No Worker Left Behind: Upskilling Creates Opportunities Across Generations

The landscape of the American labor market is changing.

In the manufacturing sector, the median age of workers is now above 44 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is age 55 or older, a demographic reality that signals an upcoming labor shortage for the industry as Baby Boomers retire.

An aging workforce isn’t the only concern. Staffing shortages include individuals who are equipped to handle traditional manufacturing tasks, such as repairing equipment, and also those skilled in operational technology and information technology. The latter spans everything from robotics and software engineering to cloud computing and the use of artificial intelligence.

This skills gap isn’t new, and there’s no simple fix. However, Zekelman Industries is among the companies invested in building a future-ready workforce to keep America’s industries humming. Our future-focused strategy: upskilling.

A Learning Culture

At Zekelman, upskilling is woven into the fabric of our entire organization and its divisions. Our company-wide focus is on upgrading skills of all workers, reskilling workers so they can work in other sectors, and collaborating with educational institutions, which equips both graduates and current teammates to thrive in today’s digital workplace.

“We have a lot of programs in place that allow people to continue to grow,” says Rachel Cyphert, Director of Human Resources at Zekelman.

Upskilling gives all generations a path to rewarding careers by:

  • Providing training opportunities to keep older adults up to date on skills
  • And helping younger workers fill gaps created when their older peers retire.

“We want people to cross-train,” Cyphert explains. “We give them the opportunity to further their education, whether it’s by taking advantage of our tuition reimbursement program … or sending them for certifications within their area of expertise.”

Zekelman teammates receive ongoing training on new technologies and processes that help them stay current, while our apprenticeship programs provide opportunities to develop specialized skills to advance their interests — and their careers.

The company’s continuing electrical and mechanical apprenticeships are certified through the state, says Dave Campbell, Plant Manager at Zekelman’s Wheatland Tube facility in Wheatland, Pennsylvania. “[Those are] great opportunities to have retention and transferable skills.”

To promote skills development, Cyphert builds questions about continuing education into operational conversations, as well. “Anybody that speaks up and says, ‘You know, I think I’d really like to kind of see what that’s about,’ I say, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s find a way to make it work, or let’s … [have you] do some job shadowing for a day and see if it’s something that you truly want to do.’”

Promoting Higher Education

Another priority for Zekelman is attracting teammates from outside the manufacturing sector and retraining or reskilling them for jobs. Currently, about 16% of our new hires come from outside of manufacturing. By partnering with schools near our facilities, we also develop training programs to upskill young people for future careers in manufacturing, including tech-focused roles.

Our tuition reimbursement program provides a life-changing incentive for teammates looking to upgrade their education while working at Zekelman. Those seeking a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree can have up to 75% of their expenses paid by Zekelman in fields as diverse as finance, engineering, business administration and computer science.

Support for continuing education isn’t limited to Zekelman employees. “We also have scholarship programs, which aren’t necessarily just for the employee. That’s for their children, who are potentially going to be our next generation of workforce here,” says Cyphert, who was reimbursed by Zekelman for her own graduate school degree.

Upskilling Uplifts Everyone

Ultimately, upskilling and reskilling workers isn’t just about dollars. It’s about good sense.

At Zekelman, melding old skills with new ones is critical to growing our company, improving productivity and optimizing production for our customers. It’s also essential for our teammates and our communities. As manufacturing workers age and technology continues to transform the industry, skills development prepares people of all ages for the jobs of tomorrow, giving them a path forward — and upward.

“We want our people to be better, and we want them to not just feel like they’re doing it on an island of their own,” Cyphert says. “We want to be a part of making them better.”


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