Manufacturers must confront ticking biological clock to realize growth

According to’s Industry Market Barometer for 2013, technological innovations are creating opportunities for manufacturers, but a lack of talent from “rising generations” threatens the sector’s future vitality.

ThomasNet found that with the manufacturing sector heavily populated by workers over 45, and with Generation Y (those ages 18-32) expected to constitute 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, the sector’s “biological clock” for filling its pipeline of talent is ticking. Eight in 10 of the 1,209 manufacturing professionals who responded to the survey say younger employees make up a very small percentage of their workforce and don’t see that changing soon. The majority of respondents represented companies with less than 100 employees and under $10 million in annual revenue.

Technological innovation has become central to the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing professionals are boosting productivity with computer-aided design (CAD), computer numerical control and cloud computing software. They’re also relying on “visual boards” for top-line views of plants in action, and creating and using custom smart phone and tablet apps to monitor inventory.

These leaps forward in technology have been accompanied by growth at the corporate level—55 percent of respondents say their company grew in 2012, and 63 percent plan to grow in 2013. Over two-thirds plan to introduce a new or innovative product or service this year as a growth strategy.

Absent from these innovations and planned growth are plans to fill the skilled engineering and operations positions vacated by a rapidly aging workforce. ThomasNet recommends the sector adopt a “succession plan” for US manufacturing, starting with confronting some pervasive myths about what a career in US manufacturing means.

For example, nearly three out of four (73 percent) of respondents say negative perceptions about the sector are deterring new generations from pursuing manufacturing jobs, yet most are vocal about the rewards of working in manufacturing. “For example, they love inventing products that are improving people’s lives, and seeing them adopted all over the world,” says ThomasNet’s survey summary. “They're proud of the quality that Made in America represents, and thrilled to contribute to their companies’ future.”

Many manufacturers have developed educational partnerships to engage promising candidates early on. They also have called on high schools to offer more skills training and augment offerings in science, math, engineering and technology.

The manufacturing sector can continue these efforts and look for new ways to attract and cultivate talent to prevent the type of workforce drop-off forecasters are worried about.

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