Shop Talk

Creating a Company Culture That Retains Younger Generations

“A lot of manufacturers aren’t ready for workforce innovations. I think it’s great that Rust Belt is pushing that and changing the way that talent acquisition should be working to keep innovating and providing value.” -RBR Client

Millennials and their counterparts, Generation Z, make up a combined 45.6% of the U.S. workforce, as of 2020. Their workplace preferences are very unique from previous generations and they are bringing new standards to the manufacturing industry. Company culture initiatives should be the priority of every manufacturing company that wants to retain and attract younger generations.

Quick Overview: Millennials and Generation Z

Millennials and Gen Zers are the future of the manufacturing workforce. These rising generations expect fulfillment from their careers and the manufacturing sector must evolve to appeal to this new workforce. They should be understood at a generational level to help leadership and management tailor company culture to their workplace preferences. Company leaders must not only understand what they seek in a career to improve recruitment strategies but also focus on building a company culture that keeps them around, especially Gen Z, as they continue to take on a greater share of the workforce.

These generations look for:

  • Purpose in their role
  • Connection and collaboration
  • Skill development
  • Authentic mentorship
  • Technology adoption
  • Flexibility and work/life balance
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Why This Matters

Although change is hard to administer in any organization, these adaptations to the future are crucial for the manufacturing industry, which has historically struggled to fill positions with quality candidates. Recruitment is the first step in changing your approach to attracting these generations. Check out How To Overcome Multigenerational Workforce Challenges: Redefining Recruitment For Success for ways to improve your recruitment strategy. However, if your company culture doesn’t reinforce the recruitment strategy, employees will move on to a different company. Millennials specifically have been coined “job hoppers”

Ways To Foster An Attractive Company Culture

Company culture is so much more than offering perks and hosting employer-sponsored events. It goes deeper at a level that feeds an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and builds connections each and every day at a micro level. Leadership and management should be focused on five main areas coined the Human Deal Framework: purpose, connection, personal growth, flexibility, and holistic well-being. 

Before implementing any new culture initiatives, administer a company wide survey that identifies where your organization lies today in this area. Gauging what areas should be focused on prior to executing initiatives will help give you focused direction. After a period of initiatives has been implemented, administer a follow-up survey to gauge the progress you’re making and how employees are receiving it.

Foster Purpose and Connection

While many people still view a job as a paycheck, younger generations care deeply about the purpose behind their work – they’re a person, not just an employee. According to a Gartner study, 82% of employees see this as important, but only 45% of employees felt that their organization sees them in this way.

Leaning into the same idea of finding purpose in their work, younger generations want to know how their work is connected to other employees, especially in the sense of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). DEI helps employees feel seen and heard in the workplace.


  • Train management to understand DEI (have a dedicated team member focused on this)
  • Share company-wide newsletters that highlight employees and initiatives 
  • Allow for collaborative projects, no matter how small
  • Host company-sponsored events that bring employees together such as volunteer days 

Offer Skill Development

Skill development is a part of every job, no matter the industry. Younger generations want to feel growth as they progress through their careers, so a company must find ways to satisfy them. This can be small advancements, not just promotions or increased pay. 

It also doesn’t have to be directly related to their role but could be a skill that helps them move to a different team, or in some cases a different company. Leadership should recognize that supporting an employee’s career extends beyond your organization.


  • Find ways to offer skill development at the micro level for every team in the company
  • Offer training courses or allow for shadowing of other roles. 
    • Start by identifying a team of leaders in the organization that have skills or ample experience that would be excited to host shadowing or even organize an optional training for employees.
  • Allocate a department budget for skill development that leaders can use towards courses and training. Even a little budget will go a long way!
  • Prioritize company benefits to have skill development as an offering, even if not directly role-related

Train Management to Understand Mentorship

Old-school management often focuses on performance and hitting metrics, but Millennials and Gen Zers want more from a manager. They want to know they are valued as an individual contributor through their work, but also as human beings who have a life outside of work. Millennials and Gen Zers thrive off consistent encouragement, not just well-organized quarterly reviews so having established opportunities for feedback is important.

Having management that understands the importance of this will helps foster an environment of individuality while connecting employees through their shared strengths. Managers must think about an employee’s personality, consider their preferred style of communication, and dig deeper to understand them as a human being.


  • Offer consistent feedback and support 
  • Highlight strengths in one-on-ones and discuss an employee’s potential
  • Understand your employees at a personal level, not as a cog in the machine

Focus On Flexibility & Work-Life Balance

Younger generations place a high value on flexibility and work-life balance and are often drawn to companies that offer these things. While we often think of knowledge workers as the driving force for workplace flexibility, it extends to frontline workers as well

Remote work isn’t the only solution to providing flexibility in the workplace – manufacturing companies have ample opportunity to allow flexibility as well. Leadership within your organization needs to be highly connected with managers to truly understand where flexibility can be fostered.


  • Identify team-established flexibility in due dates, objectives, and activities
  • Collaborate with managers to determine opportunities for flexibility
  • Encourage employees to bring ideas to the table to improve flexibility and work-life balance

A Strong Culture Boosts Productivity

Taking a holistic approach to company culture is something that takes time, careful planning, and strategic execution. Leaders of manufacturing companies should prioritize the changes now to better weather the hiring struggles of today’s job market. Prioritizing a strong culture is key to not only ensuring employee satisfaction and retention but also boosting productivity as well.

By focusing on the five principles of the Human Deal Framework, companies can improve their overall EVP and bolster a stronger workforce for future generations that will very soon become the majority. Become a company that your employees don’t want to leave!

See how Rust Belt Recruiting has been a helping hand in rebuilding company cultures and placing candidates in environments that work for them!

Mike: Found a Stable Manufacturing Position Post-Pandemic

Evander: Less Stress From a Successful Career Shift to Manufacturing

Lisa: Achieved Work-Life Balance With A Manufacturing Role

Joe: Opportunity For Career Growth In a Manufacturing Plant

Interested in how we can help improve your company culture? Check out our Services page to start a conversation today! 

Written by Freelance Content Writer, Justin Nedell. Connect with Justin on LinkedIn.