Confronting the nation’s “age bubble” in your community and your organization

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There is much being discussed about the impact of the “silver tsunami.”  Baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) now make up 45 percent of the workforce, and “matures” (people born before 1946), 10 percent. The proportion of older workers (defined as those fifty-five years old and up) is projected to increase an average of 4 percent per year through 2015. The rapid increase of people in the workforce who are ages 45–69 has been referred to as the “age bubble.” As the population ages, employers will have to determine how best to replace the growing number of retiring workers from a much smaller pool of rising workers while at the same time communities will have to determine how to respond to this groups changing needs and demands.  A recent article in Governing highlights the impact of these baby boomers retiring and how it will change the face of our communities.  Governing provides a county by county age breakdown highlighting the changing median age across the country.  These impacts will change our workforces and our communities and it is important that we proactively consider how to respond.

In short, the nation is poised for a workforce crisis, and a variety of local organizations and governments are likely to feel the crisis first because of their high proportion of older employees and their high demand for knowledge workers. People with the required skills and knowledge will become harder to recruit and retain, especially if governments are not clear about the skills that they seek. Workforce planning can help organizations perform strategically in the face of increasingly complex demands made even more challenging by the impending changes in and demands for human capital. Workforce planning aims at creating a systematic assessment of the content and composition of an organization’s workforce to determine what actions the organization needs to take to respond to current and future demands to achieve goals and objectives. For more about workforce planning, see this School of Government publication.

If organizations want to be prepared for the changing composition of their workforce their communities starting the process of planning and preparing strategies to be proactive will serve to benefit organizations and the communities they serve.  An important first step is to recognize the issue and gain support from leadership.  Forward thinking is critical for community and economic development professionals in the applied work that they undertake and the same skills will be needed to ensure their workforce are positioned to respond to changes facing them internally.

As Mary Young notes in a report on jurisdictions’ response to the aging workforce, “Forewarned is forearmed. And forearmed is confident. One of the most striking benefits of thorough, ongoing workforce planning is the level of calm it provides—even in jurisdictions facing significant numbers of retirements.”

Willow Jacobson is a School of Government faculty member.

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