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Whether for higher wages, a rejection of traditional college and debt, or a penchant for technology, some millennials are finding careers in manufacturing.

There’s no denying that the need for filling manufacturing jobs is a near-term reality. But that doesn’t mean millennials and members of Generation Z are not working as machinists and programmers today. We shine a light on next-generation machinists who have found their calling in metalworking.

Machinists of a certain “baby boomer” age are either retiring or will be in the coming years—and that has many companies in automotive, aerospace and other sectors concerned about finding workers to fill new and replacement positions. Experts estimate that roughly 2 million jobs will go unfilled in manufacturing in the next 10 years if things are not corrected.

Yet, despite the steady retirement of boomers and the career ascension of Generation X machinists into supervisory and management positions, there are millennials and Generation Y adults who are training or working on the shop floor as machine operators, setup personnel and CAD/CAM programmers today.

Some are taking advantage of apprenticeship programs and scholarships funded by machine makers—or government-backed programs. A 2017 presidential executive order doubled the amount of taxpayer money for existing job training and apprenticeship programs to nearly $200 million—which is an effort to help reduce the coming worker-demand gap.

“Manufacturing in this country has not disappeared. I would not characterize it as fading away, dying,” said Mark Dodge, a professor and program coordinator at Nashua Community College, in an interview with StateImpact New Hampshire. “It has certainly changed, and it has become, still, a valuable part of what we do in the country. And it is a strategic part, not just in the military sense, but in the medical profession. We have the ability to respond quickly, for example, with heart stents, bone screws, artificial hips, knees, and things like that—all came out of a machine shop.”

Listening to the Generation That Is Helping to Resolve the Skills Shortage

So who are the next generation of machinists and manufacturing experts? Believe it or not, they appear to be pretty similar to past generations—with some depicting themselves as self-proclaimed “gear heads” and those who have discovered they like working with their hands and head together. Others have been exposed to manufacturing through their families—or simply are looking for greater wage-earning potential than a retail store clerk or low-level office job can offer.

“I like working on cars, but you can’t make much in automotive these days, because too much competition,” said Ben Dubray, who was a 21-year-old machining student when he was interviewed by StateImpact New Hampshire. “But my grandfather’s a machinist, and his friends are machinists, and a few of them own their own shops. And I remember them talking about the fact that there’s no new machinists. So that kind of gave me the hint to look into this. Because if nobody’s going into it, there’s going to be jobs, won’t there?”

Do you have a negative perception of millennial and Gen Y workers? Read why your perceptions are probably off in “How Empowering Millennials Can Help Bridge the Manufacturing Skills Gap.”

Orlando Morales worked at a supermarket for 10 years before finding he had a penchant for machining. Morales, who is now 33, discovered the role of a machinist when he toured a rice company and learned how the combine machines were fixed by making custom parts. He told StateImpact: “I witnessed firsthand how the machinist cut up some metal and made a new part for the machine and got it back up and running in no time. And that was really amazing.”

For others, attending college and obtaining a four-year degree and a mountain of debt to crawl out of is not necessarily a path they wanted to take—or they discovered college was not exactly for them. When Greg Serio was 19 years old he had been expelled from the University of South Florida after receiving a scholarship. He was a young dad working as a part-time bouncer and did not envision a career in manufacturing—but it happened.

“After my 24th birthday and three hard-earned promotions later, I became a metalworking specialist,” Serio wrote in a blog post for Fullerton Tool Company. “I thought I could kill it on the job, but I was quickly humbled and finding myself way over my head … After about a month in, I was on a giant lathe talking to a machinist about turning 440 cast stainless (the nasty scale stuff). He was telling me words like ‘thou’ and ‘tenths’ and I can imagine the look on my face, he recognized my ignorance immediately when I asked, ‘How many decimal points are that?’” 

Serio describes how he was humbled, but that he now takes great lengths to show gratitude toward those who saw his potential. Now 30, Serio is a manufacturing consultant for TPOMFG, with 10 years of experience.

“I witnessed firsthand how the machinist cut up some metal and made a new part for the machine and got it back up and running in no time. And that was really amazing.”
Orlando Morales
Millennial Machinist

Max Inks, now 27, dropped out of his electrical engineering program at Penn State University after three years. He ended up continuing his education at a local community college, where he took electronics and robotics courses. After a tour of the ExOne Company, a 3D printing facility, for one of his classes, Inks landed a job there four months after graduation.

“I think this was a God-given gift for me to find this, and it’s literally in my backyard,” Inks said in an interview with PublicSource. “No one outside of the industry truly knows that we exist in Pennsylvania, let alone the fact that we can print in stainless steel.”

