Workforce, Workforce, Workforce…Again!

February 16, 2022 | Written by: sanford-user

By Bob Joyce, Senior Director | Business Retention and Expansion

Each month when I sit down to write something for this space, I think through the most important topics I’ve heard in my visits with local employers.

…and once again, the main thing – and sometimes the only topic we talk about is (surprise) – workforce.

The National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) recently wrote a feature on why workforce is still a big thing and why it will continue for a long time to come.

The future workforce (or labor pool) is set to grow just 0.2% a year from 2024 to 2031, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Axios. Here’s why the labor force is not growing:

  • In the 2010s, the massive Millennial generation (about 72.1 million people born between 1981 and 1996) entered the workforce
  • The Baby Boom generation (originally 76.4 million, now about 71 million) was still hard at work, but is starting to retire
  • There was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis that started in 2008.

But now, about 40% of boomers are retired, millennials are approaching middle age, and the Gen Z group that follows them is comparatively small – about 24 million, the oldest of which are just now reaching their mid-twenties.

(We’re not leaving out Generation Xers, who preceded the millennials…about 65 million born in the late 60s to late 70s, now in their prime working years…we’re just not talking about them because they are all working for the most part…so they are not the problem.)

The result of all this demographic math is that unlike the past half century, business can’t count on “a flood” of job applicants for all advertised positions.

NAM says: “On the one hand, manufacturers added 349,000 manufacturing workers in 2021, the most since 1994, and on the other, the sector has 219,000 fewer workers today than it did before the pandemic began,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, “and, in addition, job openings remain near record highs…”

What it also means: “The reality of the labor shortage makes clear that we need an all-of-the-above solution to our workforce crisis,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. “We need to attract new workers and provide them with the needed skills. Research shows the next generation is looking for careers that matter. They want to have an impact, and they want the potential for family-supporting jobs with upward mobility, all of which are characteristics of modern manufacturing.”

“This data also underscores why we also need comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that we are bringing the best and brightest to the U.S. to help strengthen manufacturing in America,” says Ms. Lee.

Here’s how the business community, NAM and the US Chamber say we can find a solution:

  • close the skills gap with targeted spending on training
  • common sense immigration reform to allow legal immigration, particularly in specialized talent areas and permanent relief for Dreamers
  • develop nationwide campaigns, like NAM’s Creators Wanted program, to correct the misperceptions about modern manufacturing careers.

Here’s a link to NAM’s video on that program: