By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
From executive directors to production managers – every person plays an essential role in helping to maintain the flow of a growing infrastructure. But manufacturing companies are facing an issue: the workforce population is aging and preparing for retirement, and no one is taking their place.
Julie Davis is the senior director of workforce development for Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Her job is to look at the challenges the manufacturing industry is facing and help pinpoint solutions.
Industries often focus on the day-to-day issues and forget about the ones looming ahead, this is where AEM comes in. While the aging workforce isn’t a new issue, Davis and AEM are helping companies look at it in a different way.
The company helps others be proactive about an issue rather than reactive, Davis said. Rather then letting the aging workforce population retire, Davis is encouraging employers to find new ways to utilize employees.
The first step, she said, is to assess the workforce. Having conversations with the potential retirees to the new hires is key, Davis said, as it establishes open communication and gives employers a better idea of their workforce.
“Having those open conversations helps your entire working base,” Davis said.
During these conversations, employers can learn if an employee’s position impacts their physical well-being and if they are better suited for a different position in the company where their knowledge can still be utilized. It also gives employees an opportunity to express their concerns.
The next step is to look at policies and procedures. This is an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility and get creative, Davis said.
For example, some potential retirees want to keep working, but they also want fewer hours, Davis explained. A flexible schedule allows them to keep working and an opportunity to pass on the knowledge they have from working the job. Many longtime employees have valuable knowledge that can’t be passed down in a handbook. One solution is to have them mentor or match up with new employees so that that knowledge can be transferred, Davis said.
Knowledge transfer or the potential lack of knowledge transfer is a real thing. When an employee leaves, employers will ask them questions but they’re not always the right ones, Davis explained.
“It’s all the tricks of the trade that are going to be lost,” Davis said.
A lot of companies do succession planning for those higher up in the company, Davis said, but few think about doing it for the general workforce. Davis is encouraging employers to rethink that notion.
Having overlap between a new hire and an outgoing employee for the same position is beneficial for the employee and the employer, she said. The employee receives that extra knowledge and can keep up with productivity demands when the older employee retires.
Older workers can also work as mentors for new employees or as recruiters at career fairs and in schools. These are great opportunities for them to share their passion and encourage the next generation, Davis said.
In recent years, Davis has noticed a renewed interest in the trades.
“Most schools understand that the pendulum has swung too far on emphasis on four-year colleges,” she said.
Trades have advanced so much, she said, adding that they are cleaner, safer and open to equity and inclusion. As the trades keep progressing, employers need to keep up with the times. That means utilizing the aging workforce in news ways such as knowledge transfer, recruitment and more.
“At the end of the day, talent strategy needs to be included in business strategy,” Davis said.
AEM created a digital toolkit for employers, which can be accessed at https://www.aem.org/workforce-solutions.