Millennials and Manufacturing: Can They Work Together?

An Incredible (and Daunting) Opportunity for Manufacturers

US manufacturing is an absolute behemoth of an industry. CNBC recently reported that manufacturers contribute over $2 trillion to the US economy each year, and remarkably, it’s still growing. Experts predict that over the next ten years, there could be more than 3 million jobs opening up in the manufacturing industry.

This is fantastic news for Massachusetts, whose manufacturing industry generates over $45 billion annually. The caveat, however, is that these 3 million new jobs need to be filled . . . fast. About 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every single day, and we’re now seeing the need for skilled workers to take their places. Who is going to step in?


No, we’re not kidding. This young generation, seemingly defined by selfie sticks and social media accounts, is rushing toward the workforce with skill sets and abilities we’ve never seen before. They’re no longer just kids, and like it or not, manufacturing companies need them—their futures depend on it. Companies in the manufacturing industry and elsewhere are realizing that the best (and possibly, the only) way to assure long-term success is to funnel Millennials their way. They’re now asking a few questions:

  • Why would we want to hire Millennials?
  • Why would they want to work for us?
  • How do we make it happen?

Addressing the Stereotypes: Do Manufacturers and Millennials Even Want Each Other?

There is a huge elephant in the room, and it’s name is “The Age Gap.” Many manufacturing executives are Baby Boomers (born 19461964) and Generation X-ers (born 19651980); Millennials are those born between 1981 and the early 2000s. What this means is that the age gap between existing employees and new hires can stretch forty years or more. Bridging that gap in the workplace presents discernable challenges. As reported by ThomasNet, some employers are standing at one side of the divide and are about ready to give up completely; 81% of manufacturers “have no explicit plans to target Millennials as potential workforce replacements.”

manufacturing-expo-attracts-millennialsBut here’s the cold, hard truth of it all: Yes, you are different. Yes, you are stuck with each other. A successful business in any industry can and must consider the values, strengths, and weaknesses of each of the three generations; as Baby Boomers fade out of the workforce and Millennials fade in, cohabitation becomes more important than ever. By 2025, up to 75% of the global workforce will be populated by Millennials. It’s time for manufacturers to recognize this inevitable shift or end up watching from the sidelines.

How Hiring Millennials Can Benefit Manufacturers

The most obvious service a Millennial can offer a manufacturing company is that he or she can fill an open position. In 2014, MA manufacturing companies saw a 67% increase in jobs created, which is a wonderful piece of data . . . if there are people willing to work those jobs. Millennials are here and ready to work.

Millennials also provide the intrinsic ability to reach other Millennials—they are fluent in the heavily trafficked pathways of social media, telecommunication, and technological innovation; they offer invaluable insight on how to make a company more attractive to others like them. This is especially important considering the fact that Millennials will soon not only make up the lion’s share of the workforce, but also that of the consumer and B2B market as well; if manufacturers fail to connect with them, their companies will continue to be understaffed and unable to grow.

chemical-manufacturing-attracting-millennialsWith regard to “going green” and reducing a company’s carbon footprint, Millennials are proving themselves to be the most informed generation yet. Many Millennials dedicate their educational careers studying in fields that that didn’t even exist when the Boomers and the Gen X-ers were in school, like the philosophy of sustainability, sustainable development, and the art and science of sustainability. Millennials are able to both fill the available positions in the industry and skillfully rejuvenate manufacturing to better align it with the times.

The US government published a report in 2014, “15 Economic Facts about Millennials,” that says Millennials have not only been “shaped by technology” and are therefore better prepared to help companies adapt to new technology, but are also more likely to stay with their early-career employers than previous generations. Despite those who say Millennials tend to bounce from employer to employer, they have actually held on to their jobs longer than Gen X-ers (see page 29 of the above report). This means more security for employers, improved worker productivity, and fewer resources spent on training new employees.


How Manufacturing Can Benefit Millennials

Money is on the mind of most Millennials these days—their lack of it, their paralytic fear of it, and the debt they have to chip through before they can begin to save any of it. The Wall Street Journal reports that students in the class of 2015 are the most indebted ever; each faces about $35,000 of student-loan debt. Even when adjusted for inflation, this blisteringly high figure has grown every year for as long as anyone can remember, and it’s reasonable to assume the trend will continue as we move forward. The good news? There is money in manufacturing. A lot of it.