Want to learn more about 3D additive manufacturing? Read “The Case for 3D Printing in Manufacturing.” Want to get more technical? Check out “The Unique Challenges and Solutions in Metal 3D Printing.”

Brian McDowell was working at Walmart before becoming a machinist at L&S Machine Company in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He wanted to make more money than his assistant manager job paid. Many machine shops like L&S offer on-the-job training and a career path through earning credentials. McDowell, who is now 34, had worked for L&S for 11 years at the time he was interviewed by PublicSource.

McDowell believes it’s a great career opportunity for millennials and other generations. He told PublicSource: “It really is worth it. Where else are you going to go at 20 years old, 21 years old and go be a machinist where they start you out at a decent pay?”

“The more you know, the more you learn, the more you’re going to make,” he added.

Do you mentor any millennial machinists today? What’s your take? 

Talk to Us!

As a 45 yr Machinist I can tell you the shortage of machinist will continue until
the salary of a machinist is brought up to the skill level.
To come to work every day and be under the stress to hold anywhere from .001 to .0001
tolerance no matter how you feel,the many years it takes to become highly skilled, and the thousands of dollar of machinist tools,dosent make the salary worth while.
When many other much less stressful jobs make the same or more dollars.
A Journeyman machinist should be making in the $40. to $5o. per hr. range not the $18 to $20.
Until Managements and Shop owners appreciate and understand whats involved in being a machinist,unfortunately the Machinist shortage will continue..

44  

Thank you, Ray, for sharing your experience with us. There are certainly plenty of challenges facing the manufacturing industry right now, and salary is definitely one of them. We recently did a deeper dive into two reports dealing with the state of salaries and pay in manufacturing (https://bit.ly/2OD3w6e) and have heard a lot of feedback regarding the need to pay workers their worth. We hope employers are listening.

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Well said Ray. Ray hit it square on the head... employers in general think it's the machine holding those tight tolerances when it's the machinist/operator that relies on many years of experience to meet those tolerances.

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I would add that training young people in manufacturing using the imperial system would put them at a competitive disadvantage. The problem with the old guys showing young guys the ropes is that it is a circular system - the kids will never be exposed to millimeters this way. And they must! We can't go on with inches forever.

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Interesting feedback David. Does anyone else see the value in training the incoming workforce in both the imperial and metric system?

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I just graduated the precision machining and manufacturing program at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima Washington. We were trained in both imperial and metric. I have a conversion chart that is taped to the inside of my tool box that makes going between inches and millimeters quick and simple. We were also taught to pay attention to G20 and G21 addresses when using the CNC to make sure the machine is running in the correct unit of measurement. I don’t anticipate any problems going back and forth, but I will say I prefer to work in inches.

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I respect the thought of getting training in millimeters, however it's really quick and easy to convert to millimeters and back again. I've been in this trade for 26 years and have no problem bouncing back and forth from the 2 units of measure.

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I’m a retired toolmaker and program manager from a high tech manufacturing organization. I can attest that the knowledge and skills necessary are limitless, and most can only be learned on the job. Knowledge of metrology, material and cutting tool behavior, CNC programming, and other minute but important things, are too numerous to list. As a plug, I have sourced equipment from MSC many times, and I commend your company.

22  

Thanks for visiting and for your feedback Richard

25  

There seams to be lots of bullshit out there. I stoped in a place i filled out a app. I did no good. They say no opening .They say if you see sign in yard stop in.Drove around next day sign out there its all bullshit.

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Are you still looking for a job Harold? If you shared your location, experience and skills I'm sure you would have a few folks asking you for an interview.

21  

Great article. As someone who was a machining buyer and am now in recruiting, I have tremendous respect for the skills and hard-work it takes to be a skilled machinist. 

23  

We're right there with you supporting & recognizing the trade! Thanks for visting and sharing your feedback.

21  

As a senoir level machinist in his late thirties, I am still often the young one around the shop.  There is a reason for this, and of course manufacturing execs know it but wont talk about it. 

 

I'm a Mastercam certified professional, Solidworks certified professional, and have 16 years of advanced manufacturing ranging from aerospace to medical.  I currently make $24 an hr.  Any young person who asks about this trade, I tell them to stay the hell a way unless they are a gluton for punishment.

 

To add insult to injury, managers expect the world from you.  You somehow have to know every facet of this massive industry.  You must know turning, milling, edm, 3-5 axis programming, every control, every material, every type of fixture design and method of workholding.  Anyone who knows something knows knowing everything is highly unlikely.   On top of it, you cant mess up! Nope, everything must be perfect, and perfect all the time.

Geez, here in Texas, the local gas station chain Buccees starts out at 13 Hr.  WhICh EveR OnE SHouLd I ChooOoOose!?!?!?!

