Attracting the right young people into manufacturing – but how?

15 October 2019

Attracting the right young people into manufacturing – but how?
By:  Dr Dieter Adam, Executive Director, The Manufacturers' Network

As part of our work for the Skills Shift Initiative, we are talking to many manufacturers about how to fix current - and anticipated future – skills shortages. And attracting more young people with the right skills and ambitions into manufacturing regularly comes up as one of the top three priorities. How do we do that? First, we need to realise that we are not alone in this! ‘Young people with the right skills, and the right ambitions’, are what many industries are after, from construction to IT to primary and tourism. We operate in a competitive environment, and starting from behind, because all of the above have a higher public profile than manufacturing, are probably better prepared and resourced to promote their industries and enjoy a higher level of government support across the board.

It’s not that the facts aren’t on our side – for the combination of income levels, opportunities for career development progression, and quality of work environment and working condition, we measure up quite well against at least three of the four above. But facts are of little help when they are not widely known.

Careers NZ merged with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in 2017 and have since put a lot of effort into a fairly thorough review and reform of their approach. As part of that they are going to launch a new programme in the first half of next year, called Inspiring the Future, joining forces with an emerging volunteer start-up, Voluntarily (https://voluntarily.nz ). The aim is to bring ‘career ambassadors’ together with young people from age 7 in a school environment, focusing on primary and intermediate schools in the first instance. This is based on the insight that perceptions of ‘dream jobs’ are formed early in life and interests in relevant subjects (STEM) needs to be awoken early as well. To make this work for us will require commitment from manufacturers in all regions, making people available to work with local schools and front up at events organised as part of the Inspiring the Future campaign. I realise that many of us have had quite a mixed bag of experiences in our efforts to engage with the school system, but we can’t ignore this initiative, because others have already committed to it. It will be interesting to see what response we’ll get when we call for volunteers – we’ll do our best to coordinate our sector’s response.

And last, but certainly not least, we need to have a hard look at ourselves in terms of the quality of the work environment each of us have created. How do we measure up when it comes to offering a supportive environment at work, including for females, for example? How about flexibility of hours worked – a quality that young people increasingly value, but which is inherently more challenging to implement in a manufacturing operation. And how good are we at not only realising, but also accepting, that young people may be ‘different’ in many ways from what we carry in our mind as the picture of the ‘ideal employee’, but that they are what they are, and that we could be much more successful in utilising their productive potential if we understood and worked with what their ‘drivers’ are?