In Massachusetts, the average median wage for a manufacturer hovers around $70,000. This is about the same salary as a software engineer, executive chef, or a seasoned firefighter. We can also compare this to the average salary of those who graduated with liberal arts degrees and have accumulated 10–19 years of experience. Entry-level manufacturing engineers make $50,000–$60,000 annually, markedly more than many employed in other industries. There are secure, well-paying, benefit-wielding careers waiting for Millennials to come pick them up.

In addition to terrific pay, manufacturers are now focusing their efforts on reaching Millennials and keeping them around. From internships, grants, and one-on-one workplace training to optimized, revitalized vocational programs and collaborative guides to help reach members of the community, the industry is shaping itself to be more appealing to the younger generation.


Using Manufacturing Day and Other Initiatives to Connect Millennials and Manufacturers

In 2012, a group of sponsors initiated Manufacturing Day, a project intended to attract young people to manufacturing, better define the industry, and address some misguided assumptions. This year, it was officially held on October 2, though there are events held throughout the year. One of the MA events included the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s event, “Made in Central Mass: Manufacturing Matters,” a panel that invited representatives from local manufacturers to brainstorm ways to market the industry to a new workforce.

Bill DiBenedetto, president of Lampin, a critical component manufacturer based in Uxbridge, MA, said this of the industry’s trajectory:

Manufacturing is a very robust and advanced industry in Massachusetts. I believe that it is incredibly important for us to collaborate with local educational officials and get more students interested in pursuing careers in manufacturing, where they have the opportunity to learn advanced engineering skills while earning a livable salary.

Lampin and other participants in Manufacturing Day, along with the STEM Education Coalition and the “30 Under 30” Rising Supply Chain Stars Recognition Program,  are all hoping to funnel younger people into the industry. These organizations and others strive to show Millennials how much personal and professional growth can be achieved through manufacturing.

How Can You Get Involved?

If you or someone you know is entering the workforce, consider manufacturing. Sure, it isn’t for everyone out there, but it is a multifaceted, dynamic industry at least worth your research. A great way to start is to find a Manufacturing Day event near you. Find and follow manufacturers on social media, too—who knows, you or someone you know might be a perfect fit.

Massachusetts Colleges Team Up to Create a Bright Future in the Photonics Industry

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Worcester’s Quinsigamond Community College will be teaming up with SUNY Polytechnic Institute and several other educational institutions on a Federal project to advance the applications the photonics industry in manufacturing. The partnership, known as Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0, represents $600 million in Federal funds which will go toward establishing the nation’s first Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation.

Massachusetts will be teaming up with educational institutions across the nation, utilizing the Commonwealth’s higher educational strengths to explore the applications of the photonics industry in manufacturing. MIT will lead in the development of cutting-edge technology such as robotics and complex medical devices. Meanwhile, Quinsigamond will provide practical training for the development of a middle-skill workforce that will be ready to fulfill a growing number of job opportunities in the manufacturing industry as a whole.

“Massachusetts is a key partner because of the technical expertise of the faculty and researchers here at MIT, and in part, because AIM photonics MIT is coordinating the education and workforce development program for the entire nation in this area,” said Krystyn Van Vliet, a professor of materials science and engineering and MIT’s faculty lead for the project.

The American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) began an integrated photonics program in July that was announced by Vice President Joe Biden. The AIM integrated photonics program is one of nine such institutions dedicated to different areas of the manufacturing field.

hisotric industryMassachusetts has a long tradition of manufacturing and industrial production. Although textiles and mills may be a thing of the past, burgeoning industries have provided a new realm of opportunity for a state that is already familiar with manufacturing and its challenges. New tech sectors such as biotechnology, wearable devices, and robotics, combined with easy access to the educated work force needed to produce them, has put the Bay State in a favorable position to spearhead the development of future technologies.

“This partnership is key to developing the revolutionary technologies that will underpin the next wave of advanced manufacturing in Massachusetts and ensure the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector as a whole. We are harnessing education and innovation to build a platform for economic growth across Massachusetts. I look forward to seeing the continued great work from our Commonwealth’s innovation and education communities, and [to] participating in this national center with our neighbors in New York,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

The partnership serves as a part of Baker’s ongoing commitment to advancing the manufacturing industry within Massachusetts. Continued growth in the manufacturing sector will lead to new opportunities for everything from electronic design and manufacturing equipment, to medical devices, robotics, cyber security, and more. Van Vliet predicts that the AIM initiative will begin actively producing new technologies and opportunities for advanced manufacturing as early as January 2016.

