Engineer in a classroom

Educating and Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers

Jan. 20, 2022
Here are the top 10 ways manufacturers are adapting training processes, marketing, communications, and recruitment/retention strategies to appeal to Millennials.

Today more than a third of the American workforce (35%) consists of Millennials, people born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are the most  numerous generation currently in the workforce. As Baby Boomers retire at record rates, Millennials are stepping in to fill their shoes. It is estimated that by 2025 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials.

Similar statistics characterize indicate the engineering workforce is now dominated by Millennials now dominate the workforce. This demographic shift is forcing manufacturers to rethink their approach to just about everything when it comes to interacting with the new generation of engineers—from how they market to them to how they communicate with them, train them, and recruit and retain them.

Why? Because, as numerous studies have documented, Millennials represent a different type of demographic. They process information differently. They are motivated differently. They approach problems differently. And even the sources they search and trust for product and design information are different.

For example, Millennials are more likely to engage on social media and trust online ratings and referrals. They get the news from digital sources rather than traditional print trade publications. And they rely on smartphones for just about everything.

As a result, the old ways of educating and inspiring the generation of recently minted engineers simply don’t work anymore. Whether your job is selling products or services to these younger engineers or recruiting and training them, you need to be aware of their preferences and hot buttons to succeed.

Here are the top 10 ways savvy manufacturers are responding to these changing demographics.

1. Increasing the use of technology.

Millennials have lived through massive shifts in technology, so it’s natural that they embrace technology more so than prior generations. They are not looking as much for tried-and-true solutions but are focused on advanced technologies designed to make their jobs easier and more gratifying. This generation expects every interaction to mirror an Amazon-like experience in which desired information is easily accessible at the touch of a button.

2. Creating more digital content and tools.

Gone are the heavy, cumbersome binders that contained pages and pages of product specs and instructions. Even scanned PDFs have become archaic. In their place are eConfigurators, the interactive programs that let online users customize products based on certain available configuration options and characteristics such as size, performance stats, standards, maintenance requirements and various features.

Ecommerce product configuration visualizes a desired product according to customers’ real-time customizations to give them accurate images of end products. The result of the configuration process is a specific part number and a description that fits the specified criteria.

A key advantage of eConfigurators is that they give design and specifying engineers access to information they need and answers to many of their questions without having to speak with anyone.

3. Leveraging the power of simulation.

Physical, real-world testing and prototyping have long been the backbone of R&D. However, with modern CAE, simulations are now an effective and reliable way to fast-track product innovation, offering shorter design cycles and reduced costs.

The focus of new CAE software packages is on virtual prototyping. In addition to lower costs and shorter times to market, virtual prototyping can lead to higher-quality designs because it lets engineering teams often catch mistakes before they make it to final production.

Simulation coupled with tools like Design Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (DFMEA) help identify potential failures early in the design process and open the door to exploring alternatives that may be lighter in weight, more reliable, safer and/or more environmentally friendly.

Through CAE-enabled virtual prototyping, engineers can create analytical models of their designs. These models let products be tested in virtual environments without the time and cost associated with making physical prototypes. Types of tests that can be easily accomplished virtually include:

  • Linear/non-linear static stress simulations that evaluate the strength of components based on how they will be loaded and constrained during operation.
  • Thermal analysis and CFD simulations that gauge heat distribution through a model and determine fluid flow in and around objects.
  • Modal/vibration simulations that examine what happens to parts and how they perform when they experience vibrations.
  • Fatigue simulation that identifies the maximum stress, strain and deformations components will experience in use.

4. Having immediate 24/7 access to information.

To be valuable, digital content must be easily accessible. it is critical that information be made available ‘round the clock so it can be accessed when needed without delay, especially when more engineers are working remotely and keeping non-traditional work schedules.

5. Conducting fewer in-person presentations and communications.

Millennials aren’t as interested in sitting through in-person sales presentations or talking one-on-one with technical experts. Instead, they typically seek out information online and at their own pace without needing to speak with a live person until they are ready to take the next step in the purchasing process. As a result, more companies offer an array of podcasts and webinars designed to educate and persuade.

The COVID pandemic has magnified this trend, keeping many would-be customers at home or in their offices away from crowded tradeshows or in-person meetings. It is a trend likely to last long after the pandemic subsides.

Major companies, such as Parker, are also creating customized online interactive training modules of prerecorded video sessions that engage engineers at their specific level of experience.

6. Offering opportunities for more hands-on learning experiences.

Unlike Baby Boomers who frequently got their hands dirty working on cars and other motors and engines in their free time, many Millennial engineers entering the workforce lack similar hands-on experiences. So, it’s important to get these future leaders away from their computers and into the labs and plants to see firsthand how various designs perform and learn how to identify and correct problems.

7. Creating simpler designs.

There has been a push in recent years to reduce the complexity of product designs and systems. Companies are using value engineering to improve cost structures, minimize material usage and create products that are easier (and less expensive) to manufacture, operate and maintain. This goal is especially relevant for a younger workforce that may lack the experience and product knowledge required to properly use and maintain more complex products.

At Parker Hannifin, for example, management launched a program, Simple by Design, that continually reviews product designs looking for ways to improve them. The program recognizes that 70% of most product costs stem from early design decisions made about materials, sourcing, part geometry and functionality. It then uses new business processes and tools to reduce product complexity, in addition to increasing efficiency to lower costs and give end-users more added value.

One example of a modern optimization and simulation process is Generative Design. This artificial intelligence software package analyzes 3D models, along with user-specified constraints, to simulate several design iterations. Typically, the designs use fewer raw materials, have less mass, and lower machining cycle times and tooling costs. As engineers evaluate simulated designs, the software “learns” what works and what doesn’t for every successive simulation. Although this tool is used at Parker for optimization, it also helps entry-level engineers who lack extensive design knowledge turn out better designs.

8. Facilitating a better work/life balance.

The COVID pandemic forced a cataclysmic shift in the way workers, including engineers, view work and its effect on their families and personal lives. A challenge, however, is that working from the home and office sets up obstacles to effectively collaborate, brainstorm and innovate—all key engineering functions. By leveraging advanced online technologies, manufacturers can foster collaboration without forcing engineers to spend days on the road away from their families.

9. Creating more opportunities for advancement and recognition.

Research has shown that Millennials want more reinforcement and kudos than their predecessors and expect to be provided with more opportunities to take on leadership roles.To recruit and retain top engineering talent, employers need to communicate clear career paths.

Parker, for example, offers several professional development programs that let recent grads expand their education and apply existing knowledge. As part of the program, graduates are given rotational assignments at various company facilities to expose them to an array of company operations and products. The goal of the program is to not simply to train grads for a job, but to prepare them for what they will see as a meaningful and rewarding career.

10. Investing in user-friendly websites.

Leading manufacturers are investing millions of dollars to upgrade their websites to meet the demands and preferences of the next generation of engineers. These companies are improving search functions due to younger users having little tolerance for websites that are not easy to search or responsive to their needs. This younger generation is also more likely to rely on online referrals, so manufacturers are diligent in creating positive online experiences to get those coveted digital thumbs up.

Without a doubt, the new generation of engineers is like no other the industry has seen before. But by recognizing what makes them different and catering to those differences, manufacturers can successfully recruit them and make the best of what they have to offer.

Andrew Morgan is an R&D technology team leader at Parker Hannifin Corp. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (440) 516-3210.

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