Composites have come a long way over the last couple of decades. They have a bright future as well. Yet the future of the composites industry does not hinge entirely on science and technology. Recruiting is also a critical component. The industry has to get more young people involved if the future is to be as bright as anticipated.
Workers are ultimately the engine that fuels every industry. Without workers to actually perform the labor, no industry can survive. This is as true of composites as it is healthcare, IT, and automotive manufacturing. So the extent to which the composites industry can recruit the next generation of workers will determine its future course.
Here are three reasons that recruiting is so critical to composites’ future:
1. The Current Workforce Is Aging
The composites industry is very similar to the trucking industry in one striking aspect: their workforce is aging. Companies in the trucking industry are facing the reality that the majority of drivers are over age 50 and well on their way to retirement. Things aren’t that bad in composites, but they aren’t good either.
The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation estimates that the industry will need to replace more than half-a-million workers over the next decade. That says nothing of new jobs. Unfortunately, many current workers are older than 45.
Any industry will suffer if the number of younger workers entering the workforce is outpaced by the number aging out. So while any existing labor shortage has not yet reached critical mass, it will if recruiters don’t step up their efforts.
2. Knowledge Is Retiring with Workers
One of the natural results of retiring is the loss of knowledge and experience. This is a problem that composites industry executives are now starting to see within their ranks. With every new wave of retirees, a little more knowledge and experience is lost. And without enough younger workers coming in to take the place of retirees, there are not enough people to pass that knowledge and experience on to.
Rock West Composites, a Utah company that specializes in carbon fiber and other composite products, says that it is difficult to underestimate the importance of knowledge and experience. The composites industry is still developing in many aspects, and the knowledge and experience possessed by older workers is key to that development. If too much knowledge and experience go, development is likely to slow.
3. New Ideas Are Entering the Picture
The other side of the knowledge and experience coin is observed in all the new ideas being introduced to composites. As a developing industry, composites is also one alive with new ways of thinking. Older workers are less likely to embrace these new ideas, so the industry needs fresh blood to push things forward.
This is by no means a slight on older workers. Rather, it is simply a fact of business evolution. Fresh blood is typically what enables a company to innovate while, at the same time, more senior members of the workforce provide the stability necessary to keep the ship aright. Companies capable of finding a good balance between younger and older workers seem to do the best.
Unfortunately, the current state of the composites industry is more heavily weighted to those older workers. The industry is in need of younger people with fresh ideas to balance things off.
It will be fascinating to see where the composites industry goes in the next couple of decades. One thing is for sure though: recruiting will be a critical factor in determining its ultimate direction.