Massachusetts Manufacturers Continue to Reshore Operations

The reshoring trend continues as Massachusetts manufacturers bring their operations back home. Companies, such as Energid Technologies Corp., are making the leap back to US soil to avoid external costs from unpredictable tariffs, foreign bureaucracy, and additional shipping charges. It seems the emerging economies of countries such as China and India have finally made outsourcing the less profitable option.

Energid is in good company among more than 350 US businesses that have chosen to reshore their operations. The influx has brought nearly 40,000 manufacturing jobs back to the United States over the course of the last five years. 3,000 of those jobs have returned to the Northeast, with 600 to Massachusetts, according to the Reshoring Initiative. While these new positions still represent a very small portion of the available manufacturing jobs in the US, expert economists say they are a very positive sign of the industry’s post-recession rebound.

Competitive production, automation and the complexity of today’s products have created a need for increased collaboration between designers, engineers, and production lines. Massachusetts remains a prime location for most manufacturing industries due to access to highly trained engineers and innovators from places like MIT. Despite this, there is still an observable labor shortage in the manufacturing industry as skilled workers are retiring with fewer young people coming in to take their place.

Manufacturing resources like MassMEP are exploring initiatives to increase the number of motivated and highly trained workers coming into the manufacturing industry. MassMEP is currently teaming up with UMass Lowell to deliver the Advanced Computer Numerical Control Training Program in Massachusetts, which would value and merit to the industry while encouraging young individuals to get their certification and consider a career in manufacturing.

Other resources are helping businesses overcome the initial expenses of re-locating their operations back to the US. MassDevelopment, a quasi-public industrial development agency, has helped several companies reshore operations with loans of up to, and in some cases exceeding, $1.5 million.

The Realities of Reshoring US Manufacturing

Offshoring—or outsourcing—is the practice of moving factories and jobs overseas. In the last 20 years, American companies have started sending manufacturing operations to countries with cheaper labor, fewer regulations, and more forgiving tax schedules. The phenomenon is familiar to anyone talking to tech-support in India, but it has also occurred in the manufacturing industry. Before 2000, US manufacturing grew almost as fast as the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at ninety-four cents on the dollar, but since the turn of the millennium that number dropped to only 45%, until this year.  Currently, US manufacturing has grown faster than the GDP.

The reason for this is called reshoring—returning factories to US soil. Many companies are finding good reasons to move their operations back to America, and the result is higher domestic manufacturing rates, and in some markets, more general growth. Companies have returned to the US to: reduce the complexity of their management and supply chains, avoid the costs and delays of shipping, ensure quality control, and to take advantage of some lower energy costs.

Some corporations are not moving their existing operations, but instead opening new facilities. This geographic diversification insulates businesses against economic hardships like labor disputes, natural disasters, political upheaval, and more.

made in usa

Unfortunately, reshoring is not a marvel of American job-creation. Companies are choosing to move back stateside because it is the most economically feasible option. They are utilizing automation and optimization consultants to make their operations as lean as possible. The cost of healthcare and other benefits, coupled with government labor regulation, makes reshoring labor-intensive industries less likely to return. Those who do reshore have reported problems finding qualified employees, as too many applicants cannot pass drug screenings, do not have a grasp of basic math skills, or are unreliable.

Bill Conerly, an economics expert writing for Forbes, sums it up perfectly when he writes, “The fastest-growing parts of manufacturing will be those that use the least labor. Productivity in factories continues to improve, so the best jobs picture we can hope for is flat. The peak year for US manufacturing employment was 1979, and we’re not going back there.”

FLEXcon Gains Space-Age Flexibility in Spencer Business Market

FLEXcon, a family-owned business in Spencer, Massachusetts, has recently landed national attention with their new space-age business partnership. NASA’s Glenn Research Center has agreed to license the production of a special insulator to FLEXcon, a local business in Massachusetts. “We are delighted to secure a licensing agreement for Glenn’s technology,” said Glenn Research Center Director Jim Free, in a press release.

The special insulator is a significant improvement over other products. The material is a polyimide aerogel film that insulates against both heat and cold. The film, which is 500 times stronger than traditional silica aerogels, is currently patent-pending. FLEXcon’s license will allow the Massachusetts business to manufacture and market the film, as well as develop new applications for it.

