LIMA — Nearly 80 million Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce in the next 20 years. The number alone leads to some big questions, such as how to fill those jobs and what will tomorrow’s workforce look like? What skills will employees need?
Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman and DTR Inc. Senior Vice President Bill Yokas tackled the topic from opposite ends Friday at Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s Wake, Rattle and Roll.
DTR is a Japanese-owned company in Bluffton; its headquarters is also there. The company makes anti-vibration rubber molded parts for vehicles, things that control and lessen vibration and noise. The company also has plants in Tennessee and Mexico and employs nearly 600 people, Yokas said. It has annual sales of $580 million, including $220 million generated in Bluffton.
The average age of their employees is 43, Yokas said, mirroring the national average. Another similarity to a national issue for the company is finding skilled workers, in spite of a recession and high unemployment.
DTR is dealing with multiple issues, Yokas said, around that aging workforce which will eventually leave. For example, there’s a new focus on ergonomics and automation, making workstations easier to use for people who are staying employed longer. But they company also invests in training for what they need, people who understand robotics, controls and programming.
Those are some of the same things education is considering as a system, Ackerman said. The high school is developing what Ackerman calls “pathways” with certain coursework focused on certain interests and career choices. In development now are paths for the arts, humanities, business, science/technology/engineering/math, mechanical/industrial and undeclared.
The school district is working with Allen Economic Development Group and area employers to talk about what skills employers need in its future workforce. It’s a conversation that didn’t always take place.
“As a school system, we’re used to saying, this is what we need, this is what kids need to do before they leave school,” Ackerman said. “Now, we’re saying, tell us what you need, what makes a successful employee.”
Eric Davis, with the development group, said his organization has completed a survey of area businesses and asked just that question. At the top of the list are communication skills and work ethic.
“It’s not just spoken and written communication,” David said. “It’s about the ability to express individual ideas, social skills, listening and comprehension. There are executive skills, higher level thinking.”