The changing face of the materials handling labor force

There’s a silver tsunami washing over the aging American labor pool. How can the materials handling industry attracts a new tide of young workers?

By ·

Age is a funny thing. Did you hear the one about the 70-year-old lift truck driver?  No joke.  The American workforce is bracing for a silver tsunami, as workers get a little older, a little grayer.  In fact, the number of workers between 65 and 74 years old is expected to climb by 83% between now and 2016. 

Dealing with the needs of an aging workforce is a present day issue, but the real issue is how to fill the gap left behind when our seniors retire.  Companies are competing to attract new workers from a shallow labor pool made of the younger generation… Generation Y, that is.

Who is Generation Y and why do they matter?  Generation Y includes people born between 1980 and 2000, and they matter a lot because they are our future workforce.

Dan Boos, principal of Boos Consulting Services, led an interesting educational session on this topic at NA2010.  Attending that session was like getting a free hour of family counseling.  He was right on the money describing what makes these kids tick.  I know, I have two daughters ages 23 and 20.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dan again when I interviewed him for an article I’m writing for the January issue of Modern about the impact of ergonomics on older workers.  One thing led to another and we spent a lot of time talking about the kids these days.

Generation Y is 70 million strong, makes up 20% of our population, but only accounts for 2% of management in the materials handling industry today.  That will change in time and they will take over the reigns.  Do they have the skills to steer us in a good direction?

Characteristics of Gen Y are all over the map.  Boos said they’re excellent multi-taskers, are tech savvy, and adapt well to new technology.  And as a result of technology and social networking, everyone is a peer.  But, while Gen Y is educated, they are not prepared.  Finally, Boos said, they can be impatient, blunt and skeptical. 

Boos cut the kids a break and said skepticism isn’t their fault.  They’ve lost faith in leadership because so many leaders have fallen on their faces.  Pick an area, business… sports… religion… entertainment… politics… the disappointments are many and they’ve had a tremendous impact on our kids.

Gen Y also has multiple definitions on what is true.  Boos said Bill Clinton is a prime example.  Enough said here.

So, to develop a successful workforce, exercise understanding and acceptance.  “It’s a challenge to motivate Generation Y, yet they have to be motivated to achieve maximum productivity,” Boos said.  “Their generation is a paradigm breaker.  If you can’t prove your systems as best practices, they will challenge you.”

As a parent, I agree, they are a challenge.  But they share positive traits that make desirable employees.  Boos suggests, a nimble management approach will help your company attract top talent and develop a strong team for the future.

This suggestion goes a long way at home, too.


About the Author

Lorie King Rogers
Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.

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Article Topics

Ergonomics · Labor Management · · All Topics
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