FLEXcon won’t need to install any new equipment, as their existing  manufacturing equipment can be re-calibrated to create the new technology.

“We know how to take their invention and make it commercially feasible, … We’re excited about this. We’re proud of it. … This is a good win for FLEXcon.”

—Bill Sullivan, Vice President of Performance Products, FLEXcon

While the product was developed for use in space suits, it can also be used in a variety of every-day applications. The efficient, lightweight insulator can be used in household applications like refrigerators, dishwashers, and to insulate pipes. It can also be used in clothing.  Sullivan explained that, “You don’t want to put on a big parka when you’re climbing up Mt. Everest. You want to put on something that’s light but will give you good thermal energy.”

The polyimide aerogel also has applications in the medical industry as it can be used to insulate the containers used for organ transport and blood storage.

The ability to manufacture and distribute a brand-new bleeding-edge product can be a significant boon for the town of Spencer. The product will be a new sales item, which will increase corporate revenues for the local business. is There is potential for further deals with NASA. According to Free, “By licensing the polyimide aerogel technology to FLEXcon, Glenn will gain a commercialization partner.” This makes the implications of the business partnership exciting, because there may be future collaboration between the two companies.  Sullivan shared, “I think more good things are going to come through the relationship NASA has with FLEXcon.”

Hologic plans to move HQ to Marlborough

Marlborough is about to become home to another life sciences company. Bedford-based Hologic Inc. plans to move its headquarters to the city. The relocation would add 150 employees to the 450 who currently work at two Hologic offices in Marlborough.

Hologic, a manufacturer of a variety of testing and diagnostic equipment, has asked the City Council to extend a tax-increment financing, or TIF, agreement for five years through the city’s 2020 fiscal year. The company’s current TIF took effect in July 2007 and is scheduled to expire at the end of June, the close of the city’s 2015 fiscal year.

“Hologic’s interest in expanding their operations in Marlborough is an affirmation of Marlborough’s continued economic growth,” said Mayor Arthur Vigeant in a letter to the council. According to Mayor Vigeant, Hologic is making the move to benefit from Marlborough’s location and the area’s “well educated workforce with a high degree of knowledge within the life sciences sector.”

The agreement between Vigeant’s administration and Hologic comes amid the city’s preparations to welcome GE Healthcare Life Sciences. The division of General Electric announced last year it would move its headquarters from New Jersey to Marlborough. The addition of a GE division within city limits is expected to add more than 200 jobs to the approximately 300 already slated to move into a new headquarters on Forest Street.

Hologic said that under the current agreement with the city, it expects to generate 150 new jobs within two years. The company plans to fill those positions by drawing from qualified residents of the city and surrounding communities.

The company has an annual revenue of about $2.6 billion. In its most recent quarterly statement, the company reported a 5 percent gain in revenue with net profits of $47.8 million. Hologic’s tax deal with the city is expected to save the company approximately 10 percent, or nearly $200,000, over the next five years on its estimated obligation of $1.93 million.

A New Era of Manufacturing for Central Mass

Central Massachusetts is no stranger to the manufacturing industry. The region has a long, proud history in the field. Though the products being produced may have changed, Central Massachusetts remains at the forefront of a new era of advanced manufacturing.

At this time, nearly 56 percent of all manufacturing positions in Massachusetts are considered “advanced.” The old stereotype of the industry as being dark, dirty and declining is quickly being replaced with a brighter, 21st Century vision of advantageous and accelerating growth.

To keep this positive, forward momentum going, and to promote the new manufacturing brand, the New England Council and Deloitte Consulting recently released “Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution.” The report evaluates the region’s strengths and advantages. It also identifies opportunities for investment and collaboration which can be used as a road map for growth and developing a competitive edge.

Collaboration seems to be an important part of the detailed report, which includes six recommendations for manufacturers, lawmakers, educators and others to help reinforce regional cooperation.

In a small regional community like New England, it becomes even more imperative for stakeholders in the area to work together to create viable educational pathways which will ensure lifelong learning and the ability to transfer credits for acquired knowledge. The council also advises that we should focus on improving the smoggy manufacturing image to attract new workers. The manufacturing industry of today is safe, innovative, and pays well, especially in advanced manufacturing positions.

The effort will require aligning both state and federal regulations with industry needs. State policy makers have been urged to include advanced manufacturing as a part of state economic development job creation plans.

