Study: US Manufacturing Races Against 'Biological Clock'

Thursday, 07 Nov 2013 07:55 AM

By Michael Kling

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The lack of young people entering the manufacturing field threatens the future of the U.S. manufacturing renaissance, warns a new study.

Older workers, who dominate manufacturing, are leaving the work force in droves, but few young people are entering the field to replace them, according to the study from information and technology company ThomasNet.com. The study included responses from 1,209 engineers and purchasing agents, business owners and managers and sales and marketing executives from manufacturers, distributors and service companies.

Over three-fourths of manufacturing employees are 45 and older, the survey indicates.

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"With Generation Y (18 to 32 years old) expected to make up 75 percent of the work force by 2025, and older employees exiting in droves, manufacturing's 'biological clock' is ticking away," the report notes.

Yet most manufacturers show a lack of urgency to fill their pipeline with skilled workers.

Three-quarters of companies surveyed say 25 percent or less of their work force are in the Generation Y age group. While 29 percent say they will increase employment of Generation Y workers in the next two years, almost half expect their numbers to stay the same.

Manufacturers say negative perceptions about work in their industry prompts young people to avoid the sector. But instead of being dirty, boring work, modern manufacturing is a high-tech world of computer-aided design and production. Half of survey respondents say a career in their industry provides satisfaction as well as competitive wages and benefits.

The shortage of skilled workers comes at a time when the industry is rebounding. Over half of manufacturers grew in 2012 and nearly two-thirds expect to grow this year. Nearly seven out of 10 will introduce new products this year.

"Considering that many companies (42 percent) are increasing employee headcount this year, the time to cultivate a new work force is now," the study stresses.

Lack of basic skills in young workers is a drawback.

Manufacturers are developing partnerships with schools to help improve training and increase their emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "The jury is out on whether these efforts alone will be enough," the study says.

The United States is well-positioned to revitalize its manufacturing sector, says Philip Odette, president of Global Supply Chain Solutions, in an article for ManufacturingNet, an industry news site.

"The only thing missing is enough skilled workers to maintain the momentum."

Companies must work to educate young people about the advantages of a career in manufacturing, he explains.

"Even something as simple as recording yourself demonstrating a process can boost the credibility of your company and increase its presence in the minds of students and teachers in your local area," he advises. "Videos of new equipment or an impressive process don’t have to be reserved to sales pitches — they can be investments in attracting a new work force."

Editor’s Note: Retired Americans Slammed by Obama’s Redistribution Plans

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