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Responses to ‘The Talent-Shortage Myth’ Blog Posting

August 10, 2007
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article, Staffing Management
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Thanks for keeping debates on important topics like this alive. We need to be much more critical as a profession about claims of trends such as the talent shortage.

Whether there will be a physical shortage of workers is probably not the key issue, however. (Although, in contrast to the few anecdotal examples you cite of why there won’t be a talent shortage, the demographic data is fact-based and compelling. Unless every single person slated to retire actually works for a meaningful portion of their retirement, there will be fewer workers than needed to meet the growth needs of companies.)

The issue as I see it is the quality of the workers we have, especially the competitiveness of our leaders. Based on my experience in both the consulting and corporate environment, it seems that companies in developing countries (India, China, many Eastern European countries) are much more serious about building great leaders than we are. They are aggressively investing in good, basic leadership development—developmental assignments, projects, self-awareness—and they’re doing this with more commitment and a greater investment of time than many Western companies.

So, whether there will be a physical shortage of talent may be a moot point if the talent we will have can’t compete.

Marc Effron
Vice president, talent management
Avon Products
New York


Surely you jest? Just try to tell every major employer in the U.S. that is looking for people that there is no skilled labor shortage! And trust me, the labor shortage is here now (not coming) ... and it’s global. Their time-to-fill has increased, if they can even find qualified people at all. In a recent audience in Albany, New York, more than one of the HR professionals in the audience had jobs that had been open for more than a year.

However, in the U.S. it’s not the baby boomers retiring that is causing this critical situation, it is the combination of the baby boomer re-careering (http://www.hermangroup.com/alert/archive_5-23-2007.html) and the fact that there are 15.1 percent fewer people in Generation X. I will be pleased to speak with you about this topic when I return to the United States.

As I write this e-mail, it is Tuesday night in Singapore and last week I delivered an Asian version of my two-day Employee Retention Specialist Certificate Program to 30 people from seven Asian countries. We called it "Advanced Talent Engagement" and it was so well-received that I have been invited back next month to keynote their annual workforce conference.

Globally, the skilled workforce shortages are concentrated in the developed countries, because their populations are not replacing themselves, in spite of having paid "baby bonuses" for years. My Herman Trend Alert that will be distributed tomorrow is called "Baby Bonuses and Other Solutions". It will be at http://www.hermangroup.com/alert/archive_8-08-2007.html. And although China has millions of citizens, they have skilled worker shortages as well.

To make matters worse for employers, the burgeoning global economies (Singapore’s GDP grew at 8.2 percent last quarter) are increasing demand for workers with robust job creation. You’re right, we will not see a mass exodus of baby boomers, but don’t expect any reduction in the skilled labor shortages anytime soon. And please don’t deny that one exists, because it does.

Joyce L. Gioia-Herman, CMC, CSP
Strategic Business Futurist
President/CEO
The Herman Group
www.hermangroup.com


You’ll likely not be surprised that as one of those "experts" spewing verbiage about the talent-shortage myth I was going to jump all over this.

Hopefully you won’t fall off your seat when you read this. I agree with much you wrote! No, baby boomers won’t retire in lockstep when they hit 60, 65 or even 70 or later. Yes, baby boomers will work longer and longer, many because they have to. Boomers just have not prepared themselves financially to live the life they’ve been accustomed for so long. As Ms. Dowdy said in your post, I too will likely work until "I drop dead." I’m 56, "retiring" from dentistry 12 years ago to start a new career. As head of my consulting firm, I have no thoughts about retiring. I’m having the most fun in my life and feel more like 30 than 56. Will I be doing exactly what I’m doing now 10 or 20 years from now? I doubt it. Who knows what career I might be chasing, but I will be working.

So what’s my beef with your post and why am I touting impending doom and gloom for talent? Because the U.S. and many developed countries are on the slow track in a race for productivity. Keeping workers longer in jobs is only productive if they have the skills. It’s also only productive if businesses change the way they treat workers. Mandatory retirements still exist in many businesses. Others offer lucrative severance packages to get older workers off the payroll so they don’t need to pay the high health care premiums and continue to fund pension plans. And finally, if businesses retain the boomers longer, a gray ceiling is created. How long do employers think Gen Xers will wait around to move up to the next rung on the career ladder if an aging boomer is blocking his/her path?

