One of the best parts of working for a trade association is getting a glimpse of the goals and challenges of not just one business, but hundreds. Over the past six months, as managing director of the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP), I have gotten a small glimpse of what life is like for hundreds of plastics processors.
During those six months, at plant tours, member exchanges, and at our recent Benchmarking and Best Practices Conference, I have heard one thing consistently: “Business is good, but … ”
Usually that “but” concerns the ability to attract and retain talent, particularly younger talent. Specifically, we hear about the challenges processors have in attracting the much-written about millennial generation to their workforces, as well as the challenges they face when trying to integrate workers from that generation into their team.
On a personal level, it is always interesting to hear these conversations given that I fall on the oldest end of that generation.
Our generation is different — but I would argue that every generation is different. While we are different than prior generations because we used the Internet during high school (or grade school, for those younger than me) and experienced 9/11 as either teenagers or very young adults, earlier generations had their own technological evolutions and world events that shaped them.
And, just as each generation has defining events and circumstances that shape them, each generation eventually grows to assume the responsibilities of adulthood — responsibilities like mortgages, children, and becoming leaders in their communities and their businesses.
I am a reminded of that every time I go to a Boy Scout meeting with my son, where most of the other dads are around my age. I was also reminded of that when I attended the recent Harbour Results Industry Leaders Forum in Chicago.
Conducted by the Harbour Results team, the Industry Leaders Forum is an ongoing series of sessions designed to help emerging leaders in the plastics industry (and other related industries) gain the ability to think strategically about their businesses, and to some extent, the challenges of the industry itself.
Most of the participants in the Industry Leaders Forum session I attended were around my age (33) or younger. They were all, for a variety of reasons, very impressive. And, like every other meeting of industry leaders, the discussion of how to attract and retain young talent came up.
However, the discussion had a different flavor with this group and was solution oriented. Several participants talked about the innovative things they were doing to provide skills training to applicants without a manufacturing background, including recent college graduates. And while no one said they had “the” solution to their company's workforce challenges, the discussion was very positive.
In addition to the perspective of hundreds of companies, the other thing you see as an association professional is the power of benchmarking and dialogue. At MAPP we are obviously big believers in that, and benchmarking and dialogue are critical in developing solutions for the plastics industry's workforce challenges. If you know a young leader in the industry reach out to them and ask them about their ideas for recruiting young talent.
The best companies are also continually developing their “bench” of talent by reaching out regularly to talent. This doesn't just apply to experienced employees. Create relationships with local high schools, colleges and universities. Young leaders already in your companies might be well suited for developing those relationships.
Eventually a new generation of leaders stops being new, and are just leaders. For the plastics industry to continue to have the success it has had, we need to identify and empower those leaders, both within companies and at the industry level.
Dustin McKissen is managing director of the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors.