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Retirement parties are a blast.

For starters, there’s usually cake. Plus, these shindigs evoke all the feels—genuine excitement for the retiree, appreciation, bittersweet sentiments. It can also be a reminder than in X number of years, you too will be leaving office-life for a golf course, beach or whatever your retirement paradise might be.

But amid the congratulations and heartfelt emotion for that retiring coworker, it’s also possible a hard reality is setting in: There’s a slew of retirement parties coming down the pipeline, but there doesn’t seem to be an equal number of new hire luncheons with fresh faces.

U.S. companies, especially manufacturing companies, are beginning to experience the ramifications of an aging workforce. According to the Manufacturing Institute, as of 2017, nearly one-quarter of the industry’s workers were age 55 and older. The median age of a worker in manufacturing was 44.1, compared with 42.2 for the U.S. overall.

The study also pointed to reasons why manufacturing companies are disproportionately at risk for feeling the effects of aging labor. This sector’s work force already skews on the older side, there are challenges attracting younger workers and there’s a skills gap—new technology like robotics and artificial intelligence only accentuate that gap because of the continuous training required.

  1. Brain drain: One primary concern with the aging population facing retirement is “brain drain,” or the loss of institutional knowledge when older workers retire without passing knowledge along. The Manufacturing Institute recommends placing a grater emphasis on knowledge transfer—including playbooks for institutionalizing and preserving information—as well as mentorship programs. Companies may also consider innovative approaches to retirement that lessen the blow of departure, such as returning for part-time contracting work or phasing out retirement.
  2. Work-life-balance meets manufacturing: Millennials and Gen Z have a different approach to work than their parents. They’ll work hard, but their expectations are different. Many young people expect their employer to encourage their life outside of work via flexibility. While it might not be realistic for manufacturing companies to adopt some signature work-life-balance initiatives like working from home, there are still options such as offering flexible hours, wellness benefits, investing in employee education and more.
  3. Make new technology a plus, not a minus: There’s a skills-gap, and technology like AI and robotics are often treated as a foe—but it doesn’t have to be. With new technology, comes new jobs that require new skills the industry hasn’t seen before. Create fluidity at your company by enabling workers to transfer to other departments if they want, by supplying them with the skills they need. When employees feel stagnate or like their job is at risk, they check out mentally.
  4. Work the way you live tools: This falls under the technology umbrella, but “work the way you live” tools are often easily adopted by younger employees who grew up on technology. These systems use mobile capabilities and social collaboration and are beautifully designed interfaces. By equipping employees with tech that’s like the technology they interact with everyday, the interface becomes second nature.

It’s important to always remember that the “workforce” is made up of human beings—smart, talented, driven people who can accomplish great things for your company when supported and given the opportunity. This enablement might not happen in traditional ways, but just like the industry itself, innovation can help your company explore new frontiers in hiring, employee retention and job satisfaction.  

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