Walt Boyes on the Millenial Generation and Automation #pauto #automation #abb

Jan. 1, 2000

Walt Boyes weighs in on how to work with the Millenial Generation in a blog post on ABB's process automation insights blog

I wrote this for ABB's Process Automation Insights blog as a guest post. Go here to read it, and page back through the other guest posts from Greg Hale and others.

Here's what I said:

The great Jesuit teacher Francis Xavier said, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.”

What does that have to do with integrating Millennials into the manufacturing environment? Lots.

The Millennial generation, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s (sometimes also called Generation Y), are the very first generation born into an entirely digital world. They are “digital natives,” a term coined by Marc Prensky in his book Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Those born before the ubiquity of digital devices but who widely use them are the ‘digital immigrants.’ Most of the practictioners of automation, whether factory automation or process automation are digital immigrants. I certainly am one, even though I have been an early adopter of digital technologies all my life.

According to many studies, this has changed the way the millennials actually think. They are comfortable multitasking, although this causes them to appear to lack focus. They are interested in being given ways to acquire information, but not interested in being lectured, nor being told they have to start at the bottom and work their way up.

Since manufacturing uses digital tools quite a lot, you’d think they would easily slot into operator roles, and engineering roles.

Instead, most millennials I’ve spoken to have very little interest in working in manufacturing. High Tech to them is software, video games, telecommunications, and the like. Actually using high technology to make stuff isn’t a real part of their worldview.

Yet they love the television shows on the Discovery Network that show how things are made. But if you notice, those shows don’t talk about software or systems. They talk (and show) about the mechanical devices, the tools and machines used to make a wide variety of things.

There’s a disconnect here, and it starts in the elementary grades.

For three decades now, elementary school teachers have been shaped by the extreme layoffs in manufacturing from the 1980s to the 2000s, and their beliefs that manufacturing is dirty, capitalistic in the worst sense, and unsustainable in a world of increasingly scarce resources. They communicate this to their students. By the time the student is in fourth grade (or perhaps even in second grade, keeping Saint Francis’ comment in mind), their minds are made up about what they will NOT do for a career. They are still moldable as to what they WILL do. If we want to encourage millennials and post-millennials to seriously consider manufacturing careers we need to convince them that what their elementary school teachers are telling them is wrong. When you figure out how to do that, let me know.

In the meantime, we get two kinds of millennials in the workforce. We get those very few who persevered in their love of technology, and even better, applied technology in manufacturing. This small number of young workers is going to be fought over bitterly in the coming years, because there are nowhere near enough of them. Expect to pay them large salaries and even signing bonuses.

The others we get are young people who just seem to fall into a job in manufacturing, but don’t really see it as a career. These people we can capture and keep. But we need to show them how really interesting, challenging and downright cool manufacturing has become.

millennials respond to being given responsibility. They love being on teams, and they learn well in a team situation. Give them a team to belong to, and give them a project to do, and they will learn whatever they need to in order to get the project done. They don’t want to hear, “You don’t know anything and you will have to follow me around for two years before I let you touch a valve or a controller.”

They also respond to inordinate praise. Remember these are the young people who grew up being told that everything they did was just great, and didn’t get much criticism, constructive or otherwise.

Remember, millennials are digital natives. They will probably show you how best to use the new digital tools like smartphones and tablets to work smarter, not harder. If, that is, you are smart enough to listen to them.
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