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Leslie Bloom


Breaking Down the Skills Gap, Part 1

Recruiting and retirement

Published: Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 13:03

For those in the manufacturing and industrial sector, what’s commonly known as the skills gap is a well-documented issue. As a growing number of Americans retire, they take their decades of experience with them, resulting in a noticeable skills shortage.

The problem is poised to hit businesses hardest during the next few years, with more than one-quarter of the domestic manufacturing workforce over the age of 55.

The skills gap continues to widen

The manufacturing industry is already beginning to feel the impact of the skills gap.

“The retirement onslaught as we predicted is actually happening,” says Patrick Flaherty, an economist at Connecticut’s Department of Labor. “We’ve been talking about this for quite a number of years. You don’t have to be a genius. Just look at the age profile.”

This trend is showing no signs of slowing down. As individuals retire, they take their tribal knowledge with them, making it even harder to maintain production levels as new employees are trained up.

Pair this with the industry struggling to even attract job applicants from younger generations, and it becomes an unavoidable issue, one requiring a wide range of tactics to solve.

Outdated public perception

The idea that domestic manufacturing is a shrinking industry is flat-out false. The United States had as many people working in the manufacturing sector in December 2018 as it did 69 years ago in 1950, experiencing its best jobs growth during the last 30 years. So why aren’t younger people interested in these open positions? We can boil it down to a matter of public perception.

In a recent study, millennials (born 1981–1996) rank manufacturing as their least preferred career destination. This should not come as a surprise. Stigma about the manufacturing workplace as a dirty, dark, and dangerous profession is well understood. News reports often focus on waves of manufacturing layoffs and increasing automation. Taken together, it’s no wonder young people aren’t attracted to jobs that appear to be both grimy and unstable.

Millennials (born 1981–1996) rate manufacturing as their least preferred career destination

But domestic manufacturing is having a major comeback. The industry looks a lot different these days. Modern facilities are typically clean and safe, full of advanced technologies, not greasy assembly lines. Unfortunately, that perception has yet to translate to career interest for young people.

Time for manufacturing companies to adapt

It’s time the industry adapts to remain competitive. To attract a younger workforce, companies can reevaluate their job postings, open up their doors to show what a modern factory looks like, emphasize the advanced technologies in use, and much more.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies are facing the same challenges of retirements and recruiting. Tactical advice and proven strategies are more important than ever.

Recruiting workers to backfill retirements is just one part of addressing the skills gap. Once you get new employees in the door, you must train them efficiently in order to up-skill quickly and see results. All this, of course, hinges on capturing the tribal knowledge of retiring workers who kicked off this entire challenge to begin with.

First published Feb. 5, 2020, on the Dozuki blog.


About The Author

Leslie Bloom’s picture

Leslie Bloom

With a background in design and communications, Leslie Bloom leads Dozuki's efforts to create and distribute valuable resources related to standard work, training, and lean manufacturing.