Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rhode Island: Focus on Aging Workforce in Manufacturing

As part of a Focus issue on baby boomers, the Providence Business News published two articles by on workforce and the aging. The first, by Natalie Myers, focuses on manufacturing companies trying to fill the holes created by today’s retirees. The second, by Nicole Dionne, focuses on how the employment needs of the baby boom cohort are being taken very seriously in the workplace.

According to Myers, in manufacturing, it takes a substantial amount of time to teach the skills the retirees have spent 10 to 20 years learning themselves. She focused on one company--Handy & Harman--where about 30% of the workers are older than 55 and the average age is 47. She reports that Handy & Harman invests heavily in its on-the-job training program and, to help supplement training costs, seeks grants from state and federally funded organizations such as the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island. In addition, she reports that companies have to balance the need for new trainees with the need to implement lean manufacturing principles, to cut production costs and stay competitive.

According to Dionne, 23% of Rhode Island’s work force is 55 and older.
“This is a group that is a great resource, particularly now,” said Kathy Partington, chief of work force development for the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. “They have a lot of skills that can be transferred to different jobs."
The biggest barriers faced by older workers are salaries and the perception of employers who feel that they should get younger workers with more cutting-edge skills. In order to counter those barriers, the state training department works to get employers to see the value of older employees.

Source: Providence Business News "Factories toil to replace retirees" and "Older workers offer employers challenges, rewards" (November 18, 2006)

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