Industry Trends

Understanding Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z in Manufacturing

manufacturing generations

The workplace is made up of 29 percent Baby Boomers, 34 percent Gen X, 34 percent Millennials and 1 percent Gen Z. That means you may have fresh 18-year-olds working alongside seasoned 70-year-olds.

No matter which industry you’re in, it’s important to note key differentiators among generations. Regardless of their age, manufacturers ultimately want one thing: for their managers to help them achieve their career goals. In order to help your employees succeed, it’s important to understand what defines each generation.

Let’s Talk Baby Boomers

baby boomers

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, group grew up in the post-war period of increased financial, social and educational opportunities. Because of this, they’re often optimistic and fueled by a sense of stability and success. Many baby boomers are used to a traditional 9-5 workday and may not be as flexible and lenient as younger managers and executives.

While Baby Boomers once dominated the manufacturing field, these 52-to 70-year-olds are surging into retirement. In fact, approximately 38 percent of baby-boom manufacturing workers plan to leave their positions in the next decade, and few employers have preparations in place to fill their positions. Many Baby Boomers do plan to work past the age of 65, though, in order to maintain for a sense of identity and consistent income.

Managing them: When it comes to Baby Boomers, most are found to be hardworking, great mentors and also very structured (used to a 9-5 schedule). This generation values competition and monetary prosperity, so motivate them with competitive salaries, promotions and career growth.

America’s Middle Child: Meet Gen X

generation x

Born between 1965 to 1980, Gen Xers currently fall somewhere between 36 and 51 years old. The first generation to widely experience divorce or two working parents, they’re often referred to at latchkey kids. Because of this, Gen Xers are usually very independent.

Since they were born in between two of the largest generations (Baby Boomers and Gen Y) this group is commonly overlooked. Gen Xers grew up in the age of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, economic crisis and the AIDS epidemic–and because of this, they’re known for being cynical.

Managing them: Because Gen Xers have grown up with such a strong sense of independence, they prefer not to be micromanaged. They also look for work/life balance, so motivate them with flexible scheduling opportunities.

Millennials: Meet Gen Y


Also referred to as Millennials, this group was born between 1981 and 1997, making them range between 19 and 35 years old. 

For the first time, Millennials have surpassed Gen X as the largest generation in the workforce. Despite this fact, 62 percent of manufacturers say Millennials only represent a small fraction of their workforce, and 81 percent say they have no explicit plans to increase those numbers. In order to be sustainable, though, the manufacturing industry is going to have to recruit and train this generation to replace the retiring Boomers.

Managing them: When it comes to Millennials, they expect creative control and work ownership, so offer them instant feedback and plenty of opportunities for professional development. Gen Y also values a steady work/life balance and requires transparency from their employers, so be open to rethinking your company’s strict structure.

The Up and Coming: Gen Z defined

generation z

Gen Zers, sometimes defined as the second wave of Millennials, were born between 1998 and 2012. While this generation is undoubtedly young, it’s estimated that 30 million of them will be employed by 2019. Since they’re growing up at the moment (the youngest of them is 4 years old), we’re still learning a lot about what makes them tick. 

But what do we know so far? This group is extremely tech-savvy — it’s hard for them to remember a time when they didn’t have access to the world’s information at their fingertips. This constant connection to the world has made them great multitaskers and collaborators.

They also shouldn’t be grouped in with Millennials. Since Gen Zers are coming of age during a time of economic fear and destruction, they’re a lot more realistic than their predecessors. They’re starting their professional education earlier, appreciate stability and value altruistic elements over money.

Managing them: To prepare for Gen Z, managers should work to prove their company’s honesty and integrity, show them the line that connects their contributions to the company’s success and establish their core values and social responsibility. Another important note: flexibility is key. This is the generation that doesn’t just see work-life balance as a positive, but they see it as a necessity. Managers should adopt lenient cell phone policies, flexible schedules and coworking initiatives.

While not every employee will fit into their generational boxes, understanding their differences and unique strengths can help you plan for a more collaborative, harmonious workplace.

What are your tricks for managing a multi-generational workforce? We’ve love to hear them. Connect with us on Twitter @AppleRubber.