#149 – Inside Our Industry – Why manufacturing jobs are attracting more young Minnesota workers

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

With so many manufacturing jobs going unfilled, it is imperative that companies find ways to attract and retain competent workers. Post in Northfield, Minnesota is working hard to bring in young workers. Below are excerpts from an article from the Star Tribune.

Why manufacturing jobs are attracting more young Minnesota workers
By Brooks Johnson Star Tribune, April 8, 2023

Amid changing perceptions, record job openings and a wave of retirements, Gen Z and millennials are increasingly drawn to manufacturing work.

It takes more than 500 employees to produce a million pounds of cereal every day at the Post plant in Northfield. About 100 of them have been with the company less than a year.

Noah Moyer, 22, is among that new class of operators keeping the plant running 24/7. He was just looking for a job with benefits; now he writes for the company newsletter and has recruited a number of friends to join him.

“It’s a very employee-focused company,” Moyer said.

Manufacturers have struggled for years to attract and retain workers, a problem that could become a crisis as long-tenured employees begin to retire in droves. But younger applicants are showing up, at last, as perceptions of factory jobs change and opportunities for promotion grow.

“It feels like in the last two years we’ve seen a bit of a pivot where newer generations are coming into the plant,” said Julie Sheridan, senior HR manager at the Post cereal plant in Northfield. “That’s exciting for us because as we see more interest in manufacturing it means better candidates, better talent.”

In 2021, the share of Minnesota manufacturing employees younger than 45 reached its highest rate — more than 52% — in at least a decade.

That’s not a big leap from years past, but it’s progress businesses have been eager to see as a record 11,000 production jobs went unfilled at the end of 2021, according to the most recent data available from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Even before the pandemic, Minnesota manufacturers were having trouble filling jobs. Negative stereotypes about factory work coupled with cultural pressure to put kids through four-year colleges has kept the applicant pool limited.

For a long time, “No parents wanted their children to work in a factory,” Amy Cernava, Post’s Northfield plant director, said. “So it’s really refreshing that perspective is changing.”

‘Unlimited demand’ thousands of dollars a year.

The million-square-foot, multistory maze contains a highly synchronized series of machines cooking, coating and boxing thousands of bags and boxes of cereal per hour. Employees churning out Malt-O-Meal, store-brand and Post cereals track production on iPads and attend to the machinery as needed.

Exposure to jobs in manufacturing and the trades is crucial to building interest in those careers, advocates say.

“All you see is unlimited demand for those students,” said Dan Fisher, CEO of Minneapolis-based ECMC Group, which promotes student success. “It really puts a premium on information for the students to make sure they can make the right decision for themselves.”

A recent survey from ECMC found the number of teens planning to pursue a four-year degree has fallen sharply in recent years. Still, nearly all reported feeling pressured to take that route.

There is a balance to be struck between respecting four-year pathways and making sure other options are clearly communicated and supported, Fisher said.

“As a community, as an economy, how do we de-stigmatize non-four-year educational pathways?” he said. “What speaks to the teens, as we’ve seen in the data, is providing an opportunity they are passionate about.”

Brooks Johnson is a business reporter covering Minnesota’s food industry, 3M and manufacturing trends.

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