Manufacturing a Solution for Our Aging Workforce

Guest post by Lance Stephens, Manager Operations Strategy and Supply Chain, AREVA NP

As you may have heard, the nuclear industry has a real problem with its rapidly aging workforce. We are facing a similar challenge at our Richland fuel manufacturing facility—approximately 50 percent of our workforce is over the age of 50 and 75 percent over the age of 40.

In the past few years, I have been able to put faces to those statistics as several of my friends and colleagues have entered into retirement, and some are planning to in the near future.

It’s a harsh reality, but one that has invigorated and inspired me to help plan for the future to ensure the continued success of our facility, company, and provide an avenue for those about to enter the workforce.

Source: Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

Source: Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

I have two sons who are in college and a daughter not-too-far behind. Their high school experience was great and helped them prepare for their future paths. One will graduate with a degree in computer science, and the other is on a path for a mechanical engineering degree.

But what about those students who do not aspire for a four-year engineering degree, a teaching certificate, or a nursing degree? What other career options are out there? How will our site bring on the next generation of a manufacturing workforce?

Those questions led me and a few others in the community to reach out to educators and see if students were being exposed to career paths other than four-year college degrees. By doing this, I learned that AREVA is not alone in dealing with a shortage of qualified skilled workers.

After a summer of brainstorming with local educators, and several more months of planning, a Careers in Manufacturing workshop was developed. Recently, we hosted more than 40 high school students from schools throughout Mid-Columbia for the hands-on workshop, exposing them to a variety of careers available in manufacturing. The students spent the day learning about welding, machining, design, electrical, and testing—and even trying out at a few. The students also had a chance to interact with employers and trade professionals.

Students learned about possible career paths and were given information about how to jumpstart a career in manufacturing after high school. They also learned that, over the next 20 years, only an estimated 33 percent of careers will require a four-year degree and 57 percent will require professional training, a certificate or associates degree.

As part of this experience, students were invited on tours of local manufacturing companies so they could envision what a career in manufacturing may look like. The response has been great from local educators and the students, with many looking into their next steps.

Throughout this collaboration, we hopefully showed this group of students that a career in manufacturing is not alternative career, but a good-paying career that is in high demand.