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MILLENNIALS' MOMENT: Manufacturing a new workforce BASF taking steps to ensure company appeals to wants of next generation of employees

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Today, tens of thousands of manufacturing positions in New Jersey remain unfilled.

Tomorrow, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program says nearly half of the chief executives within the state's manufacturing industry will reach retirement age.

And in five years, only a third of New Jersey manufacturers will have a leadership succession plan in place when the current pool of skilled workers dries up, according to the NJMEP's Next Generation Manufacturing Study.

Manufacturers know they are going to need millennials to fill these jobs, but they first must find a way to make them appealing to a group that likely views the industry as laborious and monotonous rather than innovative and lucrative.

How do you do that?

BASF Corp., a multibillion-dollar chemical company with a focus on creating chemistry for a sustainable future, believes it has figured it out.

“We see a certain retirement wave in the next 10 years or so,” said Bernadette Palumbo, director of talent acquisition and university relations at BASF.

“We are planning and preparing for that by implementing a program called Transitions at Work. This helps employees who are planning to retire in the next year or so let the company know so that the company can ensure knowledge transfers occur before they exit the organization.”

With more than 1,500 employees at its Florham Park headquarters alone, BASF's turnover rate remains unusually low — around 8 percent.

Instead of voicing concern about the generation's stereotypical lack of work ethic — as some employers have been known to do — BASF strives to create environments, programs and tools that help millennials create and live the way that they feel most comfortable to achieve maximum productivity.

To start, leaders at BASF took a look at the company and wondered if it was the kind of company millennials would flock to because their values aligned with their work. Next, BASF took a look at its available talent.

“We recognized there are talented folks who may not have had the opportunity to complete their education, but would be great assets to BASF,” Palumbo said.

BASF is now refining the idea of choosing experience over a degree, she said, and offers new employees a generous tuition reimbursement program — even at the graduate level — to continue higher education.

Palumbo said that even BASF's physical presence has changed to accommodate the changing workforce.

“We recognized how offices have become meeting spaces rather than fixed locations for a working day,” Palumbo said.

A working day that's changing.

The company created a program called Designed to Fit, which offers telework opportunities and flexible hours.

“This allows work to get done differently but with the same high quality,” Palumbo said.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry writes about women in business, millennials, food and beverage, manufacturing and retail. Meg joined NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television and continues to write and perform in theaters around the state. You may contact her at megf@njbiz.com.

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