The Silver Tsunami is upon us

Photo Credit: NW Energy Coalition

I was at a clean energy conference in Portland this week and the first thing that struck me was the preponderance of grey hair.

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Probably sixty to seventy percent of attendees at the NW Energy Coalition’s conference were in their fifties and sixties. The old timers even acknowledged the phenomenon themselves. At my lunch table, one industry vet joked how almost everyone at the table was old like him.

I have heard about the ageing workforce in the energy sector, but until I went to this gathering it didn’t really hit home that the so-called silver tsunami is already happening.

It should be noted that this was a clean energy conference. You would think that many of the attendees would be youngish given that clean energy is the new thing. But a lot of the people making decisions on the deployment of renewables are utility professionals. And people working at utilities tend to be older men.

The ageing workforce is not just an issue in the utility sector. Trades skills are also being lost as a wave of people who work in manufacturing near retirement. 

This week I interviewed Gregg Meyer, director of the OMIC Training Center, a new manufacturing workforce training facility spearheaded by Portland Community College. Meyer talked about the need to transition manufacturing professionals who are nearing retirement into teaching jobs.

If we don’t catch these retirees now there will be nobody left to teach the next generation, he said.

I am sure a large part of the problem comes down to image. Working for a utility isn’t exactly perceived as a sexy profession. The same goes for working in a factory making things. 

But these are just perceptions. My two older brothers are both engineers and they have well-paying jobs and travel the world. I sometimes get jealous of their jet-setting lifestyle. If only I had an engineering brain.

We all know about the risk of a tsunami in Oregon. Businesses should also look out for the silver-haired one.