Managing Today's Retiring Workforce

March 12, 2020
We've flipped the script on our Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast to speak about how the exodus of employees retiring is having an impact on manufacturing as a whole -- and how companies can handle it.

Amanda Del Buono, host of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast, sat down with Randy Heisler, vice president of Life Cycle Engineering, to talk about employee retirement and how manufacturers can begin to plan for the shift from institutional knowledge-bearing workforce to up-and-coming teams. 

To get the full scoop on the podcast you can listen to the full podcast right here:

Read a snippet of their conversation, or watch the video below. Be sure to head to our Podcast page to find this and other podcasts from our Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast series. 

Amanda: So, we hear a lot and read a lot about the impact that retirement is having on the manufacturing workforce, creating a skills gap, brain drain and all those other fun buzzwords, but how do you see retirement actually impacting the workforce?

Randy: Well, Amanda, there's no question that it's having an impact. Companies are literally scrambling to find qualified people. As you know, at this time, the unemployment rate is very low, certainly a factor, then in the competition for the resources out there that are looking for a move or looking for employment, is very stiff. It's becoming more and more difficult to find people to replace those that are retiring. Companies are trying to come up with ways to attract talent depending on the industry. If it's a heavy industrial environment, let's say, not a behind-the-desk type of position, people have a lot of choices. And, those folks are finding it really difficult to find somebody that wants to get dirty every day and that may not think that's for them sometimes until they get there. But, it certainly is a challenge.

On the employee side, there's often no one to learn from. I mean, it's an impact to someone that comes in that they're starting from scratch. And, if organizations have allowed the retirement train to get ahead of them, people have to come in and try to learn those jobs or those positions at the time of hire, which increases the stress, kind of like diving into the deep end.

Amanda: Right, right. It's bad enough, especially when you have young people coming out of university or what have you, coming in, and they're already trying to figure out their new job and being a professional, and to add on there, nobody to learn from, it's not helpful.

So, whether people are retiring in droves or it's just one or two people at a time, organizations should have a plan in place. But, what challenges can manufacturers be expecting when their longtime workforce retires as they set in place a plan? What should they be anticipating?

Randy: Well, it's like I said a minute ago. New hires coming in, depending on where they've come from, whether they're new to the workforce, just simply don't have experience. They've not been there and done that, in many cases, it could be their first real job, right? But, just as an example, let's say on the maintenance side of things, in trying to maintain equipment, you've got someone new that comes in that, like I've mentioned that there's no one there, or no one left, or not enough people left to teach them how to do things, so repairs take longer, right? So, companies that we're dealing with today, that is one big complaint. It's like, "Gosh, we've lost all the experience. We've got good people, okay, but they just don't know how to do it. It's their first time in making a particular repair," or something of that nature. And, it takes longer. Just like, you have professionals out in the world that seem to make things look easy and jobs go quickly, where someone that has not done it before can take two or three times as long. So, organizations are challenged with that for sure.

Also, let's say on the operations side, in operating the equipment as an example, variability creeps in. You've got folks that are just learning how to run the equipment and may bring their own previous experience, or even in, like I said, that lack of experience creates variability. So, you don't have, that's a term we use, that they may not have standard work in place or are not familiar with what that standard work might be. So, they're doing their best but those create some variability in the operation, which, at the end of the day, can affect the output and quality, things like that. So, mistakes increase. People that we work with are dealing with that quite often is that they can't get what we call first-pass yield because, simply, people are making mistakes. And so, they have to work through that over time, and over time, they get there. And, like I said, they get good people but they just haven't done that particular thing before.

The other unfortunate thing is that, oftentimes injuries increase there. People are saying, "Gosh, our safety performance just isn't what it used to be." And, once again, it's from that lack of experience. So, that one can be a real major challenge for folks. I think one of the real challenges, though, is to capture the knowledge of those senior folks before they retire. And, it's hard to believe, and I think it depends on the situation, but people aren’t always willing to share what they've learned. Maybe on their way out the door, they feel more comfortable sometimes, but, you know, their knowledge has often been a safety net. That, you know, the old adage that knowledge is power. And so, yeah, they sometimes keep that close and aren't super willing to share it.

Amanda: Right. But, what are some strategies that you've seen or do you have any suggestions for how manufacturers can either foster that communication, share that knowledge, maybe, better train these new people? Or what could they be doing to help ease this transition?

Randy: Well, I think in my experience, I'm on some different associations, and committees, and so on within some different industries and associations, and this topic is always a part of the discussion. And so, I'll give you a combination of things that others are doing as well as, maybe, some of my own opinions or experiences.

But, one of the No. 1 things that people don't spend enough time on is succession planning. You know, we typically know, okay, where we're going to get hurt when a particular person leaves or we have too many people leave in part of the organization. And, we haven't been, what I'm going to call proactive, and done really thoughtful succession planning trying to get ahead of that knowledge drain, and to pick, in a sense, the people in the organization that may replace others. Or, if we get back to that old method that some people are actually getting back to where they have apprenticeship programs, that creates the framework for knowledge sharing and succession planning, really, getting people into the workforce learning from the more senior folks. But, it requires an investment, and that's the challenge for a lot of folks is that, "Oh, gosh, we can't afford just to hire additional people, right? We only have the budget for X number of folks." But, some folks are getting back into the apprenticeship programs. I'm a huge believer of it. It's really how I started my career, in learning from someone else. And, it makes a huge, huge difference so that when someone does leave, there's someone right there behind them that has some experience that they've already learned.

And, another thing that folks are doing, and this one, you know, always seems to challenge, a lot of people talk about it, and maybe sometimes it's where they're at in the country, geographically, and so on. But, partnering with local trade schools. And, just to get a little deeper into that a lot of times they say, "Well, we've got trade schools, and we contact them and try to see who's graduating from those," and so on. But, you know, I call it really being active and working with those trade schools on what your upcoming needs are. Because, what folks are learning is that just having a contact with a trade school, they're not getting on the front side of helping the trade school understand your need so that they can make sure they tailor the education.

Read the full transcript of the podcast or watch below

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