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Talent Talk: And Now, the Great Retirement

The baby boom generation leaving the workforce is a looming problem for the plastics industry. It's not just about headcount — it's a brain drain.

Paul Sturgeon

August 27, 2021

2 Min Read
older worker
Image: Halfpoint/Adobe Stock

The past couple weeks we have explored the phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, from the perspective of both the company and the employee. Our hope and belief are that this will not hit our plastics industry nearly as hard as it has others.

However, we are seeing a new demon rearing its head, and I believe this one is something we may need to fear.

The pandemic has given a lot of people time to think about their careers, and the answer for many is to retire, whether that be at a normal retirement age or earlier. Roughly two million more people than expected have joined the ranks of the retired during the pandemic, according to The New School's Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Many factors contribute to what ultimately is a personal and family decision, but it starts with the financial ability to retire. The S&P 500 Index is up about 33% from its pre-pandemic level, up 95% from its lows in March 2020. Nationally, housing prices have risen 16% over the past 12 months. When you add all that up, a lot of people in their 60s (and even 50s) are realizing that they could retire now.

That is the baby boomer generation, which was already leaving the workforce at 75,000 per week. It is a looming problem for the plastics industry. This part of the workforce is more than just headcount — it’s the expertise within our industry.

We were recently talking to the HR director of a large US plastics manufacturer with dozens of facilities in the United States. They told us that the average age of its maintenance managers is 64.

What can be done? I wish I had a great answer for that, and there certainly are steps we can take, like attracting more younger workers, women, and minorities; implementing automation; and revamping corporate hiring practices. That said, there are going to be winners and losers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported yet another all-time high in the number of job openings — over 10 million — so the plastics industry has its work cut out for it in the months and years ahead.

About the Author(s)

Paul Sturgeon

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Sturgeon at [email protected].

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