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Manufacturing’s Own “Brain Drain”

The Future of Manufacturing & the Aging Workforce

Finding qualified workers is the leading challenge facing manufacturers and businesses today. The American workforce is struggling to fill a record 6.7 million jobs. If we maintain the current pace of economic growth, that number will only continue to rise.

brain drain

As the Baby Boomers age, the experienced problem solvers of today become the retirees of tomorrow. Decades of knowledge and experience leave with them. The question is, who is going to replace them? Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer rising managers to fill their shoes; especially in manufacturing. Without experienced and confident oversight, many manufactures are skipping maintenance intervals and often running operations to failure. The impact of this retirement and talent “brain drain” is being seen in lower productivity, increased outages, and less safe working conditions.

5 Key Factors of the “Brain Drain”

1. Experienced Baby Boomers Aging Out

There are 74 million baby boomers with an estimated 10,000 eligible for retirement daily since 2013. This generation is characterized by being communicators, resourceful, hardworking, self-assured, & goal orientated. Their replacements are often more interested in non-manufacturing or technical jobs. Approximately 35% of manufactures are desperately trying to lure retirees into staying on past retirement by offering part time flexibility, phased retirements, & health care.


2. Competition & Margin Pressure Depressing Wages

The rapid increase of global automation and AI has created hyper-competitive pressures in labor intensive industries such as manufacturing. To remain competitive, many companies are either cutting or keeping wages flat. This lack of financial incentive and opportunity for long term employment makes manufacturing jobs less attractive to a skilled worker.


Hyper-competition has also created concerns about employee retention. Fearing experienced employees will leave, contracts with non-compete clauses have become more common. Unfortunately, these constricting contracts tend to discourage younger workers from joining companies, often depriving businesses of the talented people they need to grow.

3. Lack of Manufacturing Career Training in Public Education

A college prep curriculum is the focus of most US high school education. However, not all students excel in college. While 68% of graduating high school seniors attend college annually, nearly 40% do not complete 4-year programs. Today, only 1 in 5 high school students earns 3 credits or more in occupational studies. And over 30% of high school seniors graduate with no job skills and no future academic plans. This could be a significant opportunity to attract smart and skilled employees to a career in manufacturing, unfortunately educators have been slow to respond.

4. Lack of Business Investment in Workforce Development

Educators are not alone. Employers face a major brain drain and skills gap. Despite this, some manufacturers are reluctant to invest in technical and on-the-job training for fear that employees will take that education elsewhere. Nearly 40% of employers cannot find people with the right skills to fill their jobs. And of those same employers, 60% say this is due to a lack of adequate training.

5. Fewer People Pursuing Manufacturing Careers

Younger generations are putting less emphasis on working solely to make money. They seek careers that give them fulfillment, exploration and work-life balance. Blue-collar and manufacturing jobs are seen as more labor intensive, injury prone, with less prestige and generally lower pay causing them to seek other career paths. In addition, many young people are concerned with the environment and may perceive manufacturers as part of the “problem”.

Filling The Gap Cause By a Manufacturing Brain Drain

Many of these issues are difficult and complex, and in some cases, manufacturing will be forced to change its processes and the way it operates. But, how do you know where to start?


Onex can help you fill the gap.

We can help you keep your operation running smoothly, while remaining competitive. There are many options from training to onsite support. Our team of experts can streamline routine maintenance, optimize your equipment and processes, and make repairs and retrofits whenever needed. We can be your on-site eyes and ears and partner for success.

Call Onex today to schedule an onsite consultation. Our team is dedicated to helping you find a cure for the “Brain Drain.”

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