Over the past two decades, the nature of hourly work in the United States has changed dramatically — with blue collar jobs making up a smaller percentage of hourly jobs and technological advancement that has yielded significant growth in productivity.
The result: A drastic decline in the demand for blue-collar workers, and a simultaneous “graying” of that workforce. As industries like construction, transportation and warehousing continue to add jobs and grow, being able to attract, train and retain Millennials will be critical to the health of those industries.
Unfortunately for the current leaders in these industries, Millennials — the very workers who in the years to come will be needed to replace outgoing blue-collar retirees — have shown little interest in blue-collar work.
For example, there is a declining percentage of 25- to 34-year-old workers in construction (6.9 percent in 2015, down from 7.9 percent in 2000). According to a 2013 Georgetown University study, 35% of 18- to 24-year-olds worked in a blue-collar job in 1980. By 2010, that share had dropped to 19 percent as the population of people that age in the United States grew.
Why is this happening? In addition to lower demand in some sectors, like manufacturing, blue-collar work has acquired a stigma that drives away Millennials, including stagnant or low wages, a lower quality of life in these careers and more. Millennials who are choosing hourly jobs are often seeking out those that do not necessarily require continuing education or apprenticeship-like training, such as jobs in sales.
How can managers in these blue-collar fields ensure they’re sending positive messages to potential Millennial employees?
Millennials grew up with specific, unique traits that seem to be remarkably inclusive and cut across demographic categories like race, gender and social class. These include being raised to feel special and central to their parents’ lives, feeling protected, believing they can do anything, being team-oriented, and feeling pressured to succeed and achieve.
For hiring managers, this means there are specific, actionable strategies they can use to attract and retain Millennials in their industry. They include:
- Making Millennials feel like an important part of the team right away by helping them understand how their roles and responsibilities have a positive effect on those around them.
- Providing counseling and support on life basics such as preparing taxes and saving for retirement, in addition to giving training on “soft skills” so they behave properly in the workplace.
- Cultivating an upbeat environment and plenty of positive (and frequent) reinforcement that they’re on the right track toward achieving their goals.
- Equipping Millennials with ways to obtain additional training to advance in their careers.
- Emphasizing teamwork over individual competition in the workplace.
- Defining and putting context around how the job they are doing makes a positive difference in the world around them.
In addition, hiring managers must make dedicated efforts in the hiring process to highlight the long-term career potential and growth in these fields. Counter negative assumptions and stereotypes with success stories and early, positive associations. For example, RV manufacturer Thor Industries offers tours to eighth graders and their parents, and also has a presence in schools that lets both audiences know about the well-paid, stable work environment the company provides. The marketing campaign Go Build Alabama, that highlighted above-average earning potential for skilled laborers and emphasized construction as an accessible field to people without college degrees, helped boost applications to apprenticeship programs in the state by 73 percent. Other states have started replicating the program.
Hiring managers should also promote teamwork and leverage Millennials’ team-oriented attitudes. This means recruiting friend groups and creating immersive, multi-day orientation programs that allow time for new hires to bond with their new co-workers. Allow connections during the workday through social media, text messaging and more without assuming these tools are hurting productivity — they can be incorporated into the ways Millennials are used to working.
On an individual level, Millennials appreciate having clear goals and frequent feedback as they work toward those goals. Millennials want tight cycles of feedback (not just a one-per-year performance review) because they have an innate desire to succeed and please those above them.
Managers and executives should also leave the door open for new hires to contribute their ideas. In industries where there may not be much room for this type of input, make it clear how the work Millennials are doing is integral to the team’s mission. Don’t be shy about expressing appreciation for both their work and their ideas. In addition, emphasize how the work their doing helps the larger world or offer volunteer opportunities to increase professional engagement and fulfillment.
While hiring managers of hourly workers in blue-collar industries say the jobs they offer can offer a steppingstone to a fruitful career, it is up to those same hiring managers to convince young job-seekers of this. That requires a new approach to hiring and coaching Millennials.