U.S. manufacturers face a growing shortage of skilled workers. Almost 3.5 million manufacturing positions will need to be filled over the next decade as Baby Boomers retire, and two million of those jobs could remain vacant due to manufacturing’s fading appeal to Millennials, according to a 2015 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. As a case in point, consider Boeing, where about 35 percent of the 29,645 machinists in the company’s Seattle industrial hub are 55 or older.


The timing is particularly challenging for Boeing since the company also faces critical upgrades of its two largest profit-drivers: the 737 and 777 jetliners. Currently, approximately 10,000 mechanics are eligible to retire from the company’s Puget Sound manufacturing base alone.


Anyone can retire, of course, which increases the risk of significant shortages of skilled tradesmen. However, as an article on Bloomberg points out, memories at Boeing are still sharp concerning the cascading production issues 20 years ago after the company offered a one-time retirement incentive with few restrictions. More than 3,700 mechanics, engineers and technical workers cashed out in June and July 1995 alone, creating immediate shortages in some positions.


Earlier this year, Boeing carefully structured another voluntary layoff aimed at retirement-age workers. This time, however, the company methodically staggered the departures of 1,057 machinists to plan for their replacement and avoid massive disruptions like those in 1995, Joelle Denney, vice president for human resources at Boeing’s commercial airplane division, says in the Bloomberg article.


“We’re not expecting a big bubble or wave,” Denney says.


For the long term, Boeing is investing in education—from vocational training to programs at middle schools—in an effort to make manufacturing “cool” to a generation that has never known shop class, Denney says. In the short term, Boeing is increasing training and mentoring programs within its factories, she says.


Today being Veterans Day in the U.S., I was interested to see an op-ed piece about another pool of labor. Emily DeRocco, Director, Education and Workforce, LIFT—Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow--and James Wall, Executive Director, National Institute for Metalworking Skills, write that the two groups believe they have “a responsibility to support U.S. military veterans and ensure the U.S. is once again a world leader in manufacturing. We believe our veterans and the manufacturing industry will be well-served by providing separating military men and women with a new model of career transition assistance.”


The problem, DeRocco and Wall write, is that the assistance currently provided veterans before they leave the service isn’t sufficient—leading to a 5.8 percent veteran unemployment rate. The groups’ vision is that a veteran with the right training, knowledge and skills will depart active duty with one or more credentials that have immediate value in the advanced manufacturing labor market, they write.


“Instead of a ‘business-as-usual’ approach, NIMS and LIFT are focusing on creating innovative solutions and developing a new model that helps prepare service members for good jobs in advanced manufacturing during their last six months of active duty,” DeRocco and Wall write. “In this model, during those hours each day after military duties are complete, service men and women can pursue both virtual and hands-on technical training and earn nationally-portable, industry-recognized credentials that set them on a path to success. Before their official separation, they can gain critical, in-demand skills for today’s most sought-after advanced manufacturing jobs.”


Finally, the authors point out that veterans have the skills, work ethic and attitudes companies need from employees to be productive and competitive. This new model, they explain, will fill the manufacturing workforce pipeline with individuals who bring the same level of commitment, leadership and dedication to their civilian careers as they demonstrated in service to our country.


What are your thoughts on providing training and certification for veterans so they can quickly begin careers in manufacturing?