Understanding Gen Z

Thursday, June 18, 2020

As the workforce undergoes generational changes precipitated by retiring baby boomers, factories are evolving from the pre-automation plants of the past to the smart factories of the future. Workers in smart factories require digital fluency, technological savviness, and data analytics know-how — skills that previous generations just did not need and for which future generations may not be fully prepared.

As the economy evolves, technology advances and the workforce changes, individuals need to have the relevant skills, intellectual curiosity, the willingness to learn and adaptability for new-collar careers. IBM’s former CEO Ginni Rometty has been calling for government and business leaders not to think in terms of white-collar or blue-collar jobs, but new-collar jobs instead.

Rometty said she believed that these were jobs that may not require a traditional college degree. New-collar workers may have degrees or they may have gained the necessary skills through vocational training while in high school. New-collar jobs are about skills, not degrees.

With the help of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), almost any level of automation in manufacturing seems possible now and the best part is the generation which grew up playing with robots, computers, remote control cars and coding games is now ready to take over the shop floor. These young folks do not look at robots with the possibility of losing jobs to them, but instead befriending them.

In this era, everyone is talking about the new age of collaborative robots (Cobots), which have motion sensors and have the ability to collaborate with humans while working. Cobots reduce the risk of injuries on shop floor and have the inbuilt capabilities to learn to work with human beings around them. Beyond Cobots, the manufacturing industry is expected to undergo great transformations with the help of augmented reality (AR) and additive manufacturing such as 3D printing.

These new-collar careers are a great fit for Generation Z individuals who come to the workplace, where the use of mobile devices, AI and automation will soon take over the factory. It will be driven by young professionals who essentially grew up with a device in their hands. All those pervasive mobile applications that can frustrate even the most technology-oriented millennial are essentially geared to Gen Z. They get it, and eventually so will your customers and suppliers.

Gen Z: The New Generation of Digital Workers

Generation Z digital natives were born after 1996 and represent approximately 25% of the U.S. population. They are now beginning to stream into the workplace. In 2020, about 40% of consumers will be Generation Z. Businesses are aware of this surge, and companies are seeing this onslaught of digital natives.

What do employers need to know about how to on-board and engage Gen Z? Employers need to understand their inquiring minds are not used to the “yes, okay, will get it done” mentality. Instead, managers need to understand how to engage them in handling different situation by letting them take ownership of the problem. During this process they will come up with creative questions that, in the end, will lead to a positive outcome by letting them leverage their inquisitive minds.

There are some organizations that encourage asking questions to come up with creative ideas, while many industries continue with the old mindset of “it is what it is” or “it has always been done this way.” With training and practice, employers can learn how to accept this generation that is motivated by finding the best solution and are not afraid to challenge old norms.

Employers should not be surprised if the Gen Z employee has problems with adapting to scheduled working hours; they thrive on getting the work done in a timely manner — not a structured 8 to 5 regimen. Work paradigms are shifting as employees leverage technology more. Solving a problem that used to take five hours, may now take just an hour with the application of AI and ML. The time saved can be applied to other challenging opportunities.

For employers to benefit from this new talent pool, they need to ensure that projects assigned to them will engage their innovative skill sets and challenge their thinking. Companies need to find new ways to assign tasks that utilize their talents to effectively improve the processes in their work areas, whether in the office or on the plant floor. These new professionals thrive in an environment where they can see the value and learning experience coming from the tasks they are asked to perform.


About the author: Sukanya Kulkarni is an engineering management graduate student at Northeastern University majoring in supply chain management. She is an Association for Manufacturing Excellence student member, and can be reached at kulkarni.suk@northeastern.edu.

Mentor: Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), is a member of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance,” and a member of the Jobs Creators Network. For more information, contact marsh8279@aol.com.



Views and opinions shared in Target Online are the author's and do not necessarily reflect AME policies and positions.