The American workforce has continually grown older, to the point where many workers are currently approaching the traditional retirement age. If all of these people retire when scheduled, there will be an overall shortage of workers to meet the needs of businesses. To ensure that businesses have the personnel they need, manufacturing businesses in particular, they should use technology and training to entice older workers to stay in the workforce longer.
Numbering more than 69 million, workers who are 40 years of age or older represent 48 percent of the total U.S. workforce. In the next several years this number is expected to jump to more than 51 percent. In the same time period, the average age of the American worker is expected to increase from 34.6 years to 40.6 years, while the number of workers 55 and older will grow from 13 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2020. At this point, people in this age group will represent one out of five people in the workforce. At the same time, the number of workers between the ages of 25 to 39 is decreasing.
Fortunately people are living longer and wanting to work past traditional retirement age. The American Association of Retired People reports that 69 percent of employees over the age of 45 are planning to work past the age of 65. This means that the drain on the workforce can be staved off while giving older people the chance to keep working and share their knowledge and training with younger employees.
More than 66 percent of the jobs in the United States use computers and the Internet. To remain employable, baby boomers need to embrace computer skills and technology. Manufacturing employers can make this happen by offering supplemental computer training to older workers to help keep them in the workforce past the traditional age of retirement.
Employers must also focus on a work environment that caters to the needs of older workers, such as allowing flex time to provide them with more leisure. In addition, employers should accommodate special needs of older workers, such as considering their sight and hearing and using hardware and software applications that are more accessible for older workers.
Some companies, such as IBM, have set up a Casual Worker Program. This program provides older workers with employment with limited benefits and no pension. The idea is to develop ways for older workers to pass their knowledge and skills on to younger workers. These companies have found that some of their customers feel more secure talking about certain subjects with older representatives who have more knowledge and experience.
One area where training is essential for older workers is lean manufacturing, which places much of the responsibility for improving operational efficiency on the workforce. To meet this need, manufacturers can use a job-training program known as Training Within Industry. Developed in the 1940s, TWI trains supervisors who then teach necessary skills to workers. It’s a hands-on program that promotes cooperation between supervisors and employees. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership is another organization that, among other things, promotes programs for training older workers in order to keep them in the workforce.
The New York State Office for the Aging has information on training for the aging workforce in New York, and the state of North Carolina offers Supporting Education in Aging. For a listing of training programs available in your state, contact your state administrator.