"They've tried for two years to find my replacement, but they didn't find one yet," said 67-year-old Gil Smith, a second-shift welding technician for Rose City Manufacturing, Springfield, Ohio.
He shared that fact with me after saying that he had read the December edition of the Fabricating Update e-newsletter where I mentioned that metal fabricators need to keep older workers around because companies simply aren't prepared to have all of that valuable knowledge walk out the door permanently to enjoy retirement. It's not that workers can't be found and trained to operate the machines and systems; it's the fact that those workers won't know what to do if faced with unforeseen circumstances that prevent them from operating the same machine and systems they were trained to operate. They simply don't have the experience.
Smith sees that firsthand with the new welding technician his company has hired for the first shift. She is more than capable to do the job, but it may take her three years before she is fully "on top of everything," he said.
For the record, Smith said it took him about four years to learn how to get the most out of the robotic welding cells that he programs for the company. He added that he doubts trade schools can provide a robotic welding education that is contemporary enough to keep up with the advancements occurring in the industry. The rate of technological change in welding equipment is incredibly quick.
So what's the answer? Create a plan where more experienced workers can share their knowledge with their replacements. This may call for "train the trainer" courses to demonstrate how older workers should go about sharing their insights with other workers. Perhaps formal mentoring or informal apprenticeship programs can be established. At the very least, someone needs to sit down with these veterans of metal fabricating and document how they go about their daily activities; so when the knowledge walks out the door, at least a work procedure is left behind.
Hoping that older workers will be around forever just doesn’t make sense. Hope is not a business plan.