Vicki Holt is on a mission of sorts. Holt, president and CEO of Proto Labs, frequently writes and speaks about manufacturing, and in particular, the need to recruit a skilled workforce. Although the number of open manufacturing jobs is growing, manufacturers need to debunk some myths and change recruiting tactics if they are to successfully target Millennials, Holt says.


For instance, Holt recently wrote on IndustryWeek that, to grow the next manufacturing labor force, the industry needs to focus on three areas of improvement. The first, she writes, is that to stimulate a new fascination with the industry and attract workers with skills needed to manage modern shop floors, more of an effort must be made to debunk long-held myths about manufacturing jobs. Perceptions of low-skill manual labor in grease-stained smoky work environments are not the reality of the digital-manufacturing industry, she writes, noting that modern manufacturing floors are as likely to be found in a Silicon Valley-based office park as anywhere else.


Secondly, the industry must do a better job of publicizing that manufacturing offers high-paying jobs, Holt writes. For example, before every production run on an injection-molding press, a highly skilled mold tech has to prep and tune the press. Because digital manufacturers provide their customers with options for shorter production runs—100 runs of 1,000 parts rather than a single run of 1 million parts, for instance—they need 10 times more mold techs than traditional manufacturers. Consequently, demand is growing for these highly skilled workers, and today an entry-level mold tech can expect to make as much as $70,000 per year right out of school, Holt writes.


Finally, to develop America’s next-generation workforce, Holt believes the manufacturing industry needs to significantly expand and accelerate STEM education, which requires working directly with high schools, trade colleges and universities to enhance vocational training programs. Greater curricular emphasis is needed in data analysis, CAD and analytics, because data, Holt says, is the “oil” powering digital manufacturing.


With those ideas in mind, I was interested to also see a recent Wall Street Journal article reporting that, recognizing the need to recruit Millennials, a growing number of manufacturers strive to rebrand manufacturing as a high-tech industry full of opportunity. To specifically recruit Millennials, some companies now use mobile devices, video and virtual reality (VR).


Many Millennials use smartphones to access the Internet, says Gina Max, director of talent at USG Corp., a maker of construction materials, in the WSJ article. Working to leverage the practice, USG started accepting job applications sent by mobile phone in the fall of 2014. In that quarter, applications jumped 26 percent, and average applications per job have remained higher since, the WSJ article reports.


Similarly, Millennials watch videos to learn about new topics far more than older generations, Max says in the article. So, in 2014, USG also started adding videos to job postings to provide a quick introduction to what a job looks like. Since then, USG has seen the number of people who actually submit a job application after looking at a listing increase by 50 percent, WSJ reports.


Other companies now use VR to both attract young talent and dispel the perception of manufacturing as outdated. Lincoln Electric Holdings, for example, uses VR to let young people test their welding skills at career fairs, Boy Scout jamborees, farmer conventions and robot-building competitions, the WSJ article notes. Lincoln estimates more than 100,000 young people have tried its VR simulator, through which they see a welding environment like a race-car workshop or a high-rise construction site. They make virtual welds, and a virtual scoreboard tells them where they need to improve. The system then helps recruiters identify and screen job candidates.


What are your thoughts on recruiting the next-generation workforce? Is your company changing recruiting practices and methodology?