Many of the jobs in our economy are low-skill jobs that are or should be outsourced. Businesses are clamoring for more low-wage, low-skill workers, but those jobs don’t drive economies. When it comes to semi-skilled (the gold-collar jobs) and skilled labor, we are getting our lunch eaten. What is important to note is that the shortage is not just quantity, as many experts claim, including myself just a few years ago. The real shortage is in skilled workers in key positions. Without these right people in the right place, entire organizations slow down, projects are tabled, new opportunities passed on.

So while I agree the worker shortage myth (warm bodies) may be overblown hype, the skilled shortage is very real.

Ira S. Wolfe
Author, Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 (September 2007)


To those baby boomers who say they plan to work until they drop dead, well, all of them will—drop dead, that is—and those who keep working increase their risk of doing it on the job (check out the boiling frog syndrome). As one of the baby boomers who wants a few good years without having to go to work every day, and as someone who has spent 30 years in HR, I don’t think the upcoming labor shortage is a myth—at least not in Canada, where we have more baby boomers, as percentage of population, than any other country.

The last two organizations I’ve worked in have a high percentage of eligible-to-retires and very few years in between the top three levels in the organization. If those organizations don’t focus on recruitment AND retention—especially employee engagement strategies that drive retention—they will be in trouble. And the labor shortage—perceived or real—is causing organizations to do the right things in terms of employee engagement. So, myth or not, I like the reaction!

Cathy Huffman


I agree with your article that it won’t be a widespread exodus from the workplace—largely due to the need for benefits, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

As a 25-year HR veteran I am having discussions with the boomers who, having climbed that "down escalator," are looking for a career change—not just a job change, because they want to have meaning to what they do, and that corner office and title no longer have the appeal they once did. Shortages will come, I’m convinced, but it will be in the form of skills and experience in types of positions.

Linda Breeden, SPHR
Manager, human resources, global distribution
C.R. Bard Inc.


Citing anecdotal evidence of a person here and there who says they are going to stay in their job until they die does not change the impact of the baby boomers bailing out. If you want anecdotal evidence for a different slant on the problem facing employers, you can use me as an example.

In May of this year I picked up my 35 years of management and leadership experience and walked out of the traditional "work for someone else" workforce (Navy enlisted and commissioned service—retired Naval officer since 1993, since then IT and supply-chain consulting, project, program management for Computer Sciences Corp., PricewaterhouseCoopers, and then IBM for the last six years).

I went part time for a short while and then left completely to get my own consulting practice going and am now in a venture to develop a Web-based (software as a service) process and knowledge-capture tool to help small businesses, nonprofits and local government entities latch on to and retain their "how they do business" process knowledge (also called intellectual capital by some) before it walks out the door in the heads of baby boomers like me who are bailing out or in the heads of those job-shifting younger folks.

Now in the case of IBM, my departure is not a big deal. They’ll just make another like me for now. In the case of a smaller business or organization, it IS a big deal. One key person is injured/can’t work, killed or gives notice suddenly in a 20 person company—that’s 5 percent of the workforce. It can actually be more depending on the person’s role in the company … it can effectively represent 10-15 percent in some cases.

Maybe some boomers are going to stay in their current job until someone hauls them away, but many of us are taking our knowledge—your company’s intellectual capital, if you will—with us and going on to some other thing we always wanted to do (new career path altogether in many cases), if not retiring altogether. There is a significant impact and it hurts some companies/organizations more than others, so it’s more real for some than others. But it is a real situation they need to deal with.

Rich Stewart, PMP
Partner
First Wave Consulting


I don’t believe that this is a myth. Yes, the boomers (of which I am one) expect to work longer and will not "retire in lockstep" at age 65. But they do not expect to work full time till they drop. Most boomers want to work till around 75 (anecdotal evidence), but most also say not necessarily in the same jobs that they are in today.

