As Baby Boomers retire, the Millennial generation is crucial to the engineering workforce.
Individuals born between 1946 and 1965 comprise 50% of today’s workforce, but the exit door is spinning with the departure of Baby Boomers’ knowledge and experience.
“The staggering number here is that statistics show that (Boomers) are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day,” said Jeremy Kearney, an organizer, moderator, and speaker for SAE 2014 Convergence’s session on “Millennials: The New Generation of Employees.”
Generation X, persons born between 1966 and 1980, represent 15% of today’s workforce.
“As Boomers are retiring, there’s just not enough Gen Xers to fill the gap that’s happening right now,” said Kearney, a General Motors design release engineer and a Millennial.
Millennials (also known as Gen Y) are persons born between 1980 and 1995. They account for 35% of today’s job holders. By 2020, the Gen Y group is likely to comprise 75% of the workforce.
A lot is expected from Gen Y individuals. They need to have engineering knowledge and work experience to assume leadership roles at companies. But that’s a tall task. Many automotive industry watchers claim it takes 10 to 15 years to gain the skills needed for a leadership role.
Like many of her Gen Y counterparts, Alisyn Malek multitasks. She is a founding member of Corktown Studios, a Detroit art gallery. She recently began working as an Investment Manager for General Motors Ventures LLC, following a stint as an engineering business manager for GM’s electrification group.
From Malek’s perspective, workforce experience needs to be fast-tracked.
“We need to figure out how to compress the time it takes to get competence. [We need to] make sure that we have the information available to supply the skills and the insights necessary because we just don’t have 15 years to build up that workforce,” said Malek, a co-organizer and speaker on Convergence’s Millennial panel.
Millennials panelist Dave Whitman, who works in General Motors’ purchasing department, said the rapid pace of innovation is skewing the jobs landscape.
“There are sections of our workforce picking up college degrees that weren’t even in existence five years ago,” Whitman said, adding, “There are technology advances happening at such a rapid pace that nobody in the field has 10-15 years of experience.”
The reality is that professional-grade competence requires much more than textbook knowledge. “I know how to play baseball, but I’m not going to be playing for the Detroit Tigers,” Whitman said.
Sara Schmitz, Corporate Recruiter for Hella’s U.S. facilities, said the supplier of lighting and electronics products is planning for the eventual retirement of experienced engineers. That plan includes putting student engineers into co-op jobs and internships that include ample time with veteran Hella trainers/mentors. “This is all being done to ramp up the bench strength, so when we have retirements at Hella we won’t lose all that knowledge,” Schmitz said in an interview with SAE Magazines.
Twenty-two college students, the majority pursuing an engineering degree, participated in paid Hella internships in the spring/summer of 2014. “That was an all-time high for Hella in the U.S. It really is important that we reach this (college) audience,” said Schmitz.
Karissa King, a recruiter for Experis Engineering (a Manpower Group), said Gen Y engineers are in-demand. “The young engineers are very self-motivated, and they’re tech-savvy,” King said in an interview with SAE Magazines.
For young engineers with a resume that includes an internship, Formula SAE or other hands-on project participation, and one to two years of engineering work experience, the job picture is vibrant. “That’s the point when they’re starting to look (for other opportunities). They’re being actively recruited by recruiters, so they understand they’re desirable in the marketplace” King said.
Marc Issner, with Chrysler Group’s Interior Project responsible for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, knows firsthand how social media can open doors. “A lot of us have profiles on LinkedIn, and you’re getting targeted by companies that are looking for talent,” said Issner, a Millennials panelist.
New opportunities can be very tempting, whether or not the pursued technical specialist is looking to switch jobs. Said Issner, “I think that pulls people and make you really think, ‘Am I really happy right now? Is this a better opportunity?.'”