Every day some 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age – a fact that's giving birth to a major headache for manufacturers reliant on well-trained employees.
By 2018, a huge percentage this Boomer population will retire. Since nearly 50 percent of the manufacturing workforce is comprised of Boomers, there's plenty of reason for worry.
“It's getting to the point where it's going to hit home,” said Bonnie Spayd, a long-time member of the technical education community. Without a young workforce willing to take the roles of retiring Boomers, the country is going to struggle, she explained.
The oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation reached age 60 by the end of 2006. The situation will get much worse before it gets better, experts predict.
Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center Administrative Director Gerald Witmer sees the diminishing workforce as a big problem.
“Manufacturing needs people who are highly skilled; right now the pool of skilled workers doesn't exist,” he explained.
Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “Several of the occupations in the manufacturing sector are managerial or highly skilled jobs, normally held by older, more experienced workers. It is the experience and skill that many manufacturing companies will miss most, because of the length of time it takes to train new workers.”
Increasing numbers of retirees are only partially to blame for the growing lack of workers in the manufacturing industry. The image of the industry has also been to blame in the past for lackluster interest in manufacturing jobs.
“Everyone wanted their kids to get into the four-year degree and find a good job and not have to work so hard, said Spayd, director of business and industry programs at Reading Area Community College.
“For a number of years, manufacturing was a tough place to work. That's so not true now. It's become in the U.S. if you're making anything and making a profit, you're using sophisticated machines. It's not the Dark Ages.
“The need for a skilled technician in manufacturing has always been a big deal. For the last 15 to 20 years, (students) haven't been encouraged into the trades.”
The tide may be turning, said Spayd.
In Berks County, the Greater Reading Economic Partnership, the Reading Area Community College, and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center and local businesses are working together to spread the word about the region's manufacturing programs for high school students so they can step into more profitable and successful careers without the burden of a debt to a four-year school.
Dubbed “Careers in 2 Years,” the marketing campaign seeks to draw students into a field that offers numerous job prospects and competitive wages.
“We were calling on local companies to see if they're having issues and to see what's going on in the workforce,” explained Aaron Costenbader, marketing coordinator for the Greater Reading Economic Partnership.
“Manufacturing companies had open positions but were having trouble finding people with the necessary skills. We wanted to see how we, as an organization, can impact that in a positive way,”
The Careers in 2 Years program seeks to dispel those stereotypes while touting the advantages of joining the new manufacturing industry – an industry that is clean, profitable and requires a greater technical skill.
“Some of the things we've discussed are the misconception of the industry. It's very different than it used to be years ago. There's a stigma also facing high school students and career and technology school. We want to dispel that negative perception,” said Costenbader.
As a result of this movement towards getting young people into the manufacturing industry, there has been the creation of a “mechatronics” degree at local technical schools. Mechatronics is defined as a combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering, control engineering and systems design engineering.
Students can get a head start on this degree program at their local Career Technical Center and complete the program at a Community College.
A joint program will soon be starting between Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center and Reading Area Community College. Students will be able to earn a number of credits at the CTC and articulate those credits to the community college.
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