The manufacturing industry is feeling the staffing pinch as nearly 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement each day. And it’s only going to get worse. Of the more than 76 million Baby Boomers, only 80% are currently still in the labor workforce. That number is expected to drop to 40% by 2022.
“The baby boomers are retiring, that’s a fact,” said Mark Lagerwey, the associate director of business development at Baker College of Cadillac. “There’s a huge need for these people…Finding people, students, has been one of the biggest challenges.”
Workers grow old and retire, and that’s perfectly normal. But as Baby Boomers exit in surging numbers, the manufacturing industry in particular is struggling to attract applicants from the rising generation.
“The problem is that we have a lot of retirements and an incoming workforce that doesn’t necessarily have an interest in manufacturing,” said Andy Bushmaker, a human resources manager at KI Furniture. “I think there’s an overall stigma about manufacturing in general. Manufacturing isn’t what it was 20 years ago, and there’s this idea that it’s a dirty and dark profession.”
That, and the scary expectation that robots will replace most manufacturing jobs, which is a big concern for parents advising their children about career opportunities. Especially when robots are exactly what Japan is turning to in order to beat their own construction labor shortages.
But the advancing manufacturing industry can’t fulfill all its demands with robots alone. “Now you need people who can manage robots as opposed to people who do what robots do,” Lagerwey said. While “dirty jobs” still exist, industry growth is focused in well-paying high-tech environments rather than dangerous assembly lines.
“If you can get the high school kids interested and they can see the kind of money they can make and the job that they’ll have, they’re going to flock to it at that point,” said Chuck Hadden, President of Michigan Manufacturers Association.
Although the manufacturing labor shortage looks bleak, the industry might only be a clever marketing campaign away from attracting economically savvy millennials. The environment, pay, and benefits aren’t the problem—it’s the misguided stigma. The skilled labor gap in manufacturing may be an industry-specific issue, but if a scalable solution isn’t found quickly, the worldwide economy will suffer the repercussions.