and The Washington Post2 estimate that 10,000 Americans born between 1946 and 1964 retire every day. Yet, at the same time, the number of supply chain and manufacturing jobs is steadily increasing, even as overall U.S. job growth has slowed.3
Enter the Millennials, which Pew recently
defined as those persons born between 1980
and 19964. By 2019, bolstered by an influx of
immigrants, they’ll be 73 million strong and will
overtake Baby Boomers in population as the
more mature generation shrinks to 72 million.5
(They already surpassed Generation X—persons
born between 1965 and 1980—as the largest
portion of the workforce back in 2015.6) Clearly
there are loads of Millennials around—40% of
them with bachelor’s degrees7 (and around 15% of them saddled with student loan debt and still living with mom and dad8)—so surely manufacturers and distribution center operators won’t have any problem finding skilled workers to replace those retiring Baby Boomers, right?
In the National Association of Manufacturers’ Fourth Quarter 2017 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, 72.9% of
respondents said that their top business challenge is the “inability to attract and retain a quality workforce,” and
“79.8% of respondents said they have unfilled positions within their company that they are struggling to fill with
qualified applicants.”9 Likewise, the 2017 Annual Industry Report produced by MHI (the supply chain and material
handling association) found that 63% of supply chain professionals responding to its survey stated that “hiring and
retaining a skilled workforce continues to be the biggest obstacle” faced by their businesses.10
So, why aren’t Millennials rushing to fill all the job openings in supply chain and manufacturing?
One reason is that neither industry has an especially attractive image in the mind of the American public.
Warehouses are imagined as being dark and dusty; manufacturing as boring, repetitive and outdated. None of this
is true in today’s modern distribution centers and manufacturing facilities, but Millennials are not immune to these
They’re also drawn to jobs that allow them to use their inherent comfort, familiarity and adeptness with
technology. After all, they grew up during the age of the Internet explosion and were still young adults when the
iPhone debuted in 2007. Indeed, “millennials grew up as digital natives; not only are they adept at using
technology, but they find comfort in it, and are attracted to companies that utilize it fully.”11
Therein lies one solution for attracting the Millennial workforce to manufacturing and warehousing careers:
investment in technology, such as automation. Even a semi-automated solution like an automated storage and
retrieval system (AS/RS)—like a horizontal or vertical carousel, a vertical lift module (VLM) or vertical buffer module
(VBM) —can be a good stepping stone for operations testing the automation waters. Although investing in such
systems as a method of workforce recruitment is a cost justification far outside what most operations look at when
considering the return on investment from this type of capital expenditure, there are a variety of ways that AS/RS
technologies can appeal to Millennials, as well as increase an operation’s productivity.
1 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
2 The Washington Post, Click to Read Source
3 Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Click to Read Source
4 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
5 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
6 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
7 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
8 Pew Research Center, Click to Read Source
9 National Association of Manufacturers, Click to Read Source
10 MHI, Click to Read Source
11 Manufacturing.net, Click to Read Source