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Modernizing Manufacturing to Attract Millennials with Jake Hall, the Manufacturing Millennial
Episode 3826th July 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:31:20

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to our guest today, Jake Hall. Jake is the manufacturing millennial. He talks about the latest technology in the automation and manufacturing industry while being a business development manager at Feyen Zylstra, an electrical contractor system integrated company.

I found Jake because he also posts cool manufacturing videos on LinkedIn, so make sure to check him out. Jake, welcome to the show.

Jake Hall: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Lisa Ryan: Well, you are the manufacturing millennial, and I know that that's one of the things that the listeners to this podcast have issues with: how do you find the younger generations? How do you create that type of passion that you bring every day to manufacturing? So please share a bit about your background and what got you to where you're doing now.

Jake Hall: The Labor force and manufacturing is absolutely the hot topic, so for me, as a millennial and a younger person, manufacturing goes back to after graduating from college. I had the opportunity to go into automation distribution. So entering that field brought many options quickly where I'm not working at one specific company. I'm traveling around visiting machine builders, manufacturers and end-users, and all different industries. I had a unique experience seeing the diversity that manufacturing offers. It's exciting as my career developed, I started attending more professional conferences. I attend these conferences, and I'm walking around and say, man, people my age are underrepresented in the manufacturing industry. I never really looked at the statistics until one day after a conference. I said, man, I'm one of like two millennials in this room. What are the odds of that? I looked it up and said, holy cow, millennials and Gen Z are entirely underrepresented in manufacturing.

I said, what can I do to create more conversation and awareness around what can manufacturers working companies and automation and distribution and the warehouse in the street do better to attract the future workforce, which in this case is the millennials and then the generation behind me, the Gen Z's. So I think that goes back to the fact that I need to share the diversity that manufacturing offers and dispel the myths around manufacturing that it's this dark, dirty, dangerous environment with no opportunity for growth. So that's kind of how the thing kicked off.

Lisa Ryan: I speak at a lot of conferences, and you are right. People aren't sure. Do millennials not enjoy conferences? Do they don't get it? They don't like to be in person. What are some of the things that you're hearing? Going back to what made you go to those conferences and get involved in your industry, trade associations because, again, that's the conversation that we need to start having.

Jake Hall: I think, for a long time it was when you go to these conferences, it was always this idea of right in the upper management, kind of the old boys club, in a sense, right you go there, everyone knows each other, you go there your network. The handshakes are there, but I think what he's starting to realize is to say, hey, we need to inspire the next generation to get involved directly. They need to begin networking. They need to be getting tied into the Industry more in-depth. I think that's what a lot of companies have failed to do in the past was see that there's so much value in payback when you can not only attract the young workforce but retain the existing young workforce that's there. And when you can show the potential that the industry has to offer at a much larger scale when you visit these conferences or trade shows or events. That's where you can say, hey, we're investing in you, and we want you to see the value that this Industry can offer us, 

professional growth.

Lisa Ryan: And when it comes to these associations, are there things that they do better than others, as far as to be attractive to a millennial? Is it shorter programs? Is it more interesting speakers? Is it Industry related? Is it soft skills? Is it networking topics? What were some of the things that light you up that you think that an association professional can use to change their conferences up?

Jake Hall: I think a few things, and there's no one fix all of us. I believe there are multiple things. I think a couple of them is that when you look at millennials, we're not necessarily working just for a paycheck. A lot of the younger generation also looks for purpose within their position. Purpose within their job and if they can impact or contribute to something higher than just what their task is. Doing from an eight to five job, they see more value in it. When you're looking at conferences organizations, what can you do to show that this is impactful to your current job or the industry as a whole?

When you're looking at the event, if it's just something that's where you need to go, they're going to talk about stuff, but you're not going to walk away with anything you can use to either impact your business or business Industry. What value is that bringing that younger generation, and I think the other big thing is how your event is being planned out. Younger generations like to have fun. They like to socialize. We're on up. We're in a social media frenzy within the communication. Are you leveraging what people enjoy doing as part of the event? It's not so much that it's this newer generation has a shorter attention span. It's just that we process and look at information differently because we have so much information at our fingertips. Where before, you go to a conference and you were listening to an industry expert. That's where you learned.

Nowadays, I can go on YouTube and listen to that same expert on YouTube at my convenience or hop on a podcast and listen to that speaker whenever I want. What value are you contributing? Past just what education can learn, I think a lot of that has to do with networking, so how much networking is leveraged out events. It is more important than they come and listen to this 90-minute speech on topic X, Y Z to learn from a systems expert. That is not necessarily the same and more because of the power of Information available at our fingertips. That's how we get information these days. We get information from Wikipedia and other sources that didn't exist 15-20 years ago.

