Dayton’s largest job producers — health care, manufacturing, and the military — face significant headwinds as their aging workforces approach retirement and baby boomers stop working.
Nearly a quarter of all U.S. workers are age 55 or older and local employers and Ohio leaders are racing to find a solution to the hole they’ll leave behind in the workforce when they reach retirement.
“We keep hearing our business partners say: ‘I know I could grow, I know I could go into new markets, I know I can do more. But, I am really concerned about keeping and maintaining the talent level I have for what I do now, let alone trying to maximize my growth,” said Cheryl Hay, director of project talent acquisition at JobsOhio.
The portion of the workforce near the end of its careers has spiked by 6.5 points to 24 percent since 1970, according to data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. If businesses are unable to replace employees leaving the workforce, it could end up slowing the economy, said Michael Lipsitz, an economics professor at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business.
The Dayton Daily News Path Forward initiative seeks solutions to the biggest issues in our community, including making sure our region is prepared for the jobs and economy of the future. This story examines how an aging population in Dayton could affect the region’s economy and what some area players are doing to solve the upcoming problems.
“We are seeing people working to older ages than they used to, but that doesn’t mean as boomers age into retirement that we’re not going to see a decrease in workforce,” Lipsitz said. “And the flip side of that is that they’re also going to be aging into retirement benefits which puts a little bit of a strain on both the Social Security system and any other safety net programs in place for older workers.”
With the state unemployment rate at 4.1 percent, most Ohioans who want a job already have one, experts have said.
JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development agency, added Hay’s talent office in 2017 to focus on attracting new people to businesses in the Buckeye State. The goal is to help remove concerns employers had when it came to “pulling the triggers for growth,” Hay said.
A shortage of skilled workers has forced companies to compete more for workers. In turn, prospective employees are seeking more flexibility and better benefits from their companies that are unlike what’s been offered in the past, Hay said.
“Many of our private businesses are struggling with the new job seeker,” Hay said. “They want a flexible work environment…they want to be excited and creative on the job, they want to have autonomy and what they’re doing, they want to have benefits and employment scenarios and work environments that are not what we’ve been used to. And so this is stretching our business community.”
There has long been a challenge to fill openings in the health care field and data shows it could get more challenging with more nurses nearing retirement.
Around 29 percent of all registered nurses in the Buckeye State are 55 or older, according to 2017 Ohio Board of Nursing data.
Premier Health expects to have enough workers to back-fill the retirees, but has several different options for workers nearing retirement who may want to stick around a little longer, said Billie Lucente-Baker, system director of human resources and talent acquisition at Premier.
The health care provider is also creating a pipeline of young people to enter the fields, Lucente-Baker said. Earlier this year, Premier launched a program recruiting high school students to work in area hospitals as nursing assistants and for other services in nutrition and cleaning.
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“That is an area where we can get individuals interested in health care sooner and interested in a career in health care,” Lucente-Baker said.
Premier is also offering nurses who aren’t quite ready for retirement ways to phase out by allowing them to switch to a position that is less physically demanding or allows for shorter shifts and fewer days of work. Not only does that help the more senior nurses bridge to retirement, Lucente-Baker said, but it also helps with the knowledge transfer to younger nurses.
“More and more, I think individuals are maybe wanting to do a phased in retirement, so maybe they’re not ready to completely retire from their career,” she said. “We’re currently evaluating some more flexible work schedules that may be more desirable to the aging workforce.”
Manufacturing and skilled trades
Blue collar career fields — such as manufacturing and construction — have been hit particularly hard by a worker shortage and aging workforce.
In Ohio, more than 932,000 people are employed by businesses in manufacturing, construction and other goods-producing industries, according to August data from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
Reaching out to people who historically haven’t been highly employed in skilled trades is critical, Roosevelt Burrell, president and founder of the Minority and Female Skill Trades Association, previously told the Dayton Daily News. Burrell’s organization works to connect women and minority workers to skilled jobs in southwest Ohio.