The boomers have always proven to be a fairly self-centered and self-important generation. This is "their time." The kids are gone, college is paid for and now they can slow down and find a job that allows them the flexibility to relax at times, travel if they’d like or just do the "meaningful" work they planned to do when they graduated 30-plus years ago. The boomers have also been one of the most productive generations in the workplace, but we cannot assume that they will maintain this level of productivity simply because there will be fewer of them and many will opt for part-time opportunities.

So we will have some kind of labor or talent crunch. Our offices will not turn into barren wastelands, as the most alarmist of consultants like to prophesize (it may drum up some business), but it is going to be harder to fill some positions. You identified a couple in the posting (health care workers), but I think that more positions are going to be routinely classified as "hard-to-fill." We already accept that nurses are in short supply. Gradually we are going to accept that accountants, IT support people and child care providers are also harder to find, but we’ll just say, "That’s the nature of the position."

What’s interesting is that each of the examples I cite will become scarcer for different reasons. There is no one underlying reason for the coming talent crunch. It’s going to happen because of a multitude of bills coming due at the same time. To use the analogy, we are heading toward that perfect storm of recruiting headaches.

Ron Katz
Penguin HR Consulting


Looks like you’re one of the statistics who was affected by the market plunge in early 2000. Have fun working till you drop!

Mark Montalbano
ADP Major Accounts


While it appears correct that many baby boomers may opt to retire at ages later than the traditional period, the fundamental problem may be that business is not prepared to accommodate these older individuals.

Yes, we have age protections, but the fact is that many supervisors and managers hold negative stereotypes of older employees. This can result in a reluctance to involve older workers in training or retraining, thus their job skills erode and performance reviews may turn negative. Further, many businesses fail to appreciate the firm-specific knowledge possessed by their senior employees and have no process for retaining corporate memory as it prepares to walk out the door.

So the real issue may not be the shortage of bodies due to retirements, it may well be the reduced capabilities of organizations as they undersupport the contributory value of older workers.

Lee Hays
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University


Thanks for the nice and reasonable article on the upcoming changes in the nation’s workforce. I think the reality will be somewhere between doom and gloom, and managed pain.

It will not be pretty. Many professionals across the U.S. today are opting for early retirement — they’re jumping on an opportunity to cut out of the workforce a few years early, leaving organizations in the lurch. Good jobs exist, but the supply of younger professionals with the skills to take the reins is tightening fast and 2011 is not here yet. In Michigan, which has had the highest unemployment in the nation for the past few years because of changes in the auto industry, employers say they have critical-needs jobs to fill now, but the ranks of the job seekers do not have the skills for the new jobs.

There is a huge mismatch between the skills job seekers have (or do not have), and the skills the employers need—today. There is no place in the U.S. today where one can ask a workforce/HR professional, "Do you think your region’s employers are going to be able to meet their talent needs in the next two, three, four or five years with local supply only?" and get an affirmative answer. One is more likely to receive a "Hell no, we can’t do it today" answer, which means there is no place in the U.S. today that is not going to have to reach beyond local areas for talent acquisition. Everyone will be searching nationally, and beyond, for the same talent. Organizations that can more effectively manage the distant recruitment process, shorten the "time to hire" and increase the quality of the process will win.

Are there things that will ease the crunch? Yes: boomers not being able to afford to retire as their parents did; immigrants from south of the border (no fence will ever be completed end-to-end); and the impact of new and foreseen as well as unforeseen products and services—like the Chinese Chery minivan, which when released in the U.S. will gut the remains of the auto industry here like no one has ever imagined and free up tens of thousands of workers from all tiers and flip that industry on its head. I guess the question will be whether we can quickly and appropriately retrain workers for new, emerging high-demand, high-wage fields, if there will be any left.

Bryan St. Laurent


I’ll build on your insightful comments.

The stats on savings patterns and the disappearance of the lifetime pension suggest that retirement at 65 is truly an illusion for many of us boomers. We’ll be working later because we won’t have a choice. The workforce will not only benefit from our staying active longer—it will also be bolstered by the incoming 80 million members of the Millennial (Gen Y) group that is larger than the boomer generation. Unfortunately, none of this is as headline-grabbing as the doom-and-gloom messages.

Keep up the good work of challenging "common knowledge."

TJ Titcomb, PhD, SPHR
Consultant
Strategic HR Solutions
Lancaster, Pennsylvania


The demographics are there to support a tsunami of retirees of baby boomers in the near future. Demographic data is fact, not predictions. The demographics have been accurate in every phase of the unique wave of baby boomers as they have traveled through the last five decades—and the market has followed them with economic success. The data told Levi when to expand its jeans into "relaxed fit" and forewarned colleges and universities in the ’70s and ’80s that there would not be enough traditional-aged college students to support all the institutions of higher education at that time. Hundreds of schools closed their doors or "merged" with other more established colleges and universities. Now, why should we doubt the demographics for boomer retirement?

Personally, I don’t believe there will be a tsunami of retirees because of the economic and social factors of that generation. However, I do believe there will be a wave of retiring of America’s workforce. And, I do think U.S. corporations will greatly feel the pinch for talented, educated, full-time workers.

If you recall back to the college time of our generation, much focus was on social conditions, not capitalism—especially into the ’60s and ’70s. Remember, it was those darn hippies and student protesters who finally got the nation of "traditionalists" (conservatives) to change racial and gender discriminations, reduce poverty, enhance education and end a political war. I think those convictions are still embedded with the boomers, and I think it will be in their retirement that they shine.

Given the national and personal debt levels of our nation, most boomers will have to continue working for pay. Boomers will not just be "putzing" in the next 20-30 years. However, I don’t think they will be filling the offices and factories around our nation as they do now. They may opt for part-time work at corporations or consulting. However, many boomers do have a solid 401(k)s and public/private quasi-pensions, although boomers lack in actual savings accounts. I believe more boomers will choose re-careering into a field of social, political or spiritual interest which has burned in their souls for years. The nonprofits and fields of education, social work, health care, the arts and politics may see increases in résumés for job postings. Even boomers with money, like Bill Gates, are showing that they have social concerns beyond Wall Street.

So, I agree with you that boomers are not going to up and leave the world of work on the same day, but I do think they will leave the corporate environment, which will create the "Great Talent Shortage" that is being predicted. Like my grandmother use to say, "Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best." Wise words for corporate America.

E. Faith Ivery, Ed.D.
President
Educational Advisory Services Inc.


I agree that the boomers will not be leaving in droves. Not only do many of us want to keep working—many must keep working because we don’t have qualified defined-benefit plans and we haven’t stashed enough away in our 401(k) or other defined-contribution plans to live off of in our retirement.

I am a single mom who adopted a toddler when I turned 50, so I need to work until I am 70 in order to secure her a college education and some financial freedom. Additionally, who can afford to pay for medical coverage when you have a limited income? Not too many, and this is the time you need that insurance.

No, I do not see the boomers leaving our workforce and we have been around for over 50 years!!!

Karen M. Sack, SPHR
Vice president, human resources
Space Coast Credit Union
Melbourne, Florida


Thank YOU!!! We need to look at the whole story. These 76 million people are not all going to drop dead the second they turn 65. It amazes me how few people are talking about the opportunities this new paradigm shift can present.

We live in a society in which more than half of American workers don’t like their jobs, yet we steadfastly hold on to ideas, and ideals, that clearly are not producing the desired result. The baby boomers will be actively looking for "opportunities," not "jobs"—projects that will allow them to make a little money, feel vital and appreciated, and follow a passion. Statistically, they may prove to be the most dedicated and engaged workers.

By offering flexible scheduling, customized benefits and premier recognition programs, we can keep boomers working for as long as they want. We may finally begin to re-evaluate the Monday-Friday 9-to-5 business model and capitalize on this unavoidable paradigm shift.

I see this as a very exciting time.

