Who’s going to replace our aging workforce?

Our workforce is aging and Millennials aren’t filling in the gap, according to Dr. Chris Kuehl, a nationally known economic forecaster who spoke recently at our conference on the topic, What Does The Economy Look Like Now?

“The end result, “said Kuehl, “is that no one is replacing the Baby Boomers, and the Generation X’ers are going to have to bear the burden of supporting Millennials who are staying home longer than other generations, and also supporting their parents as they reach their declining years.”

Millennials, who are generally the children of baby boomers and older Gen Xers, are sometimes referred to as “Echo Boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s.

Just how old has the workforce become? Kuehl, a former economics and finance professor had a ready answer well suited to his Gateway Technical College Elkhorn campus event hosted by WCEDA.

“We have a manufacturing sector that has greatly reduced their payroll numbers and it’s not unusual to see workers employed well into their 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s,” Kuehl explained.

He backed it up with two key figures. “The average age of an industrial welder is 67. The average for truck drivers on the road is 62! Trucking firms in particular are feeling the pinch of a reduced stream of new drivers. The trucking industry is down about 300,000 drivers,” said Kuehl.

Parents would be well advised to strongly encourage their children to consider the value of a technical degree to better prepare their child for many of the economic job changes sweeping the country, according to Kuehl.

“Other countries are getting ahead of us in this kind of thinking,” stressed Kuehl. “For example, in Germany 60% of students are enrolled in tech schools.”

Kuehl is currently managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, providing forecasts and strategic guidance for a wide variety of corporate clients around the world.

“How did we get to this point?”asked Kuehl as he addressed a packed audience filled with dozens of manufacturers, entrepreneurs, financial representatives and business owners. “The answer is that technology is killing jobs – we’re losing jobs to robots now.”

Productivity is a culprit as well, as fewer people are needed to get tasks done, although some are overwhelmed by the fact that as many businesses slash their workforce numbers, fewer people are left behind to cover for the departed workers.

Meantime, more and more economic sectors are turning to the Internet for success in business, Kuehl pointed out.

“Even as brick-and-mortar businesses have been in decline, some have flourished, such as retail, which is balancing new internet sales while trying to become a destination for in-store sales,” added Kuehl, who also noted more optimism and confidence among banking institutions.

Christine Erdman, business development manager for Advia Credit Union’s Williams Bay branch, agreed with that assessment and also praised Kuehl’s advanced economic knowledge, which he expressed with humor and clarity.

“I’d listen to him anytime, anywhere,” she said. “I’m sure he’s added 100 percent to everyone’s knowledge of the future economy in his presentation.”

By Derek D’Auria, Executive Director, WCEDA

Published with permission from The Beacon & Good Humour, June 2, 2017.