From The Editor

Brian Roberts, director of manufacturing and ergonomics at CNA Insurance discusses the challenges associated with an aging workforce at the 10th annual FMA Safety Conference. (Jonathan Samples/MCN)

The Aging Workforce Is a C-Suite Issue

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The U.S. labor force is getting older. It’s a fact that many companies are learning and one they will have to contend with for quite some time.

In 2017, an estimated 62.4 million Americans were between the ages of 50 and 64. That number is expected to climb to 69.4 million by 2050, presenting a number of issues and challenges for employers along the way.

Companies that wish to stay competitive in this new environment will have to address these challenges head on, according to Brian Roberts, director of manufacturing and ergonomics at CNA Insurance. Roberts presented an overview of the major age-related workforce issues facing employers during the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association’s 10th annual Safety Conference, held April 18-19 at FMA Headquarters in Elgin, Ill.

“By the time you retire, you’re still going to have to deal with this aging-workforce problem,” Roberts said. “It isn’t going away. It’s going to be a continual problem to try to find people that keep you on time, on cost and on quality.”

One way of addressing the issue is getting younger workers onboard and up to speed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 17 percent of the labor force will be over the age of 65 by 2025, which means millennials and the forthcoming iGeneration, or Generation Z, will need to play a bigger role in the manufacturing sector.

According to Roberts, it will fall on employers to attract these individuals to the manufacturing sector. Things like internships and outreach programs, as well as working with local high schools and technical schools, are some of the steps a company can take to build up their workforce and, more important, begin to change young workers’ perceptions about a career in manufacturing.

“We’re going to have to be able to work within this group if we’re going to continue to be successful as we go forward,” Roberts said. “We as employers are going to have to become extremely aware of those types of individuals.”

Ultimately, Roberts told the group that solving the aging-workforce issue has to start in the boardroom, with senior executives making it a priority.

“You as the safety professional in your organization, it’s time to take this issue to the C-Suite,” he said. “You are going to have to have a good plan in place to be able to stay competitive. If you don’t have the bodies to do the job, you’re not going to be in business, you’re not going to make a profit, and you’re going to lose market share.”

For more coverage of the FMA Safety Conference, see the May issue of Metal Center News.