Retain aging workers through manufacturing automation

February 7, 2022

From start to finish, manufacturing is undergoing a massive transformation. Across the industry, supply chains are experiencing rapid changes in demand, unforeseen disruptions and a rising shortage of skilled labor.

On top of it all, an aging demographic of employees are quickly approaching retirement. At the same time, an equally rising tide of automation promises to redefine what it means to be efficient on the production floor.

But what if the latter change could help mitigate the former? To offset the challenge of retirement, manufacturers can lean on automated technology to retain their aging workforce.

Brain drain is on the way
According to The Manufacturing Institute, roughly 25% of the sector's workforce are aged 55 or older. In other words, about a quarter of all manufacturing employees are very quickly preparing to leave their jobs and enjoy retirement. Although well within their rights, this poses a significant dilemma for the industry.

In fact, 97% of manufacturing firms are particularly concerned about "brain drain," the loss of company knowledge and expertise. Put simply, when an employee enters retirement they take with them their experiences and know-how on the production floor. That familiarity is a valuable commodity that expedites repetitive tasks, streamlines production and avoids costly mistakes.

So, how can manufacturers reduce the risk of brain drain? Firstly, they need to start the knowledge transfer process as quickly as possible, whether that be through mentorship, upskilling or cross-training initiatives. But to buy themselves time, it's paramount that they convince potential retirees to put off their post-career plans.

Automation as a retention technique
Phasing into retirement is certainly not an easy thing to pass up once the opportunity presents itself – that's why it's imperative that manufacturers identify new ways to persuade aging employees to prolong their careers. One such way is to embrace automation.

The benefits to operational efficiency are abundantly clear. In fact, 40% of manufacturing executives anticipate those automation-driven efficiencies to increase in 2022, per Deloitte's latest outlook of the industry.

Not only can automated technologies streamline productivity across the board, but they can also help older employees perform their jobs without physical stress to their bodies. By automating strenuous tasks, you afford workers the opportunity to flex their brains rather than their muscles. Of course, this requires aging employees to be trained as such; to use their minds at work instead of their bodies.

This can be an invaluable asset to aging employees who want to work, but physically aren't able to perform the same duties they once were. Automation, in turn, breaks down those barriers and allows older employees to stay around a while longer. According to Forbes, allocating such employees to more interesting or valuable parts of the business opens up new career opportunities they previously thought weren't possible.

All in all, automation represents an important opportunity for manufacturing companies – not only to increase productivity but also to secure the future of their workforce.