One way Burrell does this is by marketing careers to young people when they’re Girl Scouts. He also seeks to attract interest from homeless and displaced workers to fill the workforce gaps, he said.
Among manufacturers, sustaining the industry’s workforce has been the “number one” concern for more than seven years, said Angelia Erbaugh, president of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association. The main solution, Erbaugh said, has been to try to create more awareness about the industry as a whole.
People often have some reference for the medical field because everyone goes to the doctor’s office, Erbaugh said. But, most people don’t visit a manufacturing facility and may not even realize it when they pass one on the highway, she said.
“The reason that we think we have to work a little bit harder at this is because there are so many other careers people are so easily introduced to, at least peripherally,” Erbaugh said. “Unless you know someone who works in manufacturing you really don’t know what it is.”
In manufacturing, there is a perception that jobs can be dangerous and are disappearing, though Erbaugh said the industry is thriving. To combat those fears, Erbaugh said local manufacturers have hosted open houses where thousands of students and their families have come to visit.
They’re often surprised, she said, when they find out how many manufacturing jobs today require some sort of computer science or technical skills and training.
“To see what contemporary manufacturing looks like…for some of the older folks it will change their perception of what their dad or granddad’s manufacturing looked like,” Erbaugh said. “We just kind of have to work a little bit harder and help people understand that manufacturing is alive and kicking and a great career path.”
Around half of the people who work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are within “the autumn and winter of their careers,” Col. Tom Sherman, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at the base told the Dayton Daily News last week.
Further complicating things is that several jobs at Wright-Patt require a degree, including at the Air Force Research Laboratory where nearly 70 percent of workers have at least a master’s degree, said Jessica Salyers, deputy executive director of AFRL. Around 36 percent of AFRL employees are already eligible to retire, Salyers said.
It’s those statistics that Salyers said are “keeping us up at night.”
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, speaking in Dayton last week, called on area colleges and schools to come together and develop a plan to get people trained to do those jobs. Leaders from Wright-Patt and the education community should sit down and determine exactly which jobs will be available over the next few years so that they can start connecting students with those career fields, Husted said.
“We’re creating jobs right now faster than we’re developing people to take those jobs,” Husted told the Dayton Daily News. “That’s a big challenge for us economically.”
Husted’s comments echoed those of Ohio State University professor Michael Groeber at the Ohio Defense Forum last week. Groeber, a professor of aerospace engineering, previously worked at AFRL and said students need to connect with the defense industry earlier on like he did in school.
“Me spending time there is what made me come to Wright-Patt,” he said.
Help from colleges
While the mass exodus of retiring baby boomers does cause the region’s workforce to lose talent, it provides major opportunities for young professionals, said Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Greater Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We have those young professionals right here in our own backyard. What’s great about Dayton is we have 35 higher education institutions in the region that have over 100,000 students at them right now,” Kershner said. “If the business community will continue to work with our colleges and universities, they can fill that workforce gap caused by our retiring workforce, through very talented and skilled students and graduates that are right here in our community.
Sinclair Community College has been working with local companies and recently launched a new office of work-based learning to get students more hands-on training with local businesses.
“Some of these companies have not had to back-fill a person’s position for maybe the last 15 or 20 years, so it becomes kind of scary and something new that ‘how do I replace this person who has done a wonderful job at our company,’ because these jobs are not high turnover roles,” said Chad Bridgman, director of the office of work-based learning.
Apprentice programs at Sinclair have paired students with Crane 1, a Franklin-based business that is both growing and has some workers approaching retirement, Bridgman said. Sinclair’s aviation department also works with PSA Airlines with a cadet program to link future pilots and the operations of an airline.
“It’s partnering with companies who are really ready to open the door to maybe let a high school student or college student work even though it’s not 100 percent aligned with the technical line of work,” he said.
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