QUESTION: This reader’s question asks about “how to re-engage an aging workforce?” I’m paraphrasing several issues his company is facing, e.g., people just getting by; excessive absenteeism; employees not being replaced due to excess capacity so they don’t understand why they must improve when new capacity isn’t needed -- markets are flat for the last three years; expected to do more with less; weekly meetings that discuss the same issues with no resolution due to lack of resources, and a spending freeze.
ANSWER: One could write a book speaking to all of the underlying causes and possible solutions. But in the 800 words or so I have here, I’ll share some experiences that may be helpful. To one degree or another, these issues are common to a broad cross-section of U.S. industry that is still working to recover from the Great Recession. The aging of the baby boomers has been long forecasted, and the shortage of skilled workers is already surfacing as a constraint to manufacturing companies for engineers, scientists, skilled trades, electronic techs, certain machine operators with special skills and so on.
In contrast, those performing manual labor and running outdated, legacy equipment are finding themselves disadvantaged. That won’t change until the company rebuilds basic capabilities that their competition is using to grow market share. But in this particular case, my impression is that the factory in question does not have an operating model that will result in success. A resurgence in the market won’t change the underlying issues in the factory that apparently have been building over a long period of time.
Here’s what I’d do:
The circumstances described in the reader’s question makes it pretty clear that this is a complete turnaround kind of project. The business model isn’t working, and the relationship with hourly employees must undergo major improvement. We can be sure that there are lots of underlying issues here that we simply cannot address in this space and without more information. But there are a few key takeaways from the situation as described: