As the average age of metalworking employees creeps into the mid-50s, many business owners and their customers start to worry about what's going to happen when thousands of skilled workers retire.
Attracting young people to careers in metalworking has been a long-standing problem in the metalworking-related manufacturing industry, and it's likely to get worse as the workforce ages.
Currently, economic pressures may be acting as blinders to many business owners. The short term "keeping current workers busy" mentality may be preventing business leaders from developing a strategic plan to assure that they will have the highly skilled workers needed to compete aggressively when the economy improves.
I advise business leaders to develop a succession plan for their highly skilled positions. Companies typically have a business plan, a marketing plan and a plan for production equipment to meet levels of projected sales, but seldom do they have a staffing plan.
I contend that those businesses that build a skilled workforce staffing plan will be in a much better position to react quickly to new levels of sales. They will also be able to ship new products faster and keep leadtimes short, thereby taking sales away from competitors who haven't addressed their staffing needs. Metalworking business leaders should make it a priority to look 5 years into the future to develop a clear picture of what their skilled workforce will look like, and they should develop a plan to address any skill losses.
I caution business leaders that in today's market they won't be able to just put an ad in the paper and find a fully skilled replacement worker. In most cases, they will have to consider training a younger person. They must realize, however, that it takes years to learn some things, including good judgment.
This is why I say that the image of metalworking careers must be continuously improved—even when you don't have a position to fill. Every leader in this industry needs to communicate the dignity and challenge of metalworking careers. We all have an obligation to develop partnerships with our local educational communities. We must help parents, educators, career counselors and students understand the contribution metalworking makes in the world economy. We can change misperceptions about manufacturing careers and turn young minds on to the prospect of a metalworking career.
Accomplishing this goal requires a unified effort from industry business leaders. This is where you come in. You can
- Help with awareness issues at the middle-school level
- Get a SkillsUSA program implemented or improved at the high school level
- Serve on a metalworking advisory committee at a high school or community college
- Help incorporate the National Institute for Metalworking Skills'(NIMS) standards into community education programs and your own industry training programs
- Become an IMTS Student Summit mentor and help get a student group to IMTS
- Develop a training plan for your organization that complements your business plan and assures that you will have the skilled workers to react to future customer requirements.
Remember, the industry is looking to you—not someone else—to continuously improve the image of metalworking careers.