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More than 25 percent of the current Tennessee workforce will retire by 2025.

According to Denise Rice, director of the Tennessee Manufacturers Association, that makes the need to ensure traning for the next generation of workers to be available in order to fill the void that will be created by those retirements.

Rice visited the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Thursday as part of her statewide tour which is collaborating with local chambers to host manufacturing roundtables.

Rice descibed the need to increase and improve Tennessee’s workforce as “the biggest and baddest” concern.

“Workforce is our number one issue,” Rice said.

She said between 2010 and 2015, there was a major skill gap with the state’s workforce.

“In January 2010, Tennessee had an unemployment rate greater than 11 percent “ she said. “In April of this year, that rate was projected to be under 4 percent.”

“During those years, we were taking unemployed people and reskilling them and putting them to work,” Rice said. “What is happening right now is there will be a labor shortage presented to us by the Baby Boomer generation who is retiring out of manufacturing.”

She said there was one paricular company which has 550 people, and 42 percent of those employees will be eligible for retirement over the next five years.

“It is estimated there will be roughly 75,000 retirements from the manufacturing workforce over the next ten years,” Rice said. “That’s 25 percent.”

She said the subject of workforce development is a “huge topic.”

“There is still the perception that manufacturing is dirty and unsafe, and it is not attractive to new people entering the workforce,” Rice said.

She said there are two programs currently sponsored by the TMA designed to change that thinking.

“We have National Manufacturing Day on the first Friday in October,” she said. “It is designed to open doors and let people see inside.”

She explained people drive by plants every day and cause people to “not know what is happening inside that plant.”

“This is intended to be the one day when manufacturers open up their plants and invite students, parents and teachers in so they can get an idea of all the cool things that manufacturing offers here in Tennessee,” Rice said.

The other program is “Dream It. Do It. Tennessee.”

“One of the things we do is connect you with other agencies that may already be doing some of these programs,” she said.

Rice added the TMA continuously supports the programs which are being developed locally.

One of those is the “Your Skills. Your Future” program which has been developed by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

 That website is accessible by visiting