Leading a tour of Southern Metalcraft Inc., Lithonia, Ga., as part of The FABRICATOR’s Technology Summit in early October, shop management jokingly referred to an employee with 23 years of experience as a “rookie.” When the second worker ever hired by the almost 40-year-old company still shows up on a semiregular basis for work, that wisecrack is more truth than joke.
That scenario is playing out all across metal fabricating facilities in North America. Older workers know the manufacturing processes and understand the company culture of a job shop, and management is increasingly reluctant to let go of them. Company owners and managers seemingly are turned off by the job seekers that show up on their doorsteps, so if they can keep good workers around—even into their later years—they are happy. Senior Editor Tim Heston covered such a company in 2012.
Satisfaction apparently is a two-way street. A new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that nine out of 10 workers over 50 were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their jobs. This feeling of satisfaction was consistent across genders, races, income levels, education levels, and political ideology.
That same survey reported that 65 percent of workers over the age of 65 said they experienced “deep satisfaction” with their jobs. On the other hand, only 38 percent of those surveyed under the age of 30 reported similar feelings.
Organizations obviously need new blood to keep the culture from getting too stale and for obtaining new perspectives on time-worn processes, but older workers might be necessary for keeping everyone focused on serving the customer. Those workforce veterans know what works and what hasn’t worked, and management that fails to tap into that knowledge is underutilizing a key resource.
This news, however, doesn’t do much for an economy that isn’t doing much in terms of job creation to absorb new workers entering the job market. In fact, older workers who took a huge economic hit in their IRAs and 401(k)s after the Great Recession need to work longer than expected just to recoup their losses. If they are deeply satisfied with their jobs as they grow older, will they ever leave?
Metal fabricators are mostly interested in getting parts out to meet daily deliveries. If older people can help, these fab shops find a high level of satisfaction with the relationship.
But one wonders if younger workers are missing out on a chance to learn about manufacturing because of this demographic reality. It’s a concern for many of today’s manufacturers, but it might turn into a nightmare in another 20 or 25 years when baby boomers finally decide to walk out the exit door for the final time.