I See Old People. It Scares Me. Does It Scare You?

As Baby Boomers leave the work force will the Orrville Area be able to keep enough qualified workers to support our local economy?

As Baby Boomers leave the work force will the Orrville Area be able to keep enough qualified workers to support our local economy?

I had the opportunity to tour an Orrville Area manufacturing facility recently.  It was a fascinating tour.  Contract manufacturing projects from all over the United States have sought out the expertise of this Orrville based company for decades. 


As I walked through the facility, the plant manager would stop and ask a worker to explain what he was doing.  When they finished explaining their project our guide would thank them and tell the tour group with pride that "Joe has been working for the company for 30 years"  and then "Bob has been with us for 25 years."  


"Joe" and "Bob" are skilled machinists and both them are old.  I mean no disrespect.  I simply looked around the shop floor that day and I saw old people, workers that had been on the job for many years and were very good at what they did.  They still are, but how much longer will they work. 


What happens when these workers call it quits and retire?  The answer to this question scares me.  Does it scare you?


I'm reading a book right now, "When The Boomers Bail."  I probably should have read this book when it was published in 2011, but the labor market wasn't on my radar screen then.  It is now and if you are an employer who has needed to hire workers in the past year, you know there is a problem.


The author, Mark Lautman, states that our population can be classified into four catagories:

  • Qualified workers – These are workers who have the qualifications that the current workplace requires.
  • Unqualified workers – These are workers who do not have the qualifications the current workplace requires. The workers could have been qualified at one time but if an industry leaves a community then their skills are no longer needed and they become unqualified.  For example, in Austin in the late 1990s we had numerous semiconductor manufacturing facilities.  Today there is one.  The need for semiconductor manufacturing skill has been greatly reduced.
  • Too young to work – This is our children who have not reached working age.
  • Too old to work – This is our retired population.  As this population grows relative to size of qualified workers they become an ever growing burden on our economy.


Baby Boomers today make up a huge portion of the qualified workers. As they retire and move to the too old to work and too few of the young replace them then we will have a labor shortage.  The author asserts that communities that can retain and attract qualified workers in sufficient numbers will be successful.  Those communities that do not will the economies will wither. The most valuable resource in the future will be qualified workers. Communities will need to compete for qualified workers.


One part of the solution is for Baby Boomers to stay in the work force longer AND stay qualified.  Unfortunately, this is a temporary fix.  Another part of the solution is to fix our educational system such that all of our youth complete high school. It is in our national interest to fix both our k-12 educational system AND have our higher educational system produce graduates with degrees and skills that our economy needs.


As Baby Boomers leave the work force will the Orrville Area be able to keep enough qualified workers to support our local economy?


The Orrville Area Chamber of Commerce has formed a Workforce Development Committee to address this question, identify solutions and begin the important work of positioning our community for survival.  Will you join the discussion?  It's not really a question of whether or not you have time to serve on another committee.  It's about whether or not you want to join the fight to survive the coming jobs war. 


By the way, The Coming Jobs War is another book on my reading list. 


Orrville Area Chamber Champions