Michael J. Stone
President
The Stone Group


I’ve read it before: Baby boomers want to work forever. Unfortunately they (which incidentally includes me) want to do it on their terms, and not necessarily for the right reasons:

• I want to work forever because I can’t afford to retire.
• I want to work forever because I don’t know what else to do.
• I want to work forever because I have some health issues and I want my employer to keep paying for my medical insurance.
• I want to work forever, but on a reduced schedule so I can have it all—income, a sense of worth and leisure.
• I want to work forever because it’s the source of my friendships and social life.
• I want to work forever because it proves I’m not really getting old.

I haven’t heard a lot of people say, "I want to work forever because I love my job." So pardon me if I’m not convinced it’s in employers’ best interests that the aging workforce plans to keep on working.

Another thing: Employers need to know that baby boomers have the potential to be expensive while they remain in the workforce: Older workers file more disability claims with greater lost time, submit more medical claims, require physical and other accommodations in selected jobs, etc. The impact of those factors extends to the people they work with, who must pick up the slack.

You can argue the size of the gap, but I have no doubt that there is going to be a mismatch in skills, knowledge and experience between the baby boomers and those who will be forced to take their place. The exact nature of that mismatch will vary from company to company. That’s why each one needs to take stock of what retirements will mean to them and find ways to minimize the impact.

Starting now, while baby boomers are still in the workplace, companies need to concentrate on succession planning, knowledge capture/transfer approaches and programs that promote health, wellness and productivity. All of that doesn’t happen overnight. Yet in most of corporate America, essential knowledge about the business and its products, processes and customers is on the verge of walking out the door, and there is no plan to replace it. Bottom line: This isn’t about retirement; it’s about business continuity. That’s the message you need to deliver.

Jean Herreman
Dunwoody, Georgia


I wanted to comment on your blog regarding the talent-shortage myth.

While I agree that boomers in some areas may keep working as long as their health permits, in others they will not. Notable among the areas that will be hardest hit is the public sector. With traditional defined-benefit pensions and early-retirement incentives, teachers, for example, are opting out in record numbers. And it doesn’t end in education, as it carries through the entire government sector as well. Looming shortages are also affecting the utility industry. You already mentioned health care. The list goes on.

And the boomers who want to keep working may not want to work as they have been their whole lives. They will be opting for reduced schedules and flexibility in work location. New services are cropping up around the changing way in which senior workers engage. An example of this is a Linda Stewart’s Epoch, a service that places seasoned executives on contingent projects. There was an article about this here.

I’ll close by pointing out that with the unemployment rate for college-educated workers standing below 2 percent (1.7 percent at last check), we are already seeing a scramble for the best and the brightest.

Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in.

Lisa Rowan
Program manager, HR and talent management services
IDC


I agree that there will not be the "on-schedule" reduction in the workforce that some are predicting when boomers retire. Many of us can’t afford to retire and live the way we want to and many of us believe that the work we do is valuable and we don’t want to leave it. But there are other factors that will contribute to a serious talent shortage:

The number of jobs keeps expanding. Even a small impact from retirements will have a noticeable effect on the size of the talent pool. If the number of jobs grows and the talent pool shrinks even a little, there will be an ongoing deficit of workers unless some new source is found—such as immigration. Even if everybody in the U.S. is able to take an available job, there will come a point when there are fewer workers than jobs without some kind of human capital supplement.

While we are producing a lot of "trained" people, that training is often not related to the available jobs. Example: There are unemployed history teachers, but some school districts are absolutely unable to fill teaching positions in the sciences no matter what they do. There just aren’t enough people with skills in that area. Technical jobs are growing. Graduates often stress where they graduated from and their GPA, when employers are actually asking, "What can you do?" Frequently the answer is that the graduate can do nearly nothing immediately without further specialized training.

A large fraction of the high school cohort does not graduate and does not acquire skills that will move them into the workforce. You should not be counting this group in supply numbers for available jobs, unless we radically change the way we offer job training. That might deduct a substantial percent from projections about the available worker replacements.

