Leading a tour of Southern Metalcraft Inc., Lithonia, Ga., as part of The FABRICATOR’s Technology Summit in early October, shop management jokingly referred to an employee with 23 years of experience as a “rookie.” When the second worker ever hired by the almost 40-year-old company still shows up on a semiregular basis for work, that wisecrack is more truth than joke.
That scenario is playing out all across metal fabricating facilities in North America. Older workers know the manufacturing processes and understand the company culture of a job shop, and management is increasingly reluctant to let go of them. Company owners and managers seemingly are turned off by the job seekers that show up on their doorsteps, so if they can keep good workers around—even into their later years—they are happy. Senior Editor Tim Heston covered such a company in 2012.
That same survey reported that 65 percent of workers over the age of 65 said they experienced “deep satisfaction” with their jobs. On the other hand, only 38 percent of those surveyed under the age of 30 reported similar feelings.
Organizations obviously need new blood to keep the culture from getting too stale and for obtaining new perspectives on time-worn processes, but older workers might be necessary for keeping everyone focused on serving the customer. Those workforce veterans know what works and what hasn’t worked, and management that fails to tap into that knowledge is underutilizing a key resource.
Metal fabricators are mostly interested in getting parts out to meet daily deliveries. If older people can help, these fab shops find a high level of satisfaction with the relationship.
But one wonders if younger workers are missing out on a chance to learn about manufacturing because of this demographic reality. It’s a concern for many of today’s manufacturers, but it might turn into a nightmare in another 20 or 25 years when baby boomers finally decide to walk out the exit door for the final time.
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