The U.S. maintenance industry is in a state of flux. Many employers and maintenance teams are grappling with a challenge not witnessed in many years: a serious skilled labor shortage. As a result, employees are in the driving seat.
More than ever, new maintenance technicians are being sought in the younger segments of the population, i.e. those people that identify as Millennials and Gen Z.
This article shows, however, these are not generations easily matched with the maintenance field. Insight into what makes these generations tick is as important as context. This article provides five key ways to attract Millennial and Gen Z candidates into the maintenance industry.
State of the maintenance industry in the U.S.
The maintenance industry continues to be affected by the ongoing lack of skilled labor in the United States. Statistics released on September 8, 2021, by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that by the last business day of July 2021, the number of job openings had increased to 10.9 million, which is the highest recorded number by the Bureau. The rate of job openings for the period, 6.9 percent, was also an all-time high.
According to the Bureau, there were 1,444,100 American workers designated as “General Maintenance and Repair Workers” in 2020, with a projected 117,000 news jobs to be generated by the industry between 2020 and 2030. The industry is set to grow by 8% during this decade, well above the national average across all professions.
With those statistics in mind, it’s clear that the skills shortage is set to be a critical challenge for the maintenance industry for some time to come.
Millennials and Gen Z
Taken seriously by marketers, social anthropologists, and business analysts alike, the ‘generation game,’ for all its generalizations, is an integral aspect of the labor market. The generational attributes are worth noting within the maintenance industry are as follows.
Millennials (also Gen Y, Gen Me, Gen We, or Echo Boomers) were born between 1981 and 1996 and number approximately 72.1 million in the U.S. as of 2021. They were the highest-spending generation in 2020, adding $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy.
Gen Z (also known as Gen Tech, post-Millennials, iGeneration, Gen Y-Fi, and Zoomers) comprises those people born between 1997 and 2012. There are currently nearly 68 million Gen Z’ers in the U.S. This generation is projected to attain $33 trillion in income by 2030 (i.e. more than a quarter of all global income by then) and will surpass Millennials in spending power in 2031.
There are key characteristics, values, and habits that define both the Millennial and Gen Z generations as potential employees. A 2021 Gallup poll, which followed up from an identical 2018 poll, is highly insightful: the three most important things in the workplace (in the exact same order) for both generations of employees are:
- The organization cares about employees’ well-being.
- The organization’s leadership is ethical.
- The organization is diverse and inclusive of all people.
This differs substantially to Gen X (those born from 1965 to 1979) and Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) respondents in the Gallup poll, both groups value leadership being ethical first, followed by caring for employees’ wellbeing, and then the financial stability of the employer. A caring work environment that is diverse and inclusive does not sound like many current maintenance departments.
Something worth noting: maintenance has a somewhat stodgy reputation. However, Millennials and Gen Z may not be aware of just how diverse and exciting the maintenance field is. It is also a better-paying entry level job than many others, with a median average pay of $19 per hour for maintenance technicians, rising to $28 or more for key sectors.
Also, many entry-level maintenance jobs don’t require lengthy, multi-year educational commitments – that is excellent news for Millennials that are saddled with hugely crippling amounts of student debt. Zoomers will appreciate that too, no doubt.
5 Ways to attract Millennials and Gen Z into maintenance
Here is a checklist of 5 specific ways in which the youngest working generations can be wooed into the maintenance field:
- Think Tech: both generations are hyper-wired, incredibly tech-savvy, especially Gen Z. That is why job outreach, including job listings, need to venture heavily into social media and tech solutions. For example, video interviews should be considered – yes, even for maintenance technicians.
- Think Incentives: These generations are far more demanding than former generations regarding what attracts them to a job, from the physical working environment to non-traditional benefits, such as remote work and flexible schedules. The COVID-19 era and the skills shortage only increase these demands.
- Think Empathy: Remember the aforementioned Gallup poll – both generations want employers that look after their employees. Empathy (read: non-judgmental communication) in everything from how they are trained to how non-compliance and company rules are handled is required. Maintenance managers, busy as they are, need to be well aware of this.
- Think Justice: Millennials and Zoomers approach issues from a stance of fairness and inclusiveness – they demand it and society has evolved that way. Social justice is core to Millennials’ identities and Gen Z accepts issues such as gender fluidity with ease. A prospective job needs to convey those values from the top-down, even from maintenance directors.
- Think Work-Life Balance: Prospective younger employees want to know in advance that their employer will respect their need for a healthy, balanced life beyond the workplace. Once again, the impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing skills shortage will only make their demands in this regard more resolute. This is one element Millennials and Gen Z share with Gen X, by the way.
It’s clear that there is a need for organizational agility to attract new, younger talent to the maintenance field. Adaptivity and flexibility will be key. The good news: knowing how to attract Millennials and Zoomers means you are well-placed to deal with the next challenge: Generation Alpha. Those born between 2010 and 2025 will enter the workforce more educated, more technologically savvy, and probably more demanding than any generation that precedes it.
Critical labor shortages and the paradigm shift in the nature of work through COVID-19 means prospective employees are the ones calling the shots, not employers.
This ‘new normal’ is true even of an industry as inherently dogmatic and conservative in management mindset as maintenance. The need now is for pragmatism, flexibility, and open-mindedness regarding how new, younger maintenance technicians are hired and onboarded.
About the Author
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.