Baby Boomers are Secret Workforce Weapons in Manufacturing Shortages

August 22, 2019
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Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute published its fifth Skills Gap and Future of Work study. The study found that between 2018-2028, the skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs, with a potential $2.5 trillion negative economic impact on the U.S. economy.

As the heartbeat of the U.S. economy, manufacturing helps drive other sectors and pumps life into the middle class. During the last few years, the sector has seen large employment growth. However, today, there are not many things more draining to an HR professional in the manufacturing industry than a lack of skilled human capital to fill vacant positions.

The question is — why?

Blue Collar Baby Boomers

Retiring Baby Boomers

Retiring baby boomers are recognized as the number one factor that will contribute to a shortage in manufacturing labor as the largest generation on record, accounts for 22-27 percent of the manufacturing workforce.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted that more than 76 million Baby Boomers are expected to retire in the coming years, and the current labor force participation rate of this demographic will fall from 80 percent to below 40 percent by 2022. An estimated 10,000 Boomers reach the retirement age daily in the U.S., leaving 6 million jobs unfilled each month — mainly in manufacturing.

According to research by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 60 percent of manufacturing jobs are likely to be unfilled due to a talent shortage. As a result, only 1.4 million positions are expected to be filled, and the U.S. manufacturing sector is likely to suffer a shortfall for 2 million workers over the next decade.

Baby boomer retirement alone is not the cause for concern — it is the stigma behind manufacturing. The idea of manual labor is increasingly unpopular among the younger generations, making recruitment nearly impossible.

Recruitment Concerns

“Perception is a big issue,” said Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute said. The perception of hot and rigid conditions in manufacturing jobs is a thing of the past. She continued, “part of the reason for this challenge is that people don’t understand what modern manufacturing is all about. People think of manufacturing as old and antiquated when it’s not.”

Today, a lot of the work is high tech, relying on coders, programmers, and technicians to keep production running — very different from the types of manufacturing jobs that this country was founded on.

According to another study by Deloitte, the U.S. public ranks manufacturing as vital to the domestic economy, yet surprisingly, only a third of the same group would encourage their children to pursue manufacturing jobs. For many, blue-collar work is associated with dirty, manual work and people no longer want those jobs.

Popping Your Blue Collar

As recruitment efforts continue to lag, HR professionals should:

• Focus on upskilling their current employees to equip them with the skillsets needed to deal with the changes in automation

• Make offers to Baby Boomers to remain employed, in a limited role, to train current employees. Today, boomers would likely welcome a limited role with more flexibility.

• Increase onboarding effectiveness by rebranding the manufacturing image to new hires with innovative methods, highlighting the excitement of a new career

This type of foresight may be the best thing for HR professionals in this industry because, if manufacturing economic indicators continue to weaken, a recession could be on the horizon. With that in mind, it may behoove employers to upskill their current "ready to retire" rosters as opposed to going on a hiring frenzy as the economy cools off.