Japan Is Solving Its Workforce Crisis by Turning to Retirees. US Manufacturers Are Paying Attention.

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Across the Pacific Ocean, Japanese factory owners are dealing with a labor shortage just like American manufacturers. Thanks to a low birthrate and an aging population, The Wall Street Journal reports, Japanese business owners can’t find enough young people to fill their job openings. So they are doing what many people do when they’re unsure and need help: turning to the older generation.

I mean that literally; Japanese employers are seeking retirees as workers and finding great success. One factory owner is delighted by his older employees’ work ethic, telling the Journal that “Because of their long working experience, [older workers] know how the organization works, what is expected of them, they never come late, and they take orders from younger people.” Meanwhile, one Japanese regional government has started a program to match retirees with new jobs, ensuring that they find comfortable, non-strenuous positions, often with flexible hours.

American manufacturers should pay attention to this strategy, and many already are. The NAM’s most recent Outlook Survey finds that the shortage of workers worries manufacturers more than anything else, and more than 30 percent of respondents are trying to persuade employees near retirement age to stay on. As the workforce crisis continues, more manufacturers will likely turn to this labor pool, to the benefit of everyone involved.

Older workers often have a wealth of institutional knowledge, not to mention the work ethic and social skills that come with decades in the labor force. Of course, manufacturers also seek more younger workers, and The Manufacturing Institute is dedicated to inspiring students to find rewarding careers in the industry. As mentors and role models, older workers can give those youngsters a much-needed helping hand. In return, newer employees can offer older workers additional knowledge and a different perspective via initiatives like reserve mentorships.

How can manufacturers make the best use of their older employees? The Manufacturing Institute is studying that question even as I write this. The Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research has begun a study of older workers in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (to be released later this year) that will examine how the industry employs older workers along with the best practices that companies have developed to keep them happy and productive.

Age is a little bit more than just a number, but it doesn’t have to keep you from participating in our thriving manufacturing sector—the backbone of the American economy. Let’s hope more older Americans continue with their callings or find new ones in the industry, and let’s provide more companies with the know-how to enable them.

Carolyn Lee

Carolyn Lee

Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute at The Manufacturing Institute
Carolyn Lee is Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the nation’s largest industrial trade association. Carolyn drives an agenda focused on improving the manufacturing industry through its three centers: the Center for the American Workforce, the Center for Manufacturing Research, and the Center for Best Practices.

In her role, Carolyn leads the Institute’s workforce efforts to close the skills gap and inspire all Americans to enter the U.S. manufacturing workforce, focusing on women, youth, and veterans. Carolyn steers the Institute’s initiatives and programs to educate the public on manufacturing careers, improve the quality of manufacturing education, engage, develop and retain key members of the workforce, and identify and document best practices. In addition, Carolyn drives the agenda for the Center for Manufacturing Research, which partners with leading consulting firms in the country. The Institute studies the critical issues facing manufacturing and then applies that research to develop and identify solutions that are implemented by companies, schools, governments, and organizations across the country.

Prior to joining the Institute, Carolyn was Senior Director of Tax Policy at the NAM beginning in 2011, where she was responsible for key portions of the NAM’s tax portfolio representing the manufacturing community on Capitol Hill and in the business community and working closely with the NAM membership. She served as the Director of Legislative and Government Affairs at the Telecommunications Industry Association, Manager of State and Federal Government Affairs for 3M Company, and in various positions on Capitol Hill including as Legislative Director for former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and as a senior legislative staff member for former U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY).

Carolyn is a graduate of Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania graduating with a B.A. in Political Science. She resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and three children.
Carolyn Lee

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