The Generational Dilemma in the Manufacturing Workforce

Posted by Mark Roman on September 15, 2020

There is a crisis in manufacturing that has been slowly but surely coming to a head… with the pace quickening the last few years, especially now with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our workforce. Its impact will be felt for years to come.Here’s the issue: management at manufacturing facilities is typically on the older side – and many are nearing retirement age. Yet, many facility managers and other key personnel feel that the next generation, the younger workforce under them, isn’t really ready to replace them yet. The senior workforce often contends that the younger workforce does not have the necessary skills and experience.

Millennials and members of Generation Z aren’t ready to step into important management roles, says the older generation, because they lack the necessary knowledge. If we don’t bridge that gap, and they don’t get up to speed quickly, the consequences can be serious.

How did things get this way? They feel like younger workers are entitled, too complacent, and need instant gratification.

But, on the flipside, younger workers feel like their senior colleagues are out of touch and unwilling to embrace much-needed change and technology that could make their facilities more efficient, productive, and profitable.

It’s a generational conflict we often see in many areas of our society. And we’re not going to solve it by ignoring the issues. In fact, I see both sides as having an element of truth.

It has been my experience that senior facility managers often have an “It’s always been done this way” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to running their facilities, which can lead to issues because regulations change, best practices change, and technology changes.

By only sticking with old school methods you can easily step out of compliance, have an outdated EH&S program that puts people and profits at risk, or be blind to the invisible environmental gorillas in your facility.

Invisible environmental gorillas are those issues in your processes, facility layout or features, or equipment you just don’t recognize – because you’re so familiar with your facility and they have become part of the backdrop or landscape… the normal routine. However, they could quickly turn into expensive liabilities if they are overlooked.

An outsider can often recognize these issues very quickly because they’re looking at the situation with fresh eyes. Some typical invisible environmental gorillas include:

** Floor drains that are assumed to lead to the sewer system… but actually go to on-site septic tanks or off-site retention ponds… or even straight into the soil and groundwater beneath the facility because they are not connected to a sewer system.

** Improper storage of hazardous materials, storing incompatible materials together, containers incorrectly labeled, improper use of containers, and more.

** Outside storage areas not protected from the weather, leading to releases of materials into stormwater retention basins or even into the environment.

** Floor cracks, floor seams, and floor joints that aren’t properly sealed and can serve as pathways to the environmental for released materials to impact underlying soil and groundwater.

** Equipment and machinery not operated or maintained correctly.

Click here to request a free copy of our book on invisible environmental gorillas: OVERLOOKED: Hunting the Invisible Environmental Gorilla

At the same time, there is a knowledge gap among younger workers primarily due to inexperience.

However, these up-and-comers are very comfortable in using the new technology that is always moving manufacturing forward. This has always been the case, but it is especially important as we enter a post-pandemic world where virtual workplaces and remote working, as well as the social distancing requirements, will become more and more commonplace.

Technology can help ensure that a facility manager doesn’t always have to be physically present to do their job, even something as simple as monitoring conditions remotely, rather than with visual inspections.

As the workplace population is starting to change and things are approached differently as far as processes and the tools we use due to COVID-19, don’t forget to integrate EH&S issues with new processes and policies. It’s all too easy to let “routine” EH&S issues fall by the wayside in a rush to implement new policies to make the workplace pandemic-proof.

Keeping this in mind, let the younger generation take a chance on reinventing the workplace they are taking over.

Both sides bring something valuable to the table. The older generation has experience and institutional knowledge that got us to this point and is of great value. The younger generation brings innovation, comfort with new technology, and a willingness to change and adapt – this will allow our businesses to continue to grow and enable us to have a solid future.

Combine both and you have the march of human progress.

Stay tuned for future articles on bridging the generational gap in our workforce.

If you’re interested in learning more about EH&S issues in the age of COVID-19, please get in touch with me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or via email at markroman@envisionenvironmental.com.

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