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In-Finite Opportunities Network

Gen Z Is Moving Into the Manufacturing Space (Slowly)

The manufacturing sector stands on the brink of a seismic shift. As Baby Boomers retire and technology revolutionizes the workplace, a new generation is emerging to take the helm: Gen Z. 

With their digital fluency and progressive values, Gen Z could be the key to tackling many of today’s manufacturing challenges. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, some 16% students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges in 2023, a number that’s on the rise. 

On one hand, this trend bridges a skills gap; at the same time, this trend is coming along right when the manufacturing sector most needs a sense of innovation and resilience.

Understanding Gen Z

Gen Z, born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, represents the first truly digital-native generation. They’ve been raised in a world of internet-driven culture, smartphones, and social media, which has shaped their communication habits and their workplace expectations. Inclusivity, sustainability, and flexibility are fundamental values. 

These traits have the potential to upend and rejuvenate traditional manufacturing environments. Compensation alone is not the driving force for Gen Z employment decisions. 

These young adults’ technological prowess positions them as ideal candidates for roles in advanced manufacturing, however. They thrive in environments rich with automation and data analytics. Their knack for quickly mastering new technologies can drastically reduce onboarding times and elevate productivity in tech-centric manufacturing roles.

Current State of the Manufacturing Workforce

The manufacturing sector is in the midst of a significant transition. 

An aging workforce, with many skilled workers on the cusp of retirement, leaves a daunting gap in knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, the shift toward Industry 4.0 demands a workforce adept in automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence—skills that are currently scarce.

Gen Z could play a pivotal role in bridging this skills gap with their digital fluency and innovative perspectives. Their entry into the manufacturing workforce could expedite the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and foster a more dynamic workplace culture.

Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Gen Z

To draw Gen Z into the fold, manufacturing must shed its outdated image of a grimy, labor-intensive industry. Today’s manufacturing is sleek, high-tech, and intellectually stimulating—qualities that should be prominently featured in recruitment campaigns.

Aligning workplace culture to meet Gen Z’s expectations involves creating a collaborative, inclusive, and flexible environment. Emphasizing sustainability and corporate responsibility can also attract Gen Z candidates who prioritize these values.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on this subject, highlighting how Gen Z workers are “making #BlueCollar cool.” This should not be undervalued by hiring managers and executive-level leaders in the manufacturing sector. 

In the feature, blue-collar workers are tapping into the audience development power of TikTok and Instagram to build engaged customer bases. This applies to a spectrum of roles, from entrepreneurial plumbers to workers on the floor at the automotive plant. 

Two core concepts that the WSJ explores are flexibility and connectivity. On face value, that might suggest a hybrid/remote work environment that in many cases manufacturing simply can’t sustain. But looking deeper at Gen Z’s cultural preferences and value systems, savvy hiring departments may find opportunities to attract Gen Z workers and amplify their unique skill sets amidst broader economic changes. 

“Contrary to prior generations and stereotypes, Gen Z workers are taking jobs less for compensation and more because of factors including their relationships with coworkers (43 percent), the chance to do meaningful work (41 percent), and workplace flexibility (38 percent),” according to McKinsey & Co. research

Those values have not yet found footing in manufacturing spaces. The research organization points out that “Since 2019, Gen Z’s share of the manufacturing workforce has declined (to 7 from 8 percent), even though more than 20 million Gen Zers reached adulthood in the intervening years.”


The future of manufacturing hinges on the successful integration of Generation Z into the workforce. Their digital prowess, forward-thinking values, and adaptability make them ideally suited to tackle the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0.

By modernizing perceptions of the industry, fostering inclusive and flexible work environments, and strategically recruiting and retaining Gen Z talent, manufacturing firms can ensure a resilient and innovative future. 


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