What?! Winter can be predicted by the thickness of onions? My wife was informing me of a story on The Today Show saying that we're going to have a bad winter based on the Farmer’s Almanac. For 1,000 years farmers have been predicting weather based on tides, the size of orange rings on caterpillars and onion thickness—among other methods—with incredible accuracy. This was of vital importance because it had an impact on farmers’ livelihoods, not to mention the welfare of society.

Nowadays, the Farmers’ Almanac is still used. However, we have more reliable scientific methods to predict the weather and the winters. And while farming is a much smaller part of our economy, it's still important because we all still have to eat.

Most times a story on The Today Show doesn't interest me, but this one really piqued my interest. The graying of the workforce is a true phenomenon where workers who have worked for the same company for 30+ years are getting ready to retire. These are the workers who can walk into a plant and, based on their senses and their vast experience, can tell if a machine is not performing up to par or if maintenance is required, etc.

In fact, a recent article in Manufacturing Business Technology listed the aging workforce and skills gap as one of the top six challenges facing modern manufacturing companies. And with most younger workers staying at jobs and companies for less than five years, they do not gain this level of expertise. But like farming, it's work that needs to continue. So how do you retain this knowledge?

Nowadays, forward-thinking manufacturers are preparing for this knowledge departure by using electronic standard operating procedures so new workers are armed with the knowledge to complete the job. Perhaps an alarm is generated when a machine has been operating for 1,000 hours, to walk a maintenance worker through the information needed to change the oil and perform basic preventative maintenance.

All the information will be in front of them—manuals, diagrams, steps, etc.—so a new worker could come up to speed much faster. In the old days, the long-tenured worker could do this based on experience. Now businesses can maintain the advantage they have today with a newer, more mobile workforce.

So while the Farmers’ Almanac will still be referenced in this day and age, more and more new scientific methods will be used. In the same way, the manufacturing plant of the future needs to rely less on workers who have been with the company for 30+ years and start to find a way to adapt to a more mobile workforce.

How are you preparing for the next generation of workers?

About the author

Paul Adams

Project Manager

Paul has spent more than 20 years in manufacturing with GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, focusing on product development. His deep industry experience comes from countless calls, meetings and visits to manufacturers around the globe to help solve their business challenges. Today, he works in Global Professional Services, which allows him to continue working with GE’s manufacturing customers at a more downstream function. Wonder what challenges he’s helping manufacturers solve today? Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.