July 2, 2015
On Easter weekend in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, with all
the gleeful grade-schoolers streaming into the streets, “you would have
thought they were giving away free puppies,” says Jennifer Miller. But
the puppy handout was actually a STEM fair, featuring friendly drones
and a hovercraft that kids could ride made out of a blower, a hula hoop
and a lawn chair.
Miller, the vice
president and chief operating officer for the business development
organization Upstate SC Alliance, says that only recently--in the past
year--have manufacturers in the region made outreach to young people a
According to a new
Brookings Institution study, that newfound outlook is a baby step, at
least, in the right direction. Rather than just relying on word of mouth
and the occasional booth at the local job fair, manufacturers need
think more deeply about engaging younger workers--and develop more
sophisticated strategies to train and recruit young people for the
skilled jobs manufacturers will need to fill.
study, “Unemployment Among Young Adults,” named manufacturing as one of
four “promising” industries that has not tapped into the potential of
the younger workforce, to the detriment of both employers and workers.
The other industries were transportation, logistics and healthcare.
The study focused on two cities, Louisville and Chicago, comparing
the sectors where workers under 30 are getting hired with the sectors
that offer them the best opportunities, like good wages and career
advancement. Researchers, led by Brookings Fellow Martha Ross, compared
employment and earnings data and conducted interviews with local
employers on their workforce needs and strategies.
study noted that workers under 30 aren’t seeing the benefits of
economic recovery like older workers are. Although unemployment has
gradually fallen for the general U.S. population since the Great
Recession (to 5.5% in March 2015) it has actually increased for younger
workers—to 17.1% for 18- and 19-year-olds and 10.4% for 20- to
Younger workers tend
to be concentrated in low-wage industries like restaurants, retail, and
nursing care facilities, according to the study. Manufacturing, on the
other hand, is showing more post-recession growth and paying higher than
average wages for under-30s without a bachelor’s degree, but it isn’t
attracting a proportionate number of young people.
subsectors deemed most promising for young people are fabricated metal,
machinery, plastics and rubber products and primary metals.
study mentioned 2014 research from Harvard Business School on
school-to-work transition that found that employers being involved in
education/training “beyond ‘light touch’ activities such as career days
and occasional student visits” significantly improve hiring outcomes.
need to identify more clearly the skills necessary to execute their
business plans and improve their strategies to recruit, assess and train
for those skills,” the Brookings study noted. Employers also could
benefit from a closer relationship with schools to increase
credentialing and expand work-based learning.
who took part in study, including plant and HR managers at
manufacturing companies large and small, shared some thoughts on how to
improve things. They advised that employers evaluate their in-house HR
practices to determine “what skills are truly necessary and how to
assess for them, and how to build their workforce from within as well,”
Ross said in a phone interview.
was a manufacturer in Louisville who said, ‘The employers were such a
part of the problem for so long—all we did was complain, but we never
jumped in to tell people what we needed.’”
interviewee, a plant manager, described how his company changed their
hiring and workforce. “He said initially when he joined, if you had a
pulse and could pass a drug test, you were hired,” says Ross. “And he
said they were doing their strategic business planning about how they
wanted to grow and realized they could not do it if they didn’t have the
talent they needed, so he started building strong relationships with
area schools and training programs.”
Ross asked him if he had time for that, “and he basically said ‘If it’s a priority, you will make time for it.’”
An HR manager of a Chicago precision machining company that makes
large durable metal parts told Ross that when she first came on, “she
was very unsatisfied with their recruiting and hiring policies. They
tended to use word of mouth and they tended to keep hiring Polish people
because that was their network, and she was like, ‘That is not going to
get us the workforce that we need.’”
improve the selection process, that company determined the skill sets
of their top performers in various occupations, then developed, adapted
or found assessments to test for those skills in potential hires.
Candidates must now perform specific tasks on the shop floor, like
reading blueprints and solving problems, and senior workers observe and
assess them. The company also branched out from the Polish referral
network to an “all of the above” recruiting appraoch, finding candidates
from Saturday job fairs, advertising on foreign language media,
Linkedin and Craigslist.
under-30 workforce is also increasingly diverse, with racial minorities
expected to become the majority in that age group by 2027. “Improving
the educational and employment outcomes of blacks and Hispanics is
critical to maintaining a skilled and competitive labor force,” the
Ross says that a
less-diverse older generation’s reluctance to actively recruit a more
racially diverse workforce can be a hindrance to finding good
candidates. “I think there’s a couple layers,” she says. “There’s a
general adjustment that needs to happen with the transfer of older and
younger workers. And I do think the fact that younger workers are more
likely to be of color adds another layer to it.”
the plus side, manufacturers were the only group of employers in the
study who were specifically interested in targeting younger people.
“That’s because they’re facing an upcoming retirement wave,” says Ross.
“Other employers are certainly interested in young people, but they
wouldn’t say that they want to target them.”
manufacturing HR person told Ross she was “petrified” about upcoming
retirements. “Another one said—and I’m pretty sure it’s hyperbole,” said
Ross, “that the upcoming retirement wave was going to have as big an
effect on the industry as offshoring to China.”