Randy Heisler, vice president of Life Cycle Engineering, a consulting firm serving private industry, public entities and government organizations, chats with Amanda Del Buono about retirement and how manufacturers can better prepare for their retiring workforce and incoming new workers.
Below is a portion of the interview. The full transcript is available here.
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.
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.