Today, more than a third of the American workforce (35%) is made up of millennials, people born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are the largest generation currently in the workforce. As baby boomers retire at record pace, millennials are stepping in to fill their shoes. It is estimated that by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials.
Similar statistics characterize the engineering workforce is now dominated by millennials who now dominate the workforce. This demographic shift is forcing manufacturers to rethink their approach to just about everything when it comes to interacting with the next generation of engineers, from how they market them to how they communicate with them, train, recruit and retain them.
Why? Because, as numerous studies have documented, Millennials represent a different type of population. They process information differently. They are motivated differently. They approach problems differently. And even the sources they look to and trust for product and design information are different.
For example, Millennials are more likely to engage on social media and trust online reviews and referrals. They get news from digital sources rather than traditional print trade publications. And they rely on smartphones for just about everything.
As a result, the old ways of educating and inspiring the newly created generation of engineers simply don’t work anymore. Whether your job is to sell products or services to these young engineers or to recruit and train them, you need to know their preferences and pain points to be successful.
Here are the top 10 ways savvy manufacturers are responding to these changing demographics.
1. Increase the use of technology.
Millennials have been through massive changes in technology, so it’s only natural that they are embracing technology more than previous generations. They don’t look so much for proven solutions, but focus on cutting-edge technologies designed to make their jobs easier and more rewarding. This generation expects every interaction to reflect an Amazon-like experience where desired information is easily accessible at the touch of a button.
2. Create more content and digital tools.
Gone are the days of heavy, bulky binders that held pages and pages of product specifications and instructions. Even scanned PDFs have become archaic. In their place are eConfigurators, interactive programs that allow online users to customize products based on certain available configuration options and features such as size, performance statistics, standards, maintenance requirements, and miscellaneous features.
E-commerce product setup visualizes a desired product based on customers’ real-time customizations to give them accurate images of end products. The result of the configuration process is a specific part number and description that matches the specified criteria.
One of the main benefits of eConfigurators is that they allow design and specification engineers to access the information they need and answer many of their questions without having to speak to anyone.
3. Leverage the power of simulation.
Physical testing and real-world prototyping have long been the backbone of R&D. However, with modern CAE, simulations are now an efficient and reliable way to accelerate product innovation, delivering shorter design cycles and lower costs.
New CAE software packages focus on virtual prototyping. In addition to reducing costs and shortening time to market, virtual prototyping can lead to higher quality designs because it allows engineering teams to often catch errors before they reach the final output.
Simulation coupled with tools such as Design Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (DFMEA) helps identify potential failures early in the design process and opens the door to exploring alternatives that can be leaner, more reliable, more safer and/or more environmentally friendly.
With CAE-enabled virtual prototyping, engineers can create analytical models of their designs. These models allow products to be tested in virtual environments without the time and cost associated with building physical prototypes. Types of tests that can be easily performed virtually include:
- Linear/nonlinear static stress simulations that evaluate the strength of components based on how they will be loaded and stressed during operation.
- Thermal analysis and CFD simulations that measure the distribution of heat through a model and determine the flow of fluids in and around objects.
- Modal/vibration simulations that examine what happens to parts and how they behave when experiencing vibration.
- Fatigue simulation that identifies the maximum stresses, strains, and deformations that components will experience during service.
4. Have immediate access to information 24/7.
To be useful, digital content must be easily accessible. it is essential that information is available around the clock so that it can be accessed when needed without delay, especially when more engineers are working remotely and working non-traditional work schedules.
5. Do fewer in-person presentations and communications.
Millennials aren’t as interested in attending in-person sales presentations or talking one-on-one with tech experts. Instead, they typically research information online and at their own pace without needing to speak to a live person until they’re ready to take the next step in the buying process. As a result, more and more companies are offering a range of podcasts and webinars designed to educate and persuade.
The COVID pandemic has amplified this trend, driving many potential clients at home or in their offices away from crowded trade shows or in-person meetings. This is a trend likely to last long after the pandemic is over.
Large companies, such as Parker, also create custom online interactive training modules of pre-recorded video sessions that engage engineers at their specific level of experience.
6. Provide opportunities for more hands-on learning experiences.
Unlike baby boomers who frequently get their hands dirty working on cars and other engines in their spare time, many millennial engineers entering the workforce lack similar hands-on experiences. So it’s important to take these future leaders away from their computers and into labs and factories to see firsthand how different designs work and learn how to identify and fix problems. 7. Create simpler designs.
There has been a push in recent years to reduce the complexity of product designs and systems. Companies use value engineering to improve cost structures, minimize material usage, and create products that are easier (and less expensive) to manufacture, operate, and maintain. This objective is particularly relevant to a younger workforce who may lack the experience and product knowledge necessary to properly operate and maintain more complex products.
At Parker Hannifin, for example, management has launched a program, Simple by Design, which continuously reviews product designs for ways to improve them. The program recognizes that 70% of most product costs arise from early design decisions made regarding part materials, sourcing, geometry and functionality. It then uses new business processes and tools to reduce product complexity, in addition to increasing efficiency to reduce costs and give end users more value.
Generative design is an example of a modern optimization and simulation process. This artificial intelligence software package analyzes 3D models, along with user-specified constraints, to simulate multiple design iterations. Typically, the designs use fewer raw materials, have less mass, and reduce machining cycle times and tooling costs. As engineers evaluate simulated designs, the software “learns” what works and what doesn’t for each successive simulation. Although this tool is used at Parker for optimization, it also helps junior engineers who lack in-depth design knowledge to produce better designs.
8. Facilitate a better work/life balance.
The COVID pandemic has forced a cataclysmic shift in how workers, including engineers, view work and its effects on their families and personal lives. One challenge, however, is that working from home and in the office creates barriers to collaborating, thinking, and innovating effectively, all key engineering functions. By leveraging advanced online technologies, manufacturers can foster collaboration without requiring engineers to spend days on the road away from their families.
9. Create more opportunities for advancement and recognition.
Research has shown that millennials want more reinforcements and praise than their predecessors and expect more opportunities to take on leadership roles. To recruit and retain top engineering talent, employers need to communicate clear career paths.
Parker, for example, offers several professional development programs that allow new graduates to further their education and apply existing knowledge. As part of the program, graduates receive rotating assignments at various company facilities to expose them to a range of company operations and products. The goal of the program is not simply to train graduates for employment, but to prepare them for what they will see as a meaningful and rewarding career.
10. Invest in user-friendly websites.
Leading manufacturers are investing millions of dollars to upgrade their websites to meet the demands and preferences of the next generation of engineers. These companies improve search functions because young users have little tolerance for websites that are not easy to search or that do not meet their needs. This younger generation is also more likely to rely on online credentials, so manufacturers are diligent about creating positive online experiences to get those coveted digital thumbs.
Without a doubt, the new generation of engineers is unlike any other in the industry. But by recognizing what makes them different and taking those differences into account, manufacturers can successfully recruit them and get the most out of what they have to offer.
Andrew Morgan is R&D Technology Team Leader at Parker Hannifin Corp. He can be reached at [email protected] or (440) 516-3210.