Baby Boomers leaving Tennessee's factories with a huge skills gap

Aug 23, 2017

Credit tnmfg.org

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  Tennessee’s skilled labor gap is bad now, and about to get a whole lot worse.

The Tennessee Manufacturers Association says there are currently about 5,000 manufacturers in the state employing more than 141,000 workers.

Association Director Denise Rice says she’s just finished visiting with many of those companies during a statewide tour, and everywhere she went the number one complaint was the lack of qualified employees.

To make matters worse, over the next few years factory owners will lose some 75,000 additional employees as the baby boom generation retires.

“They’re highly skilled employees, and as they’re leaving the manufacturing sector, we don’t have a large pipeline of young workers joining manufacturing.”

Rice says part of the problem is that young people think of factory work as consisting primarily of low-paying jobs in dirty, noisy environments.

In addition, Rice says that in recent years educators have steered students away from vocational careers toward four year college degrees. She wonders if that still makes financial sense. 

“The average students graduates from a four year college with a student loan debt of $27,000. And these manufacturing jobs, you can get skills and training that you need either dual enrollment in high school, or either at a community college or a TCAT and come out with zero student debt and making a well-paying job.”

Rice says the Tennessee Manufacturers Association is an enthusiastic supporter of Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Dirve to 55” initiative to provide more Tennesseans with job-ready skills.

She says the Association is especially excited about the new Tennessee Reconnect program that allows adults to attend community college or a trade school tuition free.