 

Until trade negotiations are made, and environmental and workforce regulations are the same for imports as they are shorside manufacturing, then we will continue down this path.  

37  

John, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We have heard from many machinists like yourself who are very unhappy with the state of pay and demand in the industry and we agree changes need to be made.

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There is no future in bring a machinist.  I've been doing it for 22 years and have never been offered any type of promotion.  Companies hire me for my experience but they see me as a mule and if you work hard in this field you will get nothing but more work.  I'm looking for any possible way to get out of it.

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I started working as an apprentice machinist when I was 16. I stuck with it for over a decade, then left the trade, then came back, then left again.

Trying to get time from your employer to go to school was very difficult and at times impossible. Reflecting back on the past 35 to 40 years, I would have to say, it’s pretty tough. The biggest problem I encountered was the stress. You try working within a 1/2 thou tolerance and a nice surface finish day in day out ..... and do it fast, it wears on you.

The majority of people I have met have little clue of just how difficult it is to make everything perfect. The pay is Not relative to the job. Somehow people have it their mind that a machinist is just another sort of labourer. Well, after working decades in the trade I can tell you a Machinist has to be smarter than an engineer. You have to take their drawings, decipher if what they are asking you to make is correct and if it will function, you often have to make corrections where they generally have no clue of things ..... like how to hold a part in a chuck, allowing for cut off etc.

I mean just about every engineer I’ve worked with didn’t know how to machine a part. Then you have to be smarter than a mechanic, to understand how a part will mechanically fit together. 

A machinist should be the highest paid position in the businesses, but they are not. 

A machinist is at the top of the trades by a very high margin, a very high skill level individual, comparatively moreso than others. Unfortunately employers and the general public typically view them and pay them in the same league as a general labourer. 

 

Society places more value on a mechanic or a millwright.

 

Being a machinist has been a hard road for me, Unless wages and job conditions change pretty dramatically for all North American Machinists, it’ll continue to be a hard road.

33  

5 years in. Absolutely love it absolutely hate it. I think I became pretty good at what I do early on because the only time I hate it is when I mess up. It has not been easy but attained my state sponsored apprenticeship. Became a certified production specialist. Had great mentors through out my apprenticeship went through level one production specialist programming through MTS Dresden Germany. Online and am currently doing ASME GD&T. All for free. Lots of government funding out there for the profession and my pay reflects the work. Making 26 an hour 11 dollars more an hour than when I started and I’m not close to being where I want. I do however work in aerospace. I always heard get in that or medical for the money. Know a lot of contractors making 40 or more. Money is there. Get the certificates. They aren’t easy to obtain but you get what you put in. 

24  

John,

Thank you for sharing your insights...  Would you mind sharing your e-mail address so we can reach out and learn more about your experiences?  Insights from Industry Peers are what help us provide the best stories, expert advice, tips and resources to our readers on Better MRO. I'd love to hear more about your journey.

Thanks in advance for sharing!

-RR  

19  

Been in aerospace in kansas since i was 19 and worked as an unskilled operator for a few years until I realized I needed to take the career more serious. Worked on my understanding of how to machine and convinced my job to pay for catia programming classes. I have absolutely loved it since taking the jump into programming. I’m 30 now and everyday programming a new part offers another thing to learn and keeps the work fresh. People like to complain about the trade, and I like to say they just haven’t found the right shop for them or position in their company. My work takes care of me and provides ample opportunities to take classes and improve my skills/understanding, an example being that they are sending me to IMTS this year to help come up with ideas on what things we can bring in to our business to secure our futures in the industry.

Any time a friend tells me they are unhappy at their job I always tell them that they could easily start a career in aerospace and have a fulfilling job, with minimal costs. On the job training, depending on the shop you may have supplied tools, opportunities to take classes for certifications, and more.

37  

Thanks for sharing your story Dustin.

MSC will be at IMTS this year showcasing game changing innovations we've been working on. Booth 431854. Hope to see you there!

21  

I've been in the trade 30 years and worked at places like Space X, LM, and a few other big shops. i started my own shop in 2017 but with covid and now a recession on the horizon i don't think my shop is going to survive much longer and will actually be leaving the trade all together if that happens. I wouldnt even consider a role as a machinist or programmer anymore maybee managment but thats even a stretch becuse after 30 years i think it might be time for something else. i will be 52 next month.

23  

Ive been a machinist for 29 years and i am 52 yo now. i started my shop 6 years ago after being treated like a dog at alot of other shops. now i am thinking i might have to close up becuse work is slow and i am losing my desire to run it anymore so if i close up i will leave the trade permanently and do something else. 

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