Erie, Pennsylvania— Plastics Hall of Famer John Beaumont taught at Penn State Erie for 25 years and continues to educate people.
At the recent Beamont Executive Summit in Erie, Beaumont covered a wide range of issues impacting the workforce in plastics and other industries. The event was hosted by the Beaumont family of Cos., which includes four businesses Beaumont has started during his long career.
Beaumont explained how the unemployment rate in the United States increased only slightly between March 2020 – the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – and August 2022, but the latter date experienced a labor shortage much greater and greater difficulty in finding qualified labour.
Participation in the American labor force fell from 63.4% to 62.1% during this period, eliminating more than 4 million people from the market. Stimulus checks and reduced consumer spending also helped nearly 70% of Americans earn more in September 2021 than the year before, reducing the need to work.
Many baby boomers have also decided to retire early during the pandemic, and the lack of workers has also led to reduced access to childcare services, which has caused other workers to decide to stay at home. home. “A lot of people have chosen to stay home and learn to live with less,” Beaumont said.
The start-up rate of new businesses – including online retail – also increased during the pandemic, meaning more people were working while dropping out of the formal workforce. Reduced legal immigration due to travel restrictions has also reduced the size of the labor pool, as has the death of over 200,000 potential workers due to COVID-19.
Drug use has also increased in recent years, with the number of Americans diagnosed with substance use disorders increasing by 23% since 2020. Beaumont said this factor could explain up to 25% of the decline in drug use. participation in the labor market.
Young workers also want different things from their careers than previous generations, he added. Millennials and Gen Z members want remote work opportunities and value ongoing education. Beaumont said these factors were becoming more important even before the pandemic.
At current hiring rates, 2 million manufacturing jobs will be vacant by 2025, including 3 million by 2028.
“Manufacturing has a bad reputation with young people,” Beaumont said. He cited a Deloitte study in which manufacturing ranks last out of seven career choices offered to people aged 19 to 35. Technology was the first choice in this study.
“With an interest in flexibility and working from home, how does manufacturing work?” asked Beaumont.
The United States also faces a growing technology gap. China overtook the United States in patent filings around 2010, Beaumont said. In 2016, China filed 1.1 million patents, an increase of almost 19% over the previous year, while the United States filed just under 600,000, an increase of less than 2%.
China and India now train 14 engineers for every American engineering graduate. In broader STEM categories, China has an eight-to-one advantage over the United States in terms of graduates.
Two-thirds of engineers with doctorates in the United States are non-US citizens. In the field of plastics, the United States currently trains only 250 engineers each year.
“Where do injection molders find technicians?” asked Beaumont. He added that at the current rate — and with more than 15,000 plastics manufacturers in the United States — it would take 60 years to put a new plastics engineer in every company.
For solutions, Beaumont said injection molders need to “hire smart, reliable people and develop them around the jobs you need.” This process can involve both internal training – including the transfer of skills and “tribal knowledge” – and external training, including training related to injection molding.
“Injection molding is the most complex part-forming process on the planet,” Beaumont said. “You can design a part and make the perfect mold and find a skilled molder, but it’s still a complicated process with multiple steps. It can take weeks, months, or over a year.”
“Sometimes we stop learning and sometimes we lose knowledge,” he added. “We need to understand what we are doing today and how we can go beyond that. There needs to be changes in our skill set and knowledge base.”