Who Will Replace Retiring Boomers in the Manufacturing Industry?

Posted by Michelle Ecker on May 14, 2020

Manufacturing executives continue to voice concerns regarding critical talent shortages faced by leaders in today’s industry.

Latest surveys by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute reveal an unprecedented majority of experts in agreement - we are facing a talent crisis in the US manufacturing sector. Leaders in education and upskilling suggest this distress on the workforce is the result of automation’s inevitable impact on employee workflow. Put simply- manufacturing jobs increasingly involve digital skills, and current employees accustomed to steadily obsolete manufacturing roles are not being sufficiently trained to work within this new, tech-centric environment.

If the current situation is already causing 89% of manufacturing leaders to voice their concerns of a talent shortage, the next decade threatens an absolute crisis- 2.6 million baby boomers are expected to retire from their manufacturing jobs throughout the next ten years. Without properly training today’s workforce or sourcing new talent to hire, this skills gap is poised to grow by the millions.

Woman inspecting manufacturing equipment.

The impact of boomer retirement

Individuals born between the years of 1946 and 1964 are traditionally considered to be a part of the boomer generation. With 76 million people born in the United States during that span of time, analysts now assume the retirement period for this generation will trickle throughout an approximately 19-year period that we are just about halfway through in 2020. These figures don’t include the percentage of workers who will pass away before they reach retirement age, some analysts argue. But it also excludes immigrants, who Pew researchers say account for an additional 4 million baby boomer retirees during this time span. The Washington Post reports that this translates as 11,000 boomers retiring each day throughout the coming decade.

Manufacturing leaders who find themselves unable to fill these looming job openings, or who do not sufficiently upskill their current workforce to meet the growing demands of modernization could feel the impact of this crisis in a number of ways. For some- likely smaller business owners- this impact could manifest as an inability to capitalize on new market opportunities. Others may simply be incapable of supporting innovative technological advancements that would otherwise offer opportunity to streamline productivity and increase GDP over time. In short, without workers properly trained to operate and work alongside these convenient modern technologies, these technologies offer no use to business leaders of today.

According to the aforementioned research conducted by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 60% of manufacturing executives surveyed ranked the skills shortage as having a “high” or “very high” impact on their business productivity over the next three years. If 11,000 boomers will be retiring every day throughout the next ten, how can these leaders- who are already struggling- proactively prepare for this heightened impact?

Barriers to replacing boomers

Many analysts suspect misconceptions about manufacturing careers realistically play a large role in the shortage of new generational talent joining today’s workforce in replacement of boomer retirees. To many people, antiquated images of what it means to be a manufacturing worker- to be underpaid, to be getting dirty in the workplace, to be working long, grueling hours in what feels like a dangerous environment- still permeate in the minds of those millennials who don’t have a clear picture of how automation and technology has transformed the industry and brought about a more modern work environment.

Combatting these misconceptions about the dynamic of a manufacturing career is a crucial step industry leaders must take in their efforts to draw and retain talent to an industry that cannot grow without it. Communicating to the new generation of workers regarding things like career opportunity, stability, good pay and opportunities to upskill are all ways to proactively counter these misconceptions and draw much needed new talent to the manufacturing workforce in the coming decade.

What are new workers looking for?

According to a recent survey conducted by the Capital Group, 67% of millennials say being loyal to their employer is important to them- meaning they aren’t interested in ‘job hopping’ and would rather work for one employer for a long period of time while growing within that same company.

But a condition to this desire for dedicated, long-term work for the same employer, is the expectation that this loyalty be reciprocated by the employer in question. Heather Lord, Head of Strategy & Innovation at Capital Group shares, “If employers can match millennials’ hunger for benefits and personal development, employers benefit from millennials’ loyalty.”

If industry leaders facing a talent crisis are looking for enterprising ways to find and retain skilled millennial talent, directly speaking to the concerns and desires of the new millennial workforce should intuitively be at the center of this internal conversation. If millennials suffer from an outdated picture of a manufacturing worker’s career- one of mundanity that provides little opportunity for growth- it is the responsibility of the employer to lead the conversation in shifting this narrative and informing the prospective new workforce of the opportunities that realistically lie within this growing, modernizing industry.

Upskilling today's manufacturing workers

Opportunities for growth and development are repeatedly central to the dialogue of this impending talent barrier. If millennials don’t feel they will be provided the opportunity to learn and grow within a manufacturing company, surveys suggest they will take their talents elsewhere, to a company that provides the educational benefits integral to their professional goals.

Leaders in education and upskilling are already working to offer training solutions to help manufacturing employers meet the unique needs of today’s workforce.

As a leading online skills and credentialing provider, Penn Foster offers an expansive continuum of skills training and educational programs along with academic support and services to the manufacturing workers of today. From condensed skills playlists designed to meet specific, tailored employer needs, to multi-year degree programs and career diplomas, Penn Foster’s skills-based portfolio of education and training solutions were designed to help provide upward career mobility to today’s workers while delivering productivity and efficiency outcomes within any manufacturing organization. For more information on how Penn Foster’s programs can meet your unique training needs, contact a Penn Foster training expert today.