It seems like labor shortages are everywhere. In the media, it’s often called “The Great Resignation” because it appears that workers don’t want to head back to the office once they’ve had a taste of the work-from-home experience.
According to a report from the United States Chamber of Commerce, more than 47 million workers quit their jobs in 2021. The report mentioned a few possible reasons:
- Improved work-life balance
- More flexibility
- Increased compensation
- A strong company culture
It’s possible the situation isn’t so much a great resignation as it is a great “reshuffling” of the workforce. While the work-from-home phenomenon may have something to do with the labor shortage, it’s not the only reason that companies—and those in manufacturing in particular—are experiencing employment issues. An aging workforce is one of the other reasons.
The Boomers Are Coming of Age
One thing that America and other countries face is the aging of its experienced workforce. Boomers—people between the ages of 55 and 65+, for the most part—are entering into a new era of their lives. For some in manufacturing, they’re leaving the shop floor to take positions in management and the C-suites.
But for many, they’re not moving up—they’re moving out. As this sector gets older, many are opting for retirement instead of hanging onto their old jobs or getting new ones.
A May 2022, article in Forbes, “Roots of America’s Labor Shortage,” put it this way:
The impact of boomer aging and hence retirement is also clear in the Labor Department figures. The huge baby-boom generation was born between the years 1945 and 1962. Those born at its beginning began retiring as they approached 65 in 2010, and since, an increasing number of boomers has retired, a trend that not only explains the decline in participation but also its beginning right after the 2008-09 recession. As more and more boomers aged, the proportion of the U.S. population of retirement age rose, from 13% in 2010 to 16.5% in 2020. More were dropping out of the workforce than entering it.
Even though U.S. Department of Labor figures show a slight increase in “participation” of workers over 55—from 38.2 to 38.9 percent—it doesn’t offset the rate of retirement. And those numbers started increasing as early as 2010, when many of those born in the late 1940s began reaching retirement age.
The Manufacturing Skills Gap
While one worker’s retirement doesn’t sound like much of a problem, it’s causing a massive skills gap. Many of those leaving the manufacturing industry are taking years—if not decades—of experience with them. That experience is difficult to replace.
While recent initiatives have placed more emphasis on trade schools and vocational education, it comes with a drawback. Yes, these students are getting the knowledge and skills necessary to fill the shoes of retired workers. But they lack one thing that takes time to gain: the experience that puts those skills and knowledge to effective use.
Even those assembly line workers that handle product fabrication and machine monitoring take the little nuances of machine management with them upon retirement.
So, what can food and beverage processors and manufacturers of both durable and nondurable goods do to alleviate—at least in part—the impact of the boomer population coming of age and retiring?
Two words come to mind: manufacturing technology. Technology must be used to replace the human factor that’s leaving the shop and production room floor.
Technology Must Be Developed to Fill the Gaps Caused by Attrition
an April 2022 Forbes article, “The State of Manufacturing’s Labor Problem,” writes:
... the labor shortage is likely here to stay. That probably means there will be fewer people employed in manufacturing ... manufacturers are also expanding their digital strategies to manage labor issues. Paradoxically, to roll out the digital strategies to manage labor issues, manufacturers need to have employees with digital skills.
Forbes goes on:
The labor issue is a difficult one—and not only for manufacturers, of course—but it is
also acting as a “very powerful catalyst” for adopting new approaches, claims Stephanie Holdt, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President at USG. Manufacturing tends to be traditional, and not the quickest to change. But now we’re accelerating solutions for workforce problems, and technology is the answer. For USG, some of the jobs now being assigned to technology are manual labor that robots can do and that are physically strenuous for a person—the types of tasks that perhaps humans shouldn’t do anymore.
Holdt further explained how removing people from repetitive work and placing them in more meaningful work comes from manufacturing tech practices, which Sundblad summarized as:
USG imagines a future of manufacturing where humans are free from repetitive, routine tasks and instead are responsible for more innovative and engaging work. “We want to have more highly qualified people in the workforce that are ready for a digital and more optimized manufacturing world,” states Holdt.
So, what are the possibilities and requirements for workplace technology?
Manufacturing Data Management May Help Combat Labor Shortages
Using industrial automation and data collection can have a one-two punch in battling labor deficiencies. This includes the use of robotics and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies for data harvesting and analysis.
Case in point: Remember that grizzled old shop foreman who could hear a bearing or gear that was failing and needed attention? And could pinpoint the location exactly?
That expertise walked out the door with him when he retired. But digital sensors can be used to monitor machine health. By sending the information wirelessly to data analysis software (often through handheld devices), the problem can be logged, and a maintenance plan can be determined.
Robots, including cobots (collaborative robots that work with humans, not replace them) and other forms of automation, still need an eagle eye to ensure they’re working optimally and not creating bottlenecks.
Data collection coupled with real-time analysis helps ensure smoother operation and on-time adjustments. But the utilization of technology can also have a positive impact on your existing human workforce, labor shortage notwithstanding.
Automation can actually promote a safer, more ergonomic work environment for your employees. For example, robots can exist in immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) environments that would be dangerous, even deadly, to flesh-and-blood workers.
They can also handle the heavy-lift chores that physically hurt their human counterparts.
Data collection sensors can, to paraphrase the old Star Trek saying, boldly go where no one else can go. A more detailed and complete analysis of the inner workings of your manufacturing facility is possible more so than ever before.
And by employing technologies such as automation, robotics, and data analysis, you give the human element the chance to adapt to this brave new world. They have the opportunity to learn new skills and hone their old ones, possibly leading to better, more productive job placement.
In other words, while technology might replace some of your missing employees, it may also help you hang on to your existing ones.
Embracing IIoT data collection and analysis is one step in implementing Industry 4.0 strategies. But is it really for your company?
Read customer success stories from people who have used Worximity products to improve their manufacturing process. If you have more questions after reading them, be sure to check out our frequently asked questions page. You’ll find a lot of information about our products and about topics such as lean manufacturing, overall equipment effectiveness, and more.
But there’s no better way to find out how it works than by seeing it in action. Talk to one of our expert staff members today and schedule a free demo to see what’s possible.