TheQualityMeasurement Conference andQualityNDT Conference, both held April 28-May 1, in Clearwater Beach, FL, featured an interesting panel discussion on developing the next generation of quality and nondestructive testing technicians and experts. The panel, made up of academia, association and industry personnel, addressed the recruitment and retainment crisis of qualified personnel the industry is facing.

The numbers looking to retire in the next 10 to 15 years are staggering. Quality Magazine’s Annual State of the Profession Survey reveals that 53% of the survey’s respondents are 50 or older. By comparison, only 15% of the respondents are 39 or younger. The remaining 32% of the respondents are in their 40s.

If this knowledge that’s sitting on the brink of retirement isn’t replaced in a timely manner, the effects will likely be devastating to many small companies and our economy.

Some of the panelists are working with local schools to make students aware of career possibilities in manufacturing, but many don’t have programs in place until students graduate high school. Others are working with local colleges to place students in co-ops. These may be beneficial short-term efforts, but there needs to be a solid long-term strategy as well.

When you were a child, how did you answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Likely your answer was along the lines of teacher, doctor, race car driver or construction worker. My guess is that a job in manufacturing and quality never crosses most young children’s minds.

Why not? My guess is that unless someone in your family had a job in manufacturing, you didn’t even know what manufacturing was or what it entailed.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a company unveiling their latest generation of digital force testers. As the company demonstrated their equipment on Styrofoam cups, springs and shared stories about other companies using their equipment, I couldn’t help but think that my little boys, who love to crash and smash up their die-cast cars, would be perfect candidates to see this equipment. This would give them exposure to the quality field and an experience that they would remember for years to come.

We need to start recruiting children when they’re young. Tell your children and grandchildren what you do and why it’s a good career choice. Go to their school career fairs. If your place of employment allows it, bring your children to work with you on Bring Your Son/Daughter to Work Days. Get involved with the children in your community.

One panelist at the Quality Measurement Conference said he became interested in manufacturing because he “likes to build stuff.” While that may seem like a simple reason in our “complex” society of job choices, such simplicity is what resonates with a child.

Mark your calendars for May 4-7, 2009, as theQualityMeasurement Conference,QualityNDT Conference and the newQualityVision & Sensors Conference move to Orlando, FL. Watch for more details.