It's no secret that the manufacturing workforce is getting older by the minute. In fact, almost 25% of the sector's workforce is age 55 or older. To put that in perspective, in 2000 the median age was 39.
Planning for the future is difficult as companies face massive retirements while dealing with low unemployment rates and a young generation that still needs convincing that it should choose a career in manufacturing.
As scarcity of any resource, including human capital, leads to innovative thinking, the sector has come up with a variety of strategies. To study these strategies The Manufacturing Institute, the research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), released a report on July 31 entitled "The Aging of the Manufacturing"
The report concluded that companies who have been most successful in finding solutions to this issue have four objectives.
Ensuring early awareness of workers’ retirement plans
To learn about their workers' plans companies are opening up the channels of communication. One way is to provide private and comfortable settings for employees to talk about retirement plans. One company, Ingersoll Rand, encourages managers to hold regular check-ins with employees. To ensure that these conversations are effective, the company provides managers with training and a toolkit of best practices, including how to spot effective entry points into a check-in conversation, avoid assumptions, seek feedback and inquire about workers’ happiness, aspirations and priorities. Ingersoll Rand reports that the trust established during these “re-recruitment” conversations has boosted older workers’ willingness to bring up retirement plans far in advance of their departure.
Facilitating knowledge transfer from older to young workers
Survey respondents pointed to mentorship and apprenticeship programs as a tried-and-true means of passing skills and information between generations. Several interviewees also described efforts to gather and store their older workers’ knowledge as electronic records, allowing them to preserve and distribute institutional knowledge at scale. For example, one company, Atlas, reports that participation in mentorship programs contributes to employees’ decisions to continue working because they find interactions with younger workers stimulating and rewarding. 3M said that senior employees enjoy mentorship and appreciate the opportunity to “leave a legacy and connect to a new generation of employees.”
Maximizing the longevity of older workers’ careers
The survey found that 89% want to hold onto their older employees. Some best practices to help companies retain their older workers and maximize their productivity until new talent can be acquired include
1) employing automation to handle repetitive manual labor so older workers can prioritize tasks that require their unique skills and knowledge;
2) allowing workers to transfer internally to another position;
3) offering flexible hours or phased retirement:
4) encouraging workers to return part-time after their initial retirement.
Several interviewees reported combatting brain drain by hiring older workers with the same or similar knowledge and skills as the company’s retiring workers, thus replacing any knowledge lost. For example, Greenerd Press and Machine Co. reports that 40% of its older workforce is comprised of newly hired workers with knowledge and skillsets the firm needs. Interviews suggest that the company not only benefits from these individuals’ invaluable knowledge, but also from their professionalism, work ethic and productivity on par with that of younger workers.
The report goes into detail about training programs, reskilling and a variety of other ideas of what companies are doing to address this pressing issue. As companies continue to formulate programs, IndustryWeek will pass them along.