Some manufacturers in Central Ohio see workforce trouble ahead. It has nothing to do with labor strife. Rather, the trouble has more to do with demographics and perceptions of factory work.
Honda employs nearly 8,000 workers at its Central Ohio plants. It is among the largest manufacturing employers in the region. But, Vice President Rick Schostek says the company is preparing for workforce changes. It recently announced a program to recruit younger workers .
“We’ve been manufacturing here in Ohio for more than 30 years, so it stands to reason that our workforce is aging a bit. We’re not in any kind of a crisis situation. But, we’re going to experience some retirements over the next several years and we need to prepare for that.” says Schostek.
Veteran Honda employee Jan Gansheimer sees a stark demographic challenge. Like many Honda workers she was hired in the mid 1980′s and is now approaching retirement age.
“Over the next ten years, about 50 percent of the manufacturing workforce, again, not just Honda, overall, will be eligible for retirement,” says Gansheimer.
But, recruiting a younger manufacturing workforce is a challenge. First, Schostek says there’s a misperception among students and young adults.
“The three-D’s that it’s dirty, dark, and dangerous,” says Schostek. “It’s none of those three, it’s clean…and it’s a high-tech job.”
For instance, at auto manufacturing plants, employees often work in tandem with robots to assemble the cars and truck. Tightening six lugnuts to secure a wheel or placing a windshield is automated.
“The plant floor of 1985 is nothing like the plant floor of 2015, So we know we really have to work on the technical skills of the incoming workforce,” adds Schostek.
U.S Government statistics count 80,000 manufacturing jobs in Central Ohio, including nearly 4,000-thousand unfilled jobs.
As part of its plan to maintain its regional workforce, Honda is trying to reach students as young as 12 or 13 to get them interested in manufacturing jobs. Scot McLemore says part of the plan includes engaging parents of middle school students who might be encouraging their child to consider other careers.
“They’re not aware that these opportunities exist. So they might guide their student a different way,” says McLemore. “Once we explain that this is what it looks like with robotics and advanced technology and here’s the starting salary for a technician or an engineer their minds change a little bit and they become much more interested in the opportunity for their student. ”
At Columbus State Community College, Stacia Edwards, says some courses are being tweaked to get more students interested in manufacturing. She says Honda is not unique among local employers who will need more trained workers
“While the program for Honda may have been tweaked a little bit based on their needs. There’s the same needs at Worthington Industries, at Abbott, at many other companies locally,” says Edwards
Edwards adds that if a student can see what manufacturing work looks like and see opportunity for a job, it can change perceptions.