The manufacturing sector in the U.S. is enjoying a resurgence, which is welcome news for a country still digging its way out of the deepest recession in decades. But a recent report from global professional services firm BDO underscores one area of weakness that could have profound implications across the manufacturing sector: a persistent talent shortage.
According to the report, 74% of manufacturers identified concerns about finding, retaining, and motivating the right people as their current skilled labor force is reduced by retiring baby boomers. The report cites U.S. Census studies that estimate that the number of Americans aged 65 and over will make up greater than 20% of the population by 2030 — double the percentage of retirement-age Americans in 1970.
At more than 80 million strong, the millennial generation (those born in the U.S. between 1980 and 2000) is large enough to fill the gap left by retiring baby boomers, but manufacturers are having trouble attracting the younger generation, particularly in critical positions such as multi-crafted industrial maintenance technician roles. Many younger workers are more attracted by the glamor of technology jobs and are wary of manufacturing roles, which are often perceived — rightly or wrongly — as more dirty and dangerous.
But there's one set of younger Americans who are looking for work and unafraid of jobs that may be perceived as dirty, dangerous or otherwise challenging: U.S. military veterans. Often fresh off the front lines of the most dirty and dangerous places on the planet, these veterans are looking for meaningful work on the home front and are more than equal to a challenging task; they just need an employer who is willing to take a chance on hiring and training them.
One such veteran, a young man who had specialized in aircraft ordnance in the service, found the job he needed to reintegrate into civilian life when hired as an industrial maintenance specialist by a thermal ceramics plant. The veteran had transferrable skills from his military service that he could apply to his new role, plus intangible qualities that have allowed him to quickly become one of the best industrial maintenance techs in the company.
One of the challenges vets have to overcome to get hired is a lack of perfect alignment between their former military roles and the jobs they aspire to in civilian life. But forward-thinking HR professionals can help veterans while also helping their companies overcome the talent shortage by recognizing that many vets have the basic skills they need for a career in manufacturing, from industrial maintenance, where they bring a familiarity with the operation of motors, pumps, and cylinders to electronics manufacturing, where they can add technical know-how.
In addition to transferable technical skills, U.S. military veterans often possess other extremely valuable qualities, such as a willingness to learn, a will to succeed and a capacity for teamwork. Their mettle has been tested under the most challenging circumstances imaginable. Company decision-makers who are smart enough to recognize that veterans, have the foundational skills they need and wise enough to invest in the training necessary to help former warriors make the transition to the factory floor can be rewarded with a skilled, loyal workforce built for the future.