It looks as if the U.S. manufacturing industry has a workforce problem. However, a new survey conducted by Leading2Lean reports there is an unlikely hope for a new generation of workers that will spur industry-wide innovation.

The 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index, an annual measurement of the American public’s perceptions of U.S. manufacturing, found adults in Generation Z (those aged 18-22) are 19% more likely to have had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a career choice when compared to the general population. One-third (32%) of Generation Z has had manufacturing suggested to them as a career option, as compared to only 18% of Millennials and 13% of the general population, according to an L2L news release.

The survey also found Generation Z is intrigued by careers in manufacturing. They are 7% more likely to think about working in the manufacturing industry and 12% less likely to view the manufacturing industry as being in decline, both compared against the general population. These findings may be in relation to Generation Z having a larger exposure to the industry compared to previous generations with one-third (32%) having family members or friends working in the manufacturing industry, compared to 19% for Millennials and 15% for the general population.

“For many years, manufacturing has struggled to introduce and entice new workers to the industry,” said Keith Barr, president and CEO of L2L of the news release, the lean manufacturing software company behind the survey. “The industry has failed to compete with technology for their interest. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor. With Gen Z just moving into the workforce, we need to encourage their participation in modern manufacturing. If we don’t, I’m afraid the industry will be hit with the negative effects of the Silver Tsunami.”

U.S. Manufacturing peaked in the 1970s when Baby Boomers started entering the workforce. These days, Boomers are retiring along with the vast institutional knowledge and experience of the indusstry. According to the latest government data, there are presently 522,000 open manufacturing jobs in the US (an all-time high)1, and a recent report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute (the National Association of Manufacturer’s social-impact arm) projects that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled during the next decade.2

Unfortunately, big misconceptions about the industry persist. For example, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index found more than half (53%) of the general population assumes the average salary of a mid-level manufacturing manager is under $60,000. Actually, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500, according to IndustryWeek.3

While Generation Z appears to have had greater overall exposure to manufacturing, misconceptions around the highly technical and modern nature of the industry remain. A majority (56%) of Generation Z would consider working in the tech industry, while only 27% would consider working in the manufacturing industry. Additionally, they are more likely to consider manufacturing jobs boring when compared to Millennials and the general population.

Leading2Lean though has reason to believe the industry is making positive moves toward a better-informed public. Last year’s 2018 Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index measured 70% of people believed the American manufacturing industry was declining. When the same question was asked in this year’s survey, only 54% believed the industry is in decline, showcasing a better understanding of the current state of the industry.

“With Gen Z we have an opportunity as an industry to build a new workforce, but it will be a challenge that the industry is going to have to take seriously in order to get their attention and participation,” Barrs aid in the release. “We know that the workforce crisis is a top concern with a majority of manufacturers.4 Instead of hoping new workers will appear, the industry needs to make changes that will attract the workforce. Gen Z is incredibly tech savvy. The industry needs to consider developing and deploying plant-floor technology that utilizes gamification and transparency to take advantage of Gen Z’s unique skills. The greatest opportunity for manufacturing is to have an engaged, empowered workforce that is constantly innovating.”

Education is key, and it is an area manufacturing continues to struggle. When surveyed about alternative types of education, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index found a  75% have never had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into attending trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career choice. The number was slightly lower with Generation Z (59%) and Millennials (67%), but still showcases an extreme disconnect in consideration of alternatives outside of traditional 4-year institutions.

When surveyed about the likeability and availability of work, 54% of Generation Z respondents agreed there is a shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S., and 43% agreed manufacturing jobs are an attractive option to younger workers and the next generation of workers. A majority (59%) of Generation Z also agreed trade schools offer promising career opportunities for high school students graduating in 2019.

Generation Z grew up in the midst of the Great Recession, watched its older peers accumulate student debt, then struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs right out of college. They are seeking higher paid jobs in a more transparent and open learning environment, and are increasingly open to alternative types of education and training. 5

Barr believes manufacturing jobs can meet their needs and provide the diverse and rewarding work experience they crave, the release added.

To learn more about the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index, view more survey results, and download data visualizations, please visit

Survey Methodology

The 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index findings are sourced from two online omnibus surveys conducted by Engine in May of 2019 and initiated by Leading2Lean (L2L). The first survey was conducted May 6-8, 2019 and distributed to a sample of 1,003 adults demographically representative of the U.S. at a 95% confidence level. The second survey was conducted May 9-13, 2019 and distributed to a sample of 225 respondents aged 18-22 at a 95% confidence level. A total of 303 respondents were aged 18-22 from the two surveys, providing a 6% margin of error for the total Generation Z (18-22) audience. Leading2Lean has defined “Generation Z” as those born between 1997 and 2012 as defined by Pew Research Center.6

Source: Leading2Lean