Gen Z, the environment, and industry: How manufacturers can help

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The manufacturing industry is perfectly poised to help Gen Z align their careers with the causes they’re passionate about — and build a loyal and skilled workforce to help achieve industry-wide sustainability goals. PHOTO courtesy Seneca Polytechnic.

By Justin Geach

The people who came of age during the Great Depression became known as The Greatest Generation, lauded collectively for their bravery and ingenuity during World War II. Now, amid unprecedented social, political, economic, and ecological disruption, the torch has been passed on to Gen Z, who today’s leaders entrust with fixing and rebuilding society as we know it. An Army National Guard recruitment ad has even hailed Gen Z as the Next Greatest Generation

Perhaps more than any previous generation, “Zoomers” are motivated to take action and build a better world. They require training, support, and access to the right tools and resources. What if manufacturers — who are already committed to sustainability and digital transformation — are perfectly equipped to offer necessary support?

The Win-Win Dynamic of Gen Z and the Trades

Gen Z is coming of age in a time of massive upheaval, creating uncertainty not just about the economy but society itself. These issues weigh heavily on their minds, from climate change and wealth inequality to broader matters related to social justice and political polarization. In fact, 42% of Gen Z employees report a shift in career plans directly attributed to climate change, with nearly half urging their employers to take action on climate issues. However, only 15% report successfully influencing their workplace on these critical matters. 

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector is working collectively toward sustainability and carbon reduction goals to curb climate change, reduce waste, and cut costs. Companies are reevaluating their entire operations and leading the way in designing, producing, and utilizing energy-efficient equipment, sustainable materials, and cost-effective infrastructure solutions that can mitigate climate change. This requires an increasingly tech-savvy workforce, especially as more boomers retire daily. 

The manufacturing industry is perfectly poised to help Gen Z align their careers with the causes they’re passionate about — and build a loyal and skilled workforce to help achieve industry-wide sustainability goals.

How Manufacturers Can Answer the Call

Gen Z needs help to make the changes required to navigate the coming decades. By investing in marketing, recruitment tactics, organizational structures, and education, manufacturers can play a pivotal role in empowering Gen Z to evolve into the leaders needed for the future while overcoming their own labor challenges. 

Achieving this level of generational inspiration is possible through four strategies:

Convey and Educate the Higher Purpose of Products

Many manufacturers are already pivoting into producing more eco-friendly products or updating processes to have less environmental impact. By prominently featuring these sustainable initiatives in their marketing efforts, manufacturers can raise awareness about the pathways to fight climate change and help dispel some of the doom and gloom Gen Z might feel about the future. At the same time, members of Gen Z are “flocking” to careers and employers that directly tackle the issue, so sustainable manufacturers will stand out as an employer to work for.

  • Promote the Trades

In addition to building a more sustainable future, manufacturing can play a pivotal role in addressing Gen Z’s economic concerns — but only if Zoomers are informed about the opportunities. By highlighting careers as viable and well-paying in the trades on social media, job fairs, and other channels, the industry can attract younger workers who may not have considered manufacturing a pathway to success. 

  • Invest in Robust & Holistic Training

The next generation of workers must acquire advanced tech and engineering skills to produce eco-friendly and energy-efficient products crucial for mitigating climate change. Manufacturers can contribute to this by investing in more employee training and education. Providing opportunities for apprenticeships, internships, and hands-on learning experiences can help Gen Z gain practical knowledge and hands-on expertise in the rapidly evolving industry. By doing this, manufacturers can cultivate a skilled workforce for Industry 4.0.

  • Restructure Career Paths 

Gen Z wants to make a positive difference in the world — including more equitable working conditions. Rather than maintaining traditional career structures, manufacturers can update their organizational structures to provide clearer pathways for skill development, upward mobility, and leadership roles to keep younger workers more engaged and motivated. Companies can even integrate sustainability and climate-focused responsibilities within existing jobs by incentivizing waste reduction to attract more Gen Z talent. 

Reinventing the Trades in 2024

The world is becoming increasingly more complicated and challenging in our modern age, but manufacturers have a unique opportunity. Changing to meet the needs of the next generation will transform the industry for the better and attract the vital Gen Z talent needed to overcome today’s manufacturing labor shortage and skill gap.

Embracing the higher purpose of sustainable products, promoting trades, and investing in upskilling will help manufacturers align with the values and aspirations of tomorrow’s leaders. This strategic approach grants access to a pool of digital-native, environmentally-conscious talent needed to create meaningful change.

Justin Geach, is the Global Director of Marketing at Master Fluid Solutions.

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