Insights into the forces shaping our industry.

10,000 Reach Retirement Age Everyday…How Do We Develop Future Leaders?

Industry Commentary

Various elements contribute to the manufacturing labor shortage in the US, such as an aging population. According to AARP, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 years old every day until 2030. Today, about one fourth of the manufacturing workforce is 55 years or older.1

A National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) survey found 71.3% of manufacturers said attracting and retaining a quality workforce is their #1 business challenge this year (figure 1). With the amount of baby boomers reaching retirement age daily, companies are contacting us to help with their succession plan and search for their future leader(s).

Figure 1 (Source: NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey. Note: Respondents were able to check all that apply, therefore, responses exceed 100%)

From 2018 to the 1st quarter of this year, manufacturing had a large shortage of talent (figure 3). In the electrical industry, we are finding positions are open for 5 – 6 months.

Figure 2 (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Figure 3 (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that California, Texas, Michigan and Illinois have the most manufacturing job openings in the country (figure 3). According to an article by Matthew Frankel, “in Maine, 36.8% of the population is made up of baby boomers, with New Hampshire coming in a close second. Montana and Vermont also have baby boomer concentrations greater than 35%.”2 States with a higher population of baby boomers find a labor shortage due to retirement and not enough workers to replace retirees.

Figure 4 (Source: Burning Glass Technologies, Labor Insights)

Industry leaders are addressing the issues in various ways. Beni Blell, Nexans, proposes investing in training programs to educate high schoolers. His thoughts were reiterated by several leaders at Southwire & Prysmian. We need to develop a curriculum to teach younger generations the career opportunities in manufacturing and that a great living doesn’t require a college degree. This has been a topic for several national organizational meetings, focusing on STEM causes a loss of interest in trade school. Trade school may be the better option for some kids, whether it be financial or aptitude or skill sets. Southwire best exemplifies this type of effort through their 12 for Life program. Over 2,900 students have graduated from their program with applicable skills and job opportunities.3

When we talk to companies about retaining their employees, we hear about their struggles and solutions. Manufacturing Institute’s (MI) survey found that 66% of the respondents are developing a strategy for onboarding new talent to address the aging workforce.1 Josh Katzman, General Cable,  suggests to companies to form a forward-thinking culture and be respectful, be flexible and provide work life balance. He, also, said that younger workers need a stated pathway to plan and chart their career to motivate them to work hard and towards a promotion. MI, also, suggests flexibility and part time positions to provide time for young employees skills to develop. Rich Johnson from CommScope says there is a focus to mentor interns and/or entry level employees. MI confirms how mentor and apprenticeship programs boost morale and provides a dependable vehicle to educate younger workers. Ted Bill of Pelican Wire, says it is hard to hire someone with wire & cable manufacturing experience in their location, so they look for a cultural fit with basic skills.

As we move forward, focus your business strategies on retaining employees, developing a forward-thinking culture and creating a succession plan.


Special thanks to Karl Glassman and NAM for providing the graphs and their presentation at Interwire.

1: Manufacturing Institute’s The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce Report

2: 9 Baby Boomer Statistics That Will Blow You Away by Matthew Frankel

3: Southwire 12 for Life Class of 2019



Pati Kelly is a contingent and retained recruiter exclusive to the electrical industry with a specialty in Wire and Cable. To learn more about how she can help your company identify and attract talent, check out her biography, view her LinkedIn profile or send her an email at