Massachusetts is already leading the way in the effort, with Gov. Charlie Baker’s Workforce Skills Cabinet, which is made up of the secretaries of labor and workforce development, education development, as well as housing and economic development. The cabinet was created to address the current skills gap. Officials in neighboring states now have an opportunity to follow the governor’s example.

State officials are encouraged to begin a regular dialogue with their peers in the neighboring five states to compare ideas and exchange best practices. They should also work together to secure federal funding for the establishment of a New England advanced manufacturing hub under the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative (NNMI). Acting as a highly effective “teaching factory,” the NNMI would be ideal for addressing the industry’s challenges and training the skilled workforce the New England needs.

Central Massachusetts is in a position to continue its long history of excellence in manufacturing. It will take a collaborative effort to continue to advance the industry.

Raytheon buys 80% of Websense for $1.9 billion

In an effort to improve its cyber-protection technology, Waltham-based Raytheon has reached agreement with private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners LLC  to acquire an 80 percent share of Websense Inc. for $1.9 billion. Vista acquired Websense two years ago for about $990 million.

Raytheon plans to integrate Websense into its existing  Raytheon Cyber Products unit and operate the new division with Websense incumbent CEO John McCormack at the helm.

In addition to contributing the $400 million cyber products unit,  Raytheon will infuse $1.6 billion in cash, $600 million in the form of a loan. For its 20 percent stake, Vista will contribute $335 million to the venture.

Websense’s Triton platform, which allows companies to adapt and respond to future cyber attacks, is said to be what particularly appealed to Raytheon.

In November, Raytheon spent $420 million to bolster its intelligence business by acquiring surveillance and cybersecurity company Blackbird Technologies.

Advanced Manufacturing Report Urges a Change in Public Perception

The New England Council released a report on Wednesday that urged for increased training for advanced manufacturing workers throughout New England. At the same time, they recommended changing the public’s view of these industries by focusing on its safety.

The report, titled “Advanced to Advantageous,” identifies influential industries in New England that are setting the pace in advanced manufacturing. These industries include aerospace, defense, medical devices, software and biotechnology. The report praised certain programs as being progressive “islands of excellence” that combine existing advantages while encouraging other industries to adopt them. The report provides recommendations to increase growth and improve global competitiveness.

Below are highlights of the recommendations:

  • Improve partnerships between government, educators, and industry.
  • Create a federally funded manufacturing center in New England.
  • Transition the public’s perception of manufacturing from dangerous to safe.
  • Increase industry partnership and apprenticeship opportunities for students.

James T. Brett, president and CEO of The New England Council, commented that “manufacturing and higher education organizations across New England have told me how invaluable our report has been to them.” Brett hopes that the report will encourage broader discussion among the public and private sectors, improving collaboration between the two. Brett added that this was necessary in order to “support advanced manufacturing to promote sustained economic growth in every corner of New England and strengthen our regional competitive advantage.”

Manufacturing and education sectors will mutually benefit from increased training, apprenticeship opportunities, and partnership ties. The public also needs to understand that manufacturing is a safe career choice. If this can be accomplished, advanced manufacturers in New England will be stronger and more competitive.


GE Prepares for Marlborough Site Summer Launch

General Electric’s decision to move its Healthcare Life Science division from New Jersey to Marlborough was initially met with tempered enthusiasm by those gauging its economic impact on the region. However, recent projections predict that the center will employ over 500 full time employees no later than 2017.

Luckily for the already stressed recruiters at GE, the Life Sciences center will not begin operations at full-scale levels; the current timetable calls for a partial launch early this summer, requiring an operational staff of approximately 215 employees. Filling even a limited number of these extremely technical positions would be a challenge for any company. Luckily, General Electric chose the Marlborough site specifically for the hiring advantages it provides.

According to releases from Erica Bell, senior global resource leader at GE, highway accessibility made Marlborough an appealing location compared to several other potential locations, with both Boston and Worcester seen as academic pools from which the facility can draw. Another benefit that Bell mentioned was the reasonable commuting times it afforded to Western Massachusetts. These factors ensure that a vast majority of the positions available now and in the future will be filled by candidates from within Massachusetts.

The location is also in the midst of what is fast becoming a regional hub for the life sciences. Life sciences technology is the fastest growing sector of the Massachusetts’ economy and, by relocating to Marlborough, GE was able to position themselves closer to customers and partners within the industry. They are also extremely close to the hospitals and universities that serve as training and testing centers for staff and equipment.