Even acknowledging that the current older workforce will not crumble away on schedule, the pipeline is so unreliable now that we still need to plan for short supply of qualified technical workers in the future.

Paul Leger
Senior vice president
Workforce Quality Program
Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Pittsburgh


One thing you forgot to mention in your article is that technology waits for no one.

Sure, baby boomers may stick around longer, but will they adapt to the skills needed for tomorrow’s skilled workforce? That could actually hold this country back. Will companies step up to the challenge of training their workforce for the skills they need? Most companies already do a poor job of this and have not planned for it.

Further, if you believe labor stats, the gap will last decades and it’s unlikely that seniors will be able to work that much longer to fill it, even if they had the right skills.

While predictions of the shortage may be overstated, your article goes too far in the other direction. Personally, I think it’s great that there is a little panic about the shortage. It may be the motivation that’s needed to finally get corporate America to wake up and take more responsibility for training their workforce for the skills they need.

Steve Bradley
President
SystemLink


I have to disagree with your assumption that projections of a talent shortage tied to pending baby boomer retirements are overblown.

A pair of studies that we at Manpower Inc. conducted shows that a talent shortage already exists and that relatively few employers have made an effort to recruit or retain workers age 50 and older. These findings tell us that employers acknowledge that they are having trouble finding qualified people but they also need help to engage older workers.

Of course, some baby boomers will work until they are well into their 70s. But, there are no guarantees that enough of them will stay on the job to offset the smaller numbers of workers in the subsequent generations. That’s why we encourage employers to engage the baby boomer generation now with training, flexible scheduling options, job redesigns and recruitment strategies that target mature workers.

Melanie Holmes,
Vice president of corporate affairs—North America
Manpower Inc.


You are right to assert that it is a myth that there is a talent shortage caused exclusively by baby boomer retirements. This is a gross oversimplification of the situation.

First, there isn’t a generic talent shortage—some industries, regions, companies and workforce segments are experiencing none at all (e.g., the IT industry in India), while others are being hit by a real and acute brain drain (e.g., nuclear engineers in the U.S. power industry).

Second, in cases where there are shortages, the retirement of baby boomers is only a part of the story.

With this in mind, I thought you might find an article I wrote of interest:
It discusses two recent research studies of the potential impacts of the aging workforce on corporations.

What most companies should be concerned about is not so much general population and workforce aging trends but rather what the age and retirement trends and patterns are in their industries and companies. The problem is that a great many companies don’t have a clue about what parts of their business or core skill areas may be at risk due to the potential for experienced workers to retire.

Yes, many boomers will want to continue working past their official retirement age, but some won’t. And if any of these workers possess critical technical, business and organizational knowledge that needs to be captured and transferred to others, then companies need to identify these people a couple years before they leave. But few currently have the workforce planning capabilities in place to pinpoint these kinds of risks.

Tony DiRomualdo
Founder
Next Generation Workplace


When I first started hearing this, my reaction was the same as yours. However, I am experiencing firsthand, through my family and friends of our family as well as colleagues, how people in the boomer generation are retiring early—not even waiting until 65—and not working afterward. Those that do seem to just work sporadically, and not in anything resembling a workweek.

As I interview HR professionals across the country, I also hear their hiring challenges. Yes, the medical field has faced the challenge for some time. That one, we know, will continue to get worse. Engineering is also in difficult shape.

The big issue, though, is not just about overall numbers. In truth, what we are really talking about is the number of good workers. And these good workers are the same people who typically have the option to retire early as well as the option to pursue all those hobbies they’ve spent years talking about.

Finally, have you looked at job ads recently? Companies aren’t just asking for a degree and some experience; they are requiring very specific types of experience in very specific areas—even in fields like sales and marketing where the transition curve is not huge. These expectations can be met when there are lots of candidates and, in heavily populated fields, there may always be enough. However, I think HR will have to start managing the expectations of their C-suite and management teams at the very least.

From what I see, the pain is already spreading.

