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Replacing the Boomers

BY KATE KUNKEL

retirementsignA common concern voiced by many valve manufacturers with whom I speak is the perceived upcoming shortage of skilled labor. With many baby-boomers (including me) setting their sights on days spent on the beach, golf course or playing with grandchildren, they are taking with them the benefit of decades of experience and lessons learned the old-fashioned way – by putting in the time and sometimes, making mistakes.

The fear is that the generations left behind to run the show do not have the skills, mind-set or experience to keep things running. This is not unique to the valve industry. We’ve heard from end users in all manufacturing, power and processing industries who have the same concerns. While this is a real concern, it is not one that cannot be remedied.

Yes, it takes planning and commitment on the part of management, but by developing and nurturing a strong training culture within a company, the so-called skilled labor gap can be filled. It does take money, though, and time, and while many companies look to trade schools and universities churning out engineers to populate their workforce, bottom line is – you have to train within. And you need to do it before the boomers give their notice.

Andrea W. Johnson, a client development manager at FlashPoint, wrote in an article, “Modern work environments require good communication skills, the ability to work in a team, time-management skills, the ability to adapt to change, and to work with people from diverse cultures.”

One of the most important ways of developing these skills is what she called “Transfer of organizational knowledge”. According to Johnson, by 2015, nearly 20% of the nation’s workers will be 55 years old or older, up from 13%. She urged businesses to utilize job audits and other collection methods to document the tacit knowledge of employees who have been with the organization for years, and train those longtime employees to share their knowledge with others.

It is now 2014. If you haven’t started actively collecting the knowledge of these long-time staffers and sharing it with newer recruits, do not delay. Now is the time to start. With that transfer of knowledge comes the need to have continuous training opportunities for that newer workforce. One thing younger workers stress time and again whenever they are surveyed is that they need to feel that they are growing professionally. To make the most of your investment in any individual, it’s wise to insure that that individual has ongoing access to continuing education and training.

Certainly many larger organizations retain in-house training staff, but many outsource to professionals. Whether it’s paying for employees to attend a class like the Valve Basics program run by VMA or courses run by any of the piping, power generation or manufacturing associations, the ongoing education of your workforce is a wise investment.

Are you ready for your boomers to ride, fly or dive into the sunset?

Kate Kunkel is senior editor of VALVE Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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