Lisa Ryan: Right, which also from a speaking standpoint, you can be fact-checked like right there.

Jake Hall: Oh, I'll have that I've done speakers either they throw out a statistic I'm like no way, and I'll Google right there, and I'm like okay so he's either making that one up, or he's wrong, or other sources are wrong. It's just one of those things where information is now literally in the palm of our hand that we would typically be consuming at a conference.

Lisa Ryan: Well, the other thing that I like about speaking at manufacturing conferences is that it feels like a family. These people have known each other forever. They know each other's families and compete against each other, but they still provide resources and sometimes a new person coming in, where you're not quite part of that family yet. So you might feel like an outsider. Unless that association planning committee does something to bring people like you, bringing the newer members into the fold, you get that same level of connectedness.

Jake Hall: Absolutely. That's that power that networking can leverage. I think some of my favorite conferences I've been to are the ones where you can bring your spouse in as well. So your spouse can be a part of the spouses' group, and they can go off and do their things, then everyone gets together that night because it is about relationships, it is about feeling connected.

And having those connections at the end of the day, it's not what, it's who. It's the Industry that contributes to growth and opportunity. So I think organizations that can leverage that - not only the business side but also the personal and relationship aspect, tend to have the most success.

Lisa Ryan: You think about the association member's content, but those spouses are getting together, and they're building relationships. It makes it extra hard for you not to go to that association if your spouse is like, "Oh no, I need to see my friends this year. We're going."

Jake Hall: That's when the successes happen - when they do events at these nice resorts or conferences. I know my wife's excited when I say, "Hey, let's go to Florida for four days." I think we can go there for four days, and especially in the middle of December or January when it's snowing here in Michigan. I think companies and conferences that can leverage beyond just having all these keynote speakers. They need to go beyond that because I like the conference, but my favorite part is simply the networking. To see people face to face, have those handshakes, and have those introductions right because you're conversing with a person. Everyone's having a beer. You're sitting around a table, and someone walks up to say, "Oh hey Jake, I want to introduce you to such and such. They do this. You never have that opportunity anywhere else. That's where I think the biggest value comes from in conferences.

Going back to the whole millennial thing, if you were to go out there and say, "Hey, this is my new person working within the company, or you introduce them and say, "Hey, go talk to this person and listen to their story. As younger people, they see the value. They feel like they're being invested outside of, "Hey, we just want you to do this job the whole time."

Lisa Ryan: Let's take it away from the association conferences and go into the manufacturing plants. We don't have enough skilled Labor force. So parents have not been having that conversation about going into manufacturing or going into the trades as a viable career.

What do you see from the companies that you've worked with? What are they doing to engage, attract, and, most importantly, keep the people they have?

Jake Hall: I love your comment, Lisa. Let's backtrack a bit. For so long, the educational system, the parents, the guidance counselors, the teachers, and organizations said, "Hey, your next step in your career after you graduate high school is to get a four-year degree from somewhere. Then, that was necessary. It was then. There was value in getting a four-year education degree. It did advance your career to a point.

 I think we're past that now. I believe we are to the point where that was saturated. The educational system has focused too much on the need for a four-year degree to be successful. This isn't the case anymore. I think companies as a whole have begun to recognize it. Going back to this comment of investing in your current employees is just as valuable as finding new ones. To fit what your demand is, I think that goes back to the idea of having more conversations around employee retention rather than new employee attraction.

If I can take my existing worker, who's been working here for a long time, and enjoy working there, or they see some value in it, invest in them. Nowadays, there are so many programs where I can send my workers to get robot training, or vision training, or automation training. They can take a CNC program and create their common manually assembled tasks and invest in them. Companies are automating to fit that demand they need, and companies are automating to be more profit-centric. Companies are automating because either they can't get enough reliable workers consistently. Maybe they have machines and experience.

I'm working with companies that can't run all the machines they have on the floor because they don't have the operators to run them. So you have all these companies that have just ginormous backflow and orders that are going out 6-12 months - this is in aerospace. These are basic consumer products that normally should have a couple of week lead times out months. That's just because they can't get Labor in there.

When you talk about companies, I think, "How is your company leveraging retention within the company? How are you creating purpose and drive within that company with your younger workers? If that young worker doesn't feel connected to your company as soon as another company offers him $1 more, he's going to leave. He feels that in the company's eyes, that's all he's viewed as from a company perspective. He's an eight to five task Labor person.

But as soon as you go and say, "Hey, we're going to put you through an educational program. We're going to invest in you. We want to give you extra tasks so you can gain experience, not to overwork them, but to say, "This is going to add value to your career. The other person is saying, "Well, I'm getting invested in, and they're more likely to stay. Companies are taking multiple approaches. You hear stories about manufacturing places that when you work 40 hours a week, you can put your name in a drawing and win a yeti cooler from the bass pro shop.

There are other companies out there who are sending in semi-trailers of medical staff. At the end of each month, if you work 40 hours each week for that month, they offer free medical. Manufacturers are doing crazy things right now to compete against the other industries.

There's a significant Labor demand right now between manufacturers and distributors. Just this week, which will be the first week of June, if people are listening to this podcast, later on, Amazon announced that they are no longer doing marijuana and drug testing as part of their hiring process. So that's an extensive conversation right now, especially within the manufacturing industry where there's a risk if a person is operating heavy industrial equipment or running a high-lo. So there's a risk within the manufacturers. How do you attract people when a person can go over to Amazon now and not have to worry about getting screening or getting testing for stuff? Whereas with the manufacturer, you have that insurance risk.


Manufacturers are not just battling the idea of overseas competition or the other manufacturing facility down the street or across the state. It's now all of these new industries that are popping and attracting that common Labor force. That's not moving to the distribution warehouse, and that's not going to go anyway time soon. By 2030, there will be 22,000 new warehouses built in the US - strictly for warehouse and distribution. Those facilities are going to have to be run by someone. It's a difficult task. When you look at attracting and retaining the workforce, we can do a couple of things.

The whole idea of my role as a business development manager for Feyen Zylstra is working with companies to help modernize their existing manufacturing processes. I help them make their processes more robust, more efficient, add more ROI, and integrate Industry 4.0 solutions. The idea of data and traceability with other machines is perceived as the industry leader and an innovative company. If a person walks into that facility and sees these manufacturing processes that are 20-30 years old and extremely manual intensive, she's going to move somewhere else. You need to come into manufacturing companies with automation.

To be more efficient have to take processes and make your manufacturing company more attractive to the future workforce because we are tech-savvy people. We love the idea of digital data. We love the idea of interacting on our phones. If I can go on my phone or an iPad and get my work instructions. Or if I can do a machine setup or changeover through digital tools or through virtual reality goggles or something like that versus just on a piece of paper or on an attack board where my job's down, rather than through an earpiece system or something like that. It's just what other companies are doing. We're in the world of the app and the dot without The app industry and all these new technologies mean that the manufacturing industry needs to adapt quickly to new technologies or simply be left behind.

We're going to continue to battle the Labor demand seriously. We already are - even pre-pandemic - but current and post-pandemic. That's the biggest thing manufacturers are facing right now.

Lisa Ryan: There are so many topics that you just brought up. First of all with training. It's one thing to introduce people to the cool things out there - all of the robotics and 3D printing – and looking at employees holistically. Why not send them for financial training? Is there a way to send them to presentation skills training? Looking at the employees holistically is critical because, as I say in my programs, "Nobody ever quit because of too much training."

It's the money that you're investing in those people that keeps them there.

But then, when we talked about the whole marijuana thing going on, of course, you don't want your workers to come to work stoned. If a company like Amazon, who's paying a great hourly wage and not drug testing, that just takes a whole bunch of other people. How many people have you and I both talked to and found that they can't find workers because nobody can pass a drug test?

We look at these policies that we've had been in business for 40 years, and we have to start looking at our businesses differently. So every single area of that and marijuana falls right in there, which continues to be an interesting conversation.

The automation. What you said about not having the workers to do the job. Instead of a couple of week delay, now you have several month delays. What can we do to look at our business differently? I think you made some stellar points of giving people ideas to do that.

Jake Hall: Absolutely. You mentioned the holistic view. The one thing that stood out to me is that you can schedule an appointment with a financial advisor to give financial advice. I would have never thought about that, and I've been in the Industry for maybe ten years now. You scheduled an appointment for your employee to sit with a financial advisor go through the whole plan. Talk about value add. When you feel invested, and it makes sense.

As soon as the person stops worrying about financial stuff, they can worry about their job. They can focus more on their job, creating less stress within a person's life. They feel a lot less struggle when they're at work. It's amazing to see how companies invest in value-added propositions beyond just the eight to five paycheck. That did work for a long time, but times are changing. You look at the Industry; look at the Googles and the Amazons of the world - where I can go to Google and get my sushi. I'm not saying that's going to be the key success - for manufacturers is to open up a sushi bar at your work - it's that approach you're looking at.

You've got to realize that the Industry is you're competing against now. It's how millennials will be, and Gen Z's are high demand Labor force for future manufacturing. You need to realize that the Labor force is never




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