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Author's profile photo Jennifer Scholze

Metals Industry – Where Will All the Workers Come From?

Nearly all aspects of the metals industries are booming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for workers in various metals production roles will increase by between 15 and 22 percent over the next several years, even as the unemployment rate remains relatively stable. Yet many companies report an inability to find qualified people to fill open slots. To resolve the pending labor crisis in the industry, companies need to take steps to attract more high-quality workers to these jobs.



Recast the Industry Image

Manufacturing as a whole, and the metals industries in particular, suffer from an “image problem” when it comes to attracting young people to build a career in the field. Media and popular culture focus on technology and healthcare as occupations that offer the best chances for interesting and fulfilling careers. Production occupations, on the other hand, are sometimes painted as less fulfilling jobs with low pay and dangerous conditions, despite the fact that manufacturing was once viewed as a stable, respected and well-paying career choice.

Companies and industry bodies can consider working with media outside trade publications to spotlight the innovations and varied career opportunities that make metal-related careers so interesting to those who actually work in the field.

Educational Involvement

Although unemployment is still relatively high by historical standards, many companies report a shortage of applicants with the skills to fill their job openings.  To help resolve the issue, companies can consider working closely with local schools and community colleges to ensure that their curriculum includes the necessary skills and knowledge to enable graduates to take on the available jobs.  In addition to providing a better match between available skills and job requirements, this educational system involvement could help improve the image of the metals industry as a potential career path since students and parents will see industry and company leaders as caring and respected members of the community.

Adopt Flexible Employment Practices

Pew Research reports that nearly 10,000 “Baby Boomers” turn 65 each day, and that trend will continue for the next several years. While 65 is the traditional retirement age, many of these workers would like to continue working in some capacity for at least a few years longer.

Companies in the metals industry can help alleviate the upcoming worker shortage by helping these older workers to remain productive. This flexibility can take many forms, ranging from flexible or part-time schedules or pairing older workers with younger team members in a mentoring relationship designed to pass on the benefits of their hard-won expertise to incoming workers. Companies may need to work with union leaders to enable this flexibility, but it is ultimately in the best interest of both parties to do so.

Productivity Improvements

Metals and asset-intensive companies have historically focused on equipment utilization as a key metric that helps ensure profitability, but it may be time to focus on efficiency and customer satisfaction as more important predictors of success. Adopting such “lean” techniques as fast setups and changeovers that allow for flexible product mix may help companies adapt to customer demands. Rethinking the supply chain to reduce costs and eliminate unnecessary activities can help, as can working cooperatively with suppliers.  Working with government and university sponsored centers of excellence and research facilities can help companies stay abreast of new techniques and materials that enable more throughput with less effort and waste can also help by improving productivity for all workers.

The scarcity of skilled workers is not a problem that will disappear overnight, but working creatively, metals companies can take steps today that will help alleviate the problem in the future.

Please join the conversation if you have other examples of how your company is managing to attract or retain your valued and crucial employees.

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