Handling an Aging Manufacturing Workforce

Research shows that the manufacturing sector is at the frontier of the aging workforce trend. Manufacturing firms have reported that about 27% of their workers are aged 55 and above. Not so many engineering and manufacturing firms are aware of this trend. As such, many are unprepared for its future impacts. Is an aging workforce an industry a threat or a blessing? It could be a threat if ignored and a blessing if well managed.

Myths and Realities around Aging Workers
• They suffer more work-related injuries; the reality is contrary
• Unwillingness/inability to learn; they may be slow or require more in-depth training.
• Failing memories; that’s an ambiguous conclusion
• Unproductivity; physical exertion on tasks may be a no, no- experience, loyalty, forethought and are compensatory traits
• Poor customer relations; that’s more personality than age-related
• Rigidity; they are rather more cautious which should mean to more safety and accuracy
• Poor health; stats show just 13% of workers between 45-64 years have fair to poor health state

Benefits of An Aging Workforce
There are so many benefits aged workers offer their companies. For these reasons, they must be valued and treated with the utmost importance.
• Knowledge, wisdom and skills
• Confidence, motivation and experience
• Efficiency and productivity
• Loyalty, commitment and reliability
• Strong work ethics
• Can serve as role models and mentors
• Less likelihood of switching jobs

Best Practices for Managing Older Workers
1. Training of workers
Workers at every age level require training in the manufacturing industry. First of all, there must be a knowledge transfer process. This is for the older and retiring workers to train the younger ones. Their knowledge and experience have proven useful to the younger generations. These training could also involve a mentoring program to improve their skill level. Older workers need to be trained also. The new engineering skills and technology evolutions may not be easily grasped. A formal and conducive training environment may be required to enable adaptation.
2. Creating and raising awareness
Older workers are valuable to your organization and everyone must know and understand it. There should be sessions to inform workers about the value of diet, exercise, lifestyle choices and work balance. Quit-smoking programs, in-house exercise facilities and incentives can encourage workers. A skilled workforce is only useful when it is healthy and fit.
3. Less physical expectations
Manufacturing can be quite stressful especially when it involves hard physical labor. This may be a disadvantage for the aging workers with joint or back pains. These engineering processes must be redefined. Thanks to technological evolutions that are making things easier. Adoption of manufacturing digitization techniques is a necessity. Flexible schedules, workload adjustments and breaks have proven helpful.
4. The ergonomically friendly work environment
An ergonomically friendly work environment is a must-have not just for the aged but for everyone. Providing proper sitting positions for tasks and keeping things within reach. Mechanical or automated lifts can be provided to avoid strains and injuries. The lighting should be appropriate and safe. Damaging and unwanted noise should be eliminated by every possible means.
The aging workforce doesn’t have to be a threat to manufacturing. Aged workers would definitely retire at some point. Before this happens, investing in them will be a worthwhile venture. For manufacturing industries to move forward there must be collaborations amongst workers of various ages. The trends cannot be changed, a positive response is possible.

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Beckerman, Adam.
“Shaping Today’s Manufacturing Workforce for Tomorrow.” Aprio, https://www.aprio.com/whatsnext/keep-investing-older-employees-manufacturing-workforce/.
Lea, Brittany De.
“US Manufacturing at ‘Frontier’ of Aging American Workforce: Why That’s a Problem.” Fox Business, Fox Business, 31 July 2019, https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/us-manufacturing-aging-american-workforce.
“The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce.” Quality Magazine RSS, Quality Magazine, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.qualitymag.com/articles/95623-the-aging-of-the-manufacturing-workforce.