Millennials can make your business better

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Kerri Jansen

We talk a lot about the manufacturing skills gap at Plastics News — what businesses are doing, what’s working and what’s not. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to find the type of talent they need, and how to attract and retain members of a generation that just doesn’t seem interested.

Something else I hear a lot of: Older managers who just don’t “get” those younger employees.

“They’re always on their phones!” one frustrated supervisor grumbled at a recent event.

There’s no doubt millennials operate differently, with their devotion to the Internet and rejection of the status quo and so many glowing rectangular devices.

So in Plastics News’ upcoming 25th anniversary issue, we’re giving some of these young professionals a voice. The workers not old enough to remember what the industry was like in ’89 when Plastics News was born.

The ones who will be carving the path of the industry in the next 25 years.

I have a personal stake … it’s my generation, too. I’d rather like to see us succeed.

Over the past few weeks I’ve talked with several of the millennial generation (a generation defined as those born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s) who are involved one way or another in the plastics industry. I spoke to some of their bosses, too.

Here’s what I learned.

About those phones

Millennials are the most tech-savvy and connected generation (at least until the next generation is old enough to buy their iPhone 42s and autonomous cars). Today’s young workforce is constantly engaged with the “outside” world — friends, current events, trends — through a device that’s always in a pocket or purse … except when it’s in their hand.

That also makes them the most accessible generation.

Sometimes the trickiest thing about reporting is simply getting a source on the phone. My slate of usual sources is, with few exceptions, fairly predictable. Getting stuck in a purgatory of automated directories, receptionists and voice mailboxes is not unusual.

The most striking thing I noticed putting together this piece was how easy it was to reach my millennial sources.

Ask a millennial for a phone number, and you’ll likely get their cell. Call it, and they’ll likely answer it immediately.

That’s incredible good fortune for the journalist bearing a quick follow-up question. And it’s a good thing for their employers, too.

On a related note, I’ve never received additional material like photos faster than working with my own generation. The explosion of the Internet means we’re used to a certain immediacy of information; I think we’re geared to produce results quickly, too. And unlike some of the older crowd, millennials won’t have to dig a photo out of the filing cabinet and have a secretary fax it over. (This happened. It was the day I discovered the newsroom does, in fact, have a fax machine.)

Meaningful work

When I asked my sources to describe their ideal job experience, not one brought up salary or benefits. What did get discussed was a company’s culture, philosophy and opportunities for growth.

The millennial generation values fresh challenges and a meaningful work experience over a certain level of wage. We all need to pay the bills (and those bloated student loans), but millennials more than ever want to be engaged with the “Big Picture” at your business.

They want to learn and grow in the workplace. They want to help move your company forward.

As part of this process, I spoke with Brad Rusthoven, human resources manager at Franchino Mold & Engineering in Lansing, Mich. Starting at the company in 2010, he worked to build a pipeline of new, qualified workers to the company, and that included many younger hires in addition to mid-level employees. There have been some challenges linking different generations — “They all kind of work differently, and they’re all motivated differently,” he said — but Franchino is working to use the different perspectives to their advantage. New employees are paired with a more “seasoned” mentor, and the company recently started holding more team meetings to talk about how the company can improve.

“That’s the one thing. That millennial generation, they aren’t shy in giving their opinion on things, and we’re trying to take advantage of that to help us out,” he said.

That’s the important bit. Want to know what drives the younger generation? Ask them. They’ll tell you.

I encountered a huge amount of diversity through just a handful of interviews, but the common theme was an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for the future of the industry.

So talk to one of us.

You’ll get an opinion. And probably a cell number.

You might find exactly what you’re looking for.


Kerri Jansen is a Plastics News reporter, and put down her cell phone long enough to write this story.