Wait...Have We Forgotten Someone?

Published originally on Tim Waldo's LinkedIn page

By Tim Waldo, Workforce Development Specialist

The Boomers are leaving! The Boomers are leaving! And, the Millennials are not coming to take their places! We hear these warnings almost daily. In fact, the U.S. manufacturing sector is facing a well-documented shortage of labor, so these are warnings that we would do well to heed. It is interesting though, that every conversation about generations seems to focus mostly on these two, the Boomers and Millennials. There is another one between them…those born from 1964 to 1984. This group could be the key to ensuring the continued strength of America’s ability to make things.

Maybe we don’t talk about them as much because that group didn’t get a cool name. Generation X or Gen Xers are 34 to 53 years of age. This group represents a huge segment of the population; maybe not as large as the other two, but still, they count, and they have a long time to go before they ride off into the retirement sunset.

1964 is the most widely accepted date line that divides Xers from Boomers. Those of us who claim that year as our starting point are allowed to choose which group we belong to. I awarded that option as a perk, because no one consulted us on where to draw the line. If good things are said about one of the groups, that’s my group. If blame and derision are being cast about, well then, we obviously fall in with the other side. Either way, we have 11 years to work until we are eligible to hang up our tools.

A machinist born in 1965 is looking at the year 2030 before he or she can clock out for the last time. That last Gen Xer, born in 1984, can look forward to that special day in the year 2049. That means, as a group, Gen Xers have from 12 to 31 years before they are eligible to retire. Even some of the Boomers have a little further to go. Those born from 1957 to 1964 have 4 to 11 years left, and there are those Boomers who are not ready to go to pasture yet and just keep on making stuff.

Generation X has been a part of the transition from the mindset of the Boomers to that of the Millennials. This group has attributes from both…some good, some bad, some different. The important point is, they are going to be around a while and can play a huge part in building the future manufacturing workforce we will need in the U.S. Although, it seems as if they aren’t even in the room when these discussions about the future are happening.

If we harnessed the collective training power of these manufacturing pros, they could help augment the supply of talent that will come through the education programs already in place. What if many of those manufacturing pros who have 10 years and more to go, committed to training one or two replacements before they exit the workforce? Everyone train one. This could be a key strategy for small to mid-sized manufacturers, but only if they intentionally put such a strategy in place and begin working that strategy while time is still on their side. We may have to incentivize Xers to do this. Done well, it would be a good investment. Call it an apprenticeship, call it a mentor/mentee relationship, call it something else. It can be an effective way to transfer knowledge and the nuances of a company culture.

It is true we face a challenge when it comes to getting young people into the manufacturing sector. It is true that Boomers are leaving in droves. However, it is also true that we still have some time to address this…not much, but some. We also have an often-overlooked generation of makers that could be rallied to help ensure that America continues to be a leader in manufacturing.