DELPHOS — On a recent morning at Vanamatic in Delphos, three employees with a combined 100 years of experience sat together at a conference room table.
Rodney Wagner, 59, has worked at the company for 40 years. So has 57-year-old Dan Jettinghoff. John Munoz, 45, is the up-and-comer of the team, with just — just! — 20 years at Vanamatic, a family-owned business that machines couplings, clamps and other precision industrial fittings for the aerospace, agricultural and auto industries.
“You don’t really see this in a lot of places,” Munoz said, nodding toward Wagner and Jettinghoff. “People who are here, 30, 40 years? Those days are gone.”
“The younger generation, they only want to work at a job for five or ten years and move on,” Jettinghoff said.
Of Vanamatic’s 65 employees, 23 of them, or 35 percent, are Baby Boomers like Dan Jettinghoff and Rodney Wagner, born between 1946 and 1965, according to Vanamatic. Ten to 15 percent are eligible for retirement in the next five years alone.
These approaching retirements, for Vanamatic and other local employers, are causing deep concern because there aren’t enough younger, skilled workers like Gen X’er John Munoz to readily replace them.
It’s what’s known as the “skills gap,” the gap between the knowledge and experience of a retiring Baby Boomer workforce and that of the younger workers who are being sought to take their places.
“Subsequent generations, known as Generation X and the Millennial generation, have proven to either be too small or are not yet ready to replace those mature workers,” noted the Allen County Economic Development Alliance in a 2016 workforce report. “The worry is that is limiting companies’ potential for growth.”
It’s a problem that has the potential to affect Ohio’s automotive industry more than any other sector.
About 54 percent of its workers are age 45 or older, compared to 45 percent of all Ohio workers, according to Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services in a 2016 report. Because of this, automotive manufacturers are likely to need to replace retiring workers sooner than businesses in other industries, ODJFS said.
But who will replace them? The pool of potential employees is small. The region lost 49,000 people between 1980 and 2007, mostly during the deindustrialization of the 1980s. The birth rate is nearly half of what it was during the Baby Boom of the late 1940s and 1950s, according to the Alliance. And, with the Greater Lima Region slowly recovering from the 2008 economic crisis, unemployment is reaching historic lows: 3.4 percent in May 2016, according to the Alliance, down from 12 percent in 2009.
“They’re looking to us and other colleges to fill that void,” said Andy O’Neal, dean of College of Applied Technologies at University of Northwestern Ohio. “Right now, everyone is pretty desperate to find people.”
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.