When companies develop their business continuity plans, they usually do so with the intent to continue operations in the event of a disaster at varying levels, from short-term localized incident or event, to longer term facility-wide problems or permanent loss. However, we are starting to see different trends play out that are becoming more noticeable and need to be considered in future contingency planning.

According to Forbes, the past few years have seen an emerging problem in the skilled trades. A combination of factors, including the outsourcing and offshoring of labor, an uncertain economy, quickly-advancing technology and a rapidly aging workforce, has led to a shortage of qualified welders, electricians and machinists, as well as a number of other professions. It is also clear that these shortages will not disappear anytime soon.

In 2012 alone, 53% of skilled tradesmen in the United States were at least 45 years old, and another 18.6% of them were between 55 and 64, the expected age of retirement, according to EMSI. Not only do those figures compare negatively with the overall labor force, where those respective percentages stood at 44% and 15.5%, but their ranks may not be replenished at the rates they need to be.

Aging Workforce Means Staffing Challenges

The skilled trades themselves encompass twenty-one different job descriptions, and the rapid "evaporation" of this workforce has many consequences to manufacturing in the US. The loss of production that can result from losing just one key employee with specific and hard-to-replace skills can be significant. Add to this the fact that a diminishing workforce can extend the hiring process by weeks or even months, makes the ability to quickly replace these workers essential.

This is especially pertinent when considering how few of today's students are entering various skilled trades. American high schools have largely shifted their focus toward landing students in four-year colleges and away from vocational schools, reducing the number of young workers that will soon enter the trades. One way for companies to combat this trend in their contingency plans is to develop company initiatives to drive interest and even potential training or scholarships for students who are looking to learn these high value skills.

Additionally, continuity plans for strategically timed equipment upgrades and replacement can also make a difference, as new technology frequently reduces headcount and increases productivity. While these methods aren't fail-safe for long-term production, they can serve as important stopgaps that could buy a company more time in the process.

A New Focus on Labor

Another trend that is quickly impacting the manufacturing and skilled trades field is the rebalancing of the manufacturing market, according to The Wall Street Journal. While there's a positive aspect of this market direction, where American companies are increasingly investing resources in bringing manufacturing back to the US and pulling away from outsourcing and foreign production, it is also expected that prices will rise somewhat in response.

One hiring expert quoted by the news source was quick to point out that this doesn't indicate a major sea change in manufacturing itself. However, between increasing labor needs and decreasing resources, business continuity planning focused on labor will be even more mission-critical in order to reduce uncertainties that may result.

Determining the Right Course of Action

Considering its growing importance, a business continuity plan must make potential skills gaps that can negatively impact the business a priority, especially those that deal with manufacturing or skilled trades. Consultants are beginning to address employment levels as a path to gain competitive advantage, and adding offerings that help client companies develop continuity strategies that address maintaining production goals in light of these negative trends.

Other resources can also help. Local colleges and technical schools can provide insight, and by using internships and other vehicles, help fill in some of these gaps, while temporary employment agencies may have available workers to meet these needs, and some with national recruiting capabilities are able to cast a wide net to temporarily fill key roles. Some of them, like MADI, are able to provide their current workers with training to extend their skills to meet needs that arise.

Budget and customer expectations must also be considered. Disruptions due to shortfalls in skilled labor can hurt the bottom line and shareholder value. It is therefore in the best interest of the business to invest in and have contingency plans in place so at the first sign of any shortfalls in skilled labor, there is a process that can be implemented as seamlessly and quickly as possible.

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