Michael Martin


I enjoyed your blog/article on the talent-shortage myth. As you point out, there are shortages in some skills and industries, and we know that some industries, organizations and even individual departments are more impacted by aging than others. Some energy companies, for example, have the triple whammy in some parts of their organizations of industrywide skills shortages, historically very low turnover (and hence hiring of young/new people, hence relatively old workforce), and roles which are physically demanding (and hence a challenge with aging). But of course these companies know about these issues, and are acting on them.

What I find interesting in all of this noise about talent and aging and baby boomers is that people seem to want to have a black-or-white answer—yes, there is a problem for the whole world; or no, there isn’t. And I think any choice of a black/white answer for any organization is a bit of a copout—just because the retailer down the road has no skills shortages doesn’t mean you don’t. And more important, just because your overall organization looks OK doesn’t mean you don’t have some nasty little hot spots in some very strategically important groups!

What is really required is to take a look at your own organization in the context in which you operate, segment and prioritize it properly, and have a quick look at where retirement and other trends might take you ... but do it in a way that lets you think and talk clearly about what future issues you might face, even those that aren’t immediately obvious—don’t just analyze data. Not one size fits all, and no using historical data to "predict" the future! The past, as they say, has a habit of not repeating itself—and the best workforce planning incorporates qualitative aspects as well as quantitative. Hey, the figures in this case might well lie!

I think it’s time to stop trying to predict the future and start exploring future possibilities instead—using evidence, but also using judgment and management knowledge! And it would be even better if organizations started to effectively factor the needs/wants of the supply into their planning, not just their own demand. Some people want to change the way they work, some work less, some take career shifts, some carry on as they are. But examining the wants of your supply could really help organizations to fully recognize the potential economic benefits of this workforce. There might not be the huge number of losers being touted in this mythological shortage, but there will definitely be some organizations who do much better at winning.

Well, that’s my 2 cents!

Stacy Chapman


I just read your blog on the talent shortage. I think I’m sitting on a different side of the talent-shortage debate.

As a recruiter, I interview these boomers all day long. Almost all of them are working but are looking for new opportunities. The conversation is the same during the interview—they want to feel valued, they want to be heard and feel like at the end of the day what they did had some point to it. That is the only reason why they are looking at opportunities. Work has long lost its luster for them. Adding insult to injury, the Gen Yers in the workplace can infuriate them due to the difference in style and work ethic.

What I find is if they are set up for retirement, and most are not, this next job is just a bridge into retirement. Many are downscaling, selling their houses and don’t want to work full time any longer. I do see a talent shortage on the horizon. Many spots are standing vacant in 2007, and it will only get worse. Posting an ad now brings three résumés—not much out there—of any age group.

And then there is the issue of health. Great if you want to "work until you drop dead," but things don’t often go as you planned. With a long-term illness, a boomer may not choose to continue to work, if it’s at all possible. With a terminal spouse, that also changes the picture. Why spend your last moments in couplehood, trying to make your mate’s last breath comfortable, while still trying to work 40-50 hours a week. Ditto if it’s a boomer with a dying mother or father—all of a sudden duty calls and they drop out of the picture. Work no longer seems so earth-shattering or important.

While I’m not Chicken Little screaming the sky is falling, I do see the talent shortage. There isn’t much we can do about it. Again, this is all from the thousands of conversations I’ve had in interviews. My intent is just to share, and not to spar.

Elizabeth Lions
Senior recruiter and business development
Onsite Financial
Portland, Oregon


I think you make great points in this article. I also appreciate that you subtly differentiated between a talent shortage and a worker shortage.

What I see is that the next generation is more efficient—and in many cases, more talented—than the baby boomer generation. The problem right now is that the next generation lacks the experience to make them credible in the eyes of the boomers who have majority control in corporations across the U.S.

Dan
St. Louis


I am one of the baby boomers and also plan to work "forever." Why? Because I have a disabled husband who will have no medical insurance if I quit. Also, I wasn’t raised to plan for my retirement, so I have limited assets in my 401(k), a minuscule pension plan, only three months’ living expenses in the bank and lots of debt. One thing that would be helpful for us who plan to keep working is to give us some tools to prepare for our "forever." What type of investments do I need to make to keep my 401(k) at its best? How can I find inexpensive health insurance for my disabled husband?

