Commercial HVAC Equipment

Baby Boomer Exodus and the Skilled Trades: A Profound Dilemma

Tuesday, November 24 2015 3:25 PM
By Jon Goering

Baby Boomers began reaching retirement age in early 2011, and experts estimate 10,000 more every day are getting there.


A mass departure is well underway that will continue for the next decade and more. It will affect job categories from retail to federal and educational to construction. How we handle these changes will significantly influence not only our nation’s economy but also its savings, retirement, and healthcare programs.

And who’s the catalyst for this change?

Baby Boomers.

The Baby Boomer generation has reached retirement age. Actually, they began reaching retirement age in early 2011, and experts estimate 10,000 more every day are getting there. It’s a departure from the workforce the likes this country has never seen.

So what does this mean for me, you ask? Buckle up, because in this blog post we will touch many different aspects of this burgeoning problem.

We’ll begin by defining the Baby Boom generation and briefly reviewing its demographics. We will review the jobs categories most affected – specifically the skilled trades – and explain the unique workforce characteristics associated with Boomers. We will share ways that companies can prepare for the knowledge exodus. And we will examine the effects Boomer retirement will have on the workforce while comparing it to the next few generations of workers.

Baby Boomer Defined

What exactly is a Baby Boomer?

The term Baby Boomer refers to that generation of Americans born between the years 1946 and 1964. According to historians, more babies were born in the U.S. in 1946 – a year after World War II ended – than ever before. The upward trend in births continued through the mid-1960s. It resulted in more than 76 million “Baby Boomers” – nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population at the time. Today, factoring in deaths and immigration, just over 76 million Boomers live in the U.S. – similar to mid-1960s figures.

While this unique generation of Americans has reached retirement age, they don’t consider themselves ready to be “put out to pasture” just yet.

According to a Pew Research Center study, Boomers regard 72 as the beginning of old age. Additionally, six out of 10 say they may be forced to postpone retirement. In fact, their generation has been outgrowing the younger workforce as not all have chosen to retire, according to employment statistics. The reasons, says the Pew Research Center, include financial needs, a desire to feel useful, to stay active and to maintain social interactions. Some have chosen to retire and to continue working at other jobs, even into their 70s.

A Changing Workforce

For those who have chosen to retire or plan to do so in the next 10 to 15 years, the move means a wealth of knowledge leaving the workforce – especially in the skilled trades. One expert estimates that 60 percent of skilled trades positions will leave their jobs in the next five to seven years. Finding skilled workers to fill those positions will pose an enormous problem for businesses.

In a 2013 article, Forbes cites a report by ManpowerGroup stating that finding staff for the skilled trades – more than any other job sector – had been the most challenging in the three years leading up to the report. The organization predicted that the problem would only worsen.

Some might argue it has. And the forecast doesn’t look any better.

An infographic released by staffing company Adecco asserts that 53 percent of skilled trade workers have reached age 45, while nearly 19 percent fall into the 55-64 age category. Workers are aging, and not enough young people have an interest in stepping into those roles, or if they do, often lack the skills necessary for them.

Skilled Trades

What industries will be most affected by the so-called “brain drain?”

A look at the breakdown:

  • Construction / Extraction
  • Electricians
  • Machinists
  • Welding / Soldering / Brazing
  • Plumbers / Pipefitters
  • Industrial Machinery Mechanics
  • Machinists
  • HVAC
  • Civil / Electrical / Mechanical Engineers

And here’s where things get interesting. A survey by the Associated General Contractors of America indicates that 74 percent of companies anticipate a shortage of qualified workers in the skilled trades as a result of Baby Boomer retirements. What’s more, researchers predict that 31 million skilled trades positions will be left vacant by 2020. Manufacturers who make more than $1 billion fear the loss over the next five years from this will reach $100 million.

Why the problem?   

For starters, workers in the skilled trades tend to stay in their jobs for many years, acquiring a high level of skill and knowledge. Plus, in many workplaces employees do not document practices and processes specific to their jobs. When skilled workers retire, they take with them a wealth of knowledge that has not been recorded and cannot easily be replicated. The problem has been compounded because many companies have not planned for the increased retirements.

The term Baby Boomer refers to that generation of Americans born between the years 1946 and 1964.

How to Prepare for Change

So how should companies prepare?

Jobs professionals suggest companies transfer knowledge from seasoned employees to new ones through a form of apprenticeship or shadowing. They also suggest hiring new employees months in advance of the experienced employees’ retirement to allow this process to occur. If no plans exist to hire a replacement, then consider cross-training an existing employee to do the work as an alternative.

Another solution is to challenge seasoned employees to document how they do things. For example, a maintenance worker employed at a hospital for 35 years might record the procedures for preparing a boiler for the heating season or taking it down for the cooling season. He might note potential problem areas in piping, and he may make a list of all the vendors who supply the facility.

Companies also might consider inviting future retirees to work part-time. In this way, companies can retain a retiree’s knowledge while also allowing for the transfer of knowledge to a new employee. A retiree still earns a paycheck, remains involved in the company culture and maintains a sense of being valued. 

Perhaps most importantly, companies in the skilled trades need to do a better job of promoting themselves to a younger generation. For students not wanting to attend a typical four-year university or college, a technical school or two-year community college might make more sense. Additionally, companies also might consider seeking out students with exceptional mechanical and technical skills for employment.

The Challenges

Looking to a younger generation to fill jobs once held by Baby Boomers won’t occur without overcoming a set of unique challenges, however.

According to The Society for Human Resource Management, finding potential employees with science, technology, engineering and math skills today has become more difficult for human resource professionals. Surprisingly, SHRM found that more than 40 percent of job applicants lack basic computer skills. Human resource professionals do not foresee the problem of skills shortages going away. On the contrary, future employees will be required to be even better educated and skilled than today.

Beyond the challenge of finding qualified workers, learning how to meet the expectations and work habits of a younger generation is a factor.

Studies show that young people expect promotions more quickly, change jobs more frequently and look to an employer to provide them with perks such as gym memberships and child care. Younger employees also want to feel good about their company, to feel like they are contributing and to know they will be rewarded. While Baby Boomers are known for stepping in to complete a variety of tasks as needed, young people want to know exactly what is expected of them. The benefits of hiring younger, tech-savvy employees, however, include the infusion of new energy and ideas into a company.

In Summary

Baby Boomers – the generation of Americans born in the 19 years succeeding WWII – have achieved much in their lives, and now they are reaching retirement age in droves.

As Boomers retire, employers will need to plan and prepare for the massive amount of knowledge and skills leaving the workplace. And they will need to anticipate employees from younger generations whose goals and expectations differ. By taking steps such as transferring knowledge to new-hires, cross-training, documenting procedures, and offering part-time work to retirees, employers will be better positioned for the many changes ahead.

Would you like help in preparing your building or facility for life after a long-time facility leader or maintenance employee has retired? For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify solutions to reduce downtime and increase building efficiency. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high-performance building.

Topics: Baby Boomer Retirements

You can follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and 360Wichita.



The Atlantic


Society for Human Resource Management

Society for Human Resource Management 2

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center 2

Huffington Post


Previous: 13 Essential Winter Maintenance Tips for Commercial Buildings and Facilities

Next: How VRF May Be the Perfect Fit for Your Commercial Building

©2019 Knipp Services. Website by RSM Marketing