Companies predicted to lose more than half of their skilled workers in the next five years

Aug. 18, 2005
Research says that within the next three to five years, most companies will lose more than 50% of their skilled workforce.

I’ve heard many warn of the problem most companies will face soon with more losses of skilled labor than we’ve seen since the early 1980s. What will our workforce look like, and will a company be able to hire the right people? Bob Williamson at Strategic Work Systems calls this “The Perfect Storm.”

I think America needs to wake up and look at the data or we’ll continue to lose our industrial base to foreign countries. We’re already losing industrial facilities at a high rate. It’s always a struggle to discover what the research tells us about the future so that we can prepare for it. Looking at the data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education, along with surveys compiled by many other organizations, some things that can help us make decisions about a skilled workforce in the future become apparent.

What’s the problem? Research says that within the next three to five years, most companies will lose more than 50% of their skilled workforce. Across the nation, vocational education programs at the high school level are shutting down.
More than 200 maintenance organizations responded to a recent survey we completed. It found:

  • In the next few years, they’ll lose more than 47% of their skilled workforce.
  • More than 72% of these companies have no formal maintenance testing regimen for new hires.
  • More than 98% say they’ve not trended the loss of skilled workers.

Dealing with the facts
The latest Bureau of Census Report (2004) stated that:

  • More than 51 million adults (approximately 23% of the adult U.S. population) possess limited literacy.
  • English is the second language for 31% of the adult population. In five states, 50% of the population uses English as its second language.
  • Of those adults with limited literacy, 25% are living below the poverty level.

We must ask ourselves how far technology will evolve during the next 20 years to 30 years and whether a company can be capable of competing in the global marketplace. The Department of Labor states that by the year 2012, the demand for skilled maintenance workers will increase by almost 14% (776,000 additional jobs). The demands on industry to replace retiring workers will place an even higher premium on skilled workers.

What can you do?
Estimate your projected workforce losses during the next two to 10 years. This should help you make logical decisions about how to handle the skill drain and how quickly you need to act.

Perform a job task analysis along with a task-to-training matrix to determine the most critical, most frequent and most important tasks in your maintenance department. Most maintenance work doesn’t require a top-level technician. In fact, 90% of maintenance work requires a person with mid-level skills.

Establish a hiring process that identifies and responds to corporate needs, not just for now, but also into the future. Most companies don’t test new employees for the specific abilities, skills, attributes, mechanical aptitude and literacy required to perform a job to standard. You should.

Train operators to take over basic maintenance tasks to reduce pressure on maintenance personnel and improve labor efficiency.

Have your experienced maintenance personnel write the details for preventive maintenance and corrective maintenance procedures that identify steps, specifications, tools and material required for each task. Use your knowledge base to prepare your department for the future.

I have confidence in our American industrial base. I believe most companies can meet the challenges they will face in the future and succeed.

Contributing Editor Ricky Smith, CMRP, is president of Maxzor in Charleston, S.C. You can contact him at [email protected].

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