Realistically, how do I maintain my home to last another 40 years as I continue to work? How can I feel less envious of those who seem to have the free-and-easy life of a retiree while I struggle to get up at 5 a.m. for my day at work?
I don’t mind working, as I enjoy my job and I like being productive. However, give me some options to expand my career; don’t just pigeonhole me because of my age. Allow me to cross-train, excite me with better benefits, offer me opportunities to develop and mature so I can enjoy my tenure. You want me to stay and work; I want to stay and work … let’s make it mutually beneficial to both parties for the best success.

Sarah E. Hurst
Manager, training
Stewart & Stevenson


There is already a talent shortage and it is certainly not a myth. However, the shortage is currently limited to certain kinds of jobs. Most people are aware there is a shortage of nurses and pharmacists, and employers are only too happy to recruit retirees to work in these positions—be it part time, temporary or any way they can get them.

There are a number of other areas where employers are currently hiring retirees as well as making every effort to hang on to their older workers. They include researchers, call center workers, telemarketers/inside sales cashiers, retail sales clerks, security guards, consultants, bookkeepers and several skilled trades, to name a few. Even McDonald’s is hiring retirees to work in its restaurants, as they can’t find enough teenagers to fill the open positions.

Instead of retiring, I founded www.RetiredBrains.com in 2002. The site is a destination for older boomers, seniors and retirees that includes a free job board which connects older workers with employers interested in hiring them. I also authored Invent Your Retirement: Resources for the Good Life, a reference guide for older Americans, so I have a pretty good pulse on what is happening in this market space.

There are currently a number of "job boards" devoted to helping older Americans find employment, and there are a number of firms like www.YourEncore.com that assist employers in keeping and recruiting valuable older workers.

Older Americans keep working for many reasons, but perhaps the most important reason is they are finding it increasingly more difficult to afford to retire. Health care costs alone have become a major burden. It has been estimated that a couple retiring in 2007 at 65 will spend out of pocket in excess of $240,000 for health care costs
during the remainder of their combined lifetimes. Few are aware of this and very few are prepared for this huge expense.

Arthur Koff
Retired Brains LLC
Chicago


I think you missed a few details regarding the talent shortage.

I agree that the boomers are not all going to walk out of the workforce at the same time and that many of them plan on working a good long time past age 60. They might be working, but they might not stay in their current jobs either. From the studies I have read and my own experience working with boomers, they want to do something different than what they have been doing the past 30 years.

There is a study performed by Civic Ventures that indicates that boomers want to work in professions that allow them to give back to their community. We could see a lot of shifting with boomers leaving their organizations and current profession to pursue job opportunities more aligned with their passions. Additionally, boomers did not have enough children to replace themselves. There are 77 million boomers, 46 million Gen Xers, and the Gen Yers are largely still in grammar school. Even if all the boomers stay in the workplace, which is unlikely, with the growth in the number of jobs available we still will not have enough bodies to fill all the positions.

Another consideration is the younger generation’s view of work. They watched their parents work 50 to 60 hours per week only to be laid off. The younger generation does not see any value in company loyalty, nor does it see value in staying in one position or organization. In order to attract and retain the younger generations we need to review and revise our employee practices and policies. It is time for a paradigm shift!

Those of us who are in the workforce today know only a recruitment experience of having a multitude people apply for a limited number of positions. That is not our future—it isn’t even our current experience. Depending on the profession, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain talented employees. We can try to outsource positions, but we are facing a global aging problem.

You can read in the paper most any week that China and India are facing significant labor shortages. The European countries are facing the same difficulty we are discussing. Japan has the oldest population in the world. So it isn’t just about keeping the aging boomers in their position; it is about a seismic shift in how we view human capital and what we do to become the employer of choice. People truly need become a valuable asset that organizations realize are a limited resource so that they can thrive in this "perfect storm" of workforce shifts.

Karen Arnold, MS
Managing partner
FutureDecisions
Sacramento, California

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