Aging Workforce: Few Employers Prepared

We’re Running Out of Time

This article, written by Rick Dacri, was originally published in the York County Coast Star on June 20, 2013

When my wife and I built our house, we had two gas fireplaces installed. Beyond the ambiance, we wanted convenience and warmth for those cold Maine winters. We also added back-up, battery-operated starters in case we lost power. Turns out you need electricity to start a gas fireplace. Well, they work perfectly and they were a Godsend during the last ice storm. While we love to be warm, we also enjoy everything else that requires electricity, so we have since bought a generator that automatically clicks on when the power goes out — an all-too-frequent occurrence where we live. And if the generator fails (it did during the hurricane), I have a service to call that immediately responds.

It is important to take preventative actions to ensure safety and security. I faithfully replace my smoke detector batteries twice a year. But while they may warn me of a fire, I also have my escape route planned if we need it. Prevention and contingency plans are essential.

The Maine Department of Labor recently released a report written by the Center for Workforce Research and Information detailing how the state’s sluggish population growth, combined with an aging workforce, will lead to slow workforce growth. While this is a valuable and well-written study, it offers nothing we don’t already know. Just look around most workplaces and you see a lot of grey hair. Employees are getting older and there are fewer young people available to take their places.

Maine has the oldest workers in the nation. The median age of our workers is 43 years old and within 20 years, at least 40 percent will be over 65. As Boomers retire — and their exit has already begun — we need to replace them with experienced workers. But with an aging population comes low birth rates (you get the picture).

So what are businesses’ contingency plans? Unfortunately, few are ready. As many senior leaders plan to retire over the next three to five years, many organizations are just realizing that succession planning must be put in place. The recession gutted most training and development initiatives, not to mention any “excess” workers, so companies’ bench strength is weak. Employers will now be forced to quickly beef up their recruitment efforts in order to attract badly needed replacement talent — which exposes another problem: the skills shortage. The war on talent that seemed to end in 2008 with the “great recession” will now resume with a vengeance.

While the news is not good, employers do have a little time to right their ships. Training and development must be significantly increased; succession planning for leadership and key staff should be put in place; and recruitment programs must be implemented.

Education and government also have a big role to play toward attracting workers to our state and educating our young people for the world of work. Immigration reform, as I discussed in last month’s column, is also a critical part of the equation.

There are a number of initiatives throughout the state partnering business, education and government, all focused on addressing this problem. More is needed. