Engaging millennials to fuel innovation

Posted on 22 Jan 2017 by The Manufacturer

The emergence of Industry 4.0 means all manufacturers eager to to grow this year will be under greater pressure to innovate their way to success. Ivan Seselji, CEO of cloud-based process management (BPM) software provider, Promapp Solutions – reports.

KPMG’s head of Industrial Manufacturing and Automotive, Stephen Cooper, commented in the firm’s 2016 Global Manufacturers Outlook report; “Just focusing on the bottom line won’t drive the business model rethink needed to capitalise on technology developments – particularly the Internet of Things”.

Ivan Seselji, CEO, Promapp Solutions.
Ivan Seselji, CEO, Promapp Solutions.

He suggests that for UK manufacturers to gain an edge they must take advantage of new connected technologies but in order to do this, it’s essential to build the right skills for the industry to thrive moving forward.

With 2.7 million already employed in UK manufacturing, the next challenge is how they recruit and retain the right talent that can support this new age where computers, automation, big data and machine learning combine together on a completely new level.

With millennials or Generation Y – those aged between 18 and 34 –  now making up a quarter of the population, they represent a rich pool of tech-savvy, creative, computer literate and flexible workers who in theory have the ideal qualities to flourish as manufacturing becomes increasingly digitised.

Understanding the DNA of Generation Y

On the flip side, millennials have gotten bad and – arguably – unwarranted press. They are often stereotyped as too self-obsessed, laid back, high maintenance with short attention spans. The older generation complain that millennials moan about doing more menial work, are too focused on salary and career advancement, and that they have no respect for rules, convention or authority.

With this in mind, it’s going to be critical for manufacturers to understand what makes millennials tick and to tune into their wavelength. While there may be an element of truth behind the headlines, manufacturers need to focus instead on how those so-called negatives can be properly understood and leveraged.

The first step towards maximising the potential of the younger generation is to understand and accept that they don’t work for you, they work with you. Millennials are often criticised for asking too many questions, for challenging accepted processes, and for their so-called arrogance in not simply accepting “the way things are done here.”  Smart manufacturers should recognise that millennials simply want more input towards what’s happening on the job and genuinely want to feel that they are a part of the bigger picture in terms of what the company is trying to achieve.

Innovation Ideas Planning Design Foundations Meeting - Stock Image
The first step towards maximising the potential of the younger generation is to understand and accept that they don’t work for you, they work with you.

These attributes if properly harnessed can provide a great source of innovation, improvement suggestions and a platform for positive change. They don’t just want to be told what to do, they want to question, challenge and be heard. Unlike their forebears, they want the immediate respect of their bosses and they want to be given a voice that will be both listened to and if appropriate acted upon.

Transform processes

Manufacturers can capture the energy and enthusiasm of younger employees by embracing their innovative instincts to transform processes and production. Take, for example, traditional communication with employees. For years, industry has relied on procedure manuals, signage posted around the plant or in the canteen, or more recently, the mass email – all of these will fail to resonate with millennials.

Instead, they would prefer to click through six options, not read six chapters of a manual. They want to check out an app, watch a 30-second video, and then react with emojis, not with lengthy memos. The on-boarding process needs to reflect this culture right from the start with 26% of millennials planning to leave their job within the next six months, based on a recent survey by YouGov.

Introducing changes to fundamental processes like the above can go a long way toward connecting with, retaining and engaging millennials, but manufacturers must also support millennials’ needs to continually develop. As a result, managers must be prepared to delegate more responsibilities and ownership of tasks and projects. Give millennials a sense of purpose as part of a company that they are proud to work for and in which they can play a meaningful role.

Manufacturers can realise significant bottom-line benefits by engaging employees in those processes that make the company productive or in areas where they are experiencing issues. So consider creating assignments that will test them and play to their individual strengths and areas of interest. Ask their opinions on how to improve the way a specific job or process is completed, and then show a willingness to actually make changes based on their recommendations.

Older Workers
To bridge the gap between young and old, consider building cross-generational teams to identify areas of improvement.

Bridging the gap

To bridge the gap between young and old, consider building cross-generational teams to identify areas of improvement. Doing so will benefit both newer employees who can learn from more experienced team members and senior staff can feed on the energy, creativity, and technology know-how of their younger colleagues.

At the same time, it’s important to appreciate how each group may prefer to work. For example, millennials hate to waste time doing what they consider tedious things that many older staff take in their stride such as filling out expense forms, attending in-person training sessions or completing timesheets. Investing in technology that more effectively accomplishes these tasks can drastically reduce the administrative time and potential for human error, while simultaneously appealing to a millennial’s insatiable appetite for ubiquitous technology in the workplace.

The fact that millennials rely on their smartphones, tablets, and web apps to access and store information on virtually any topic you can name in their personal lives, means that they expect the same in the workplace. These traits lend themselves perfectly to the aspirations and productivity benefits espoused by Industry 4.0 that relies on a technological ecosystem based on interoperability, information transparency, machine learning and decentralised decision-making.

Being an early adopter of this model promises huge rewards in the shape of customisation and servitisation, better understanding of demand, more control over supply chains and improved health & safety in dangerous working environments.

Not only are millennials admirably equipped to understand and appreciate the concept of Industry 4.0 they are also creative and flexible enough to apply it for maximum effect from design through to implementation.  Enabling and encouraging them to identify and drive business improvements and innovation will make them more productive. Just as importantly, it will also create a relationship that can take advantage of their capacity for change, while building a level of loyalty that will have a significant impact on employee growth and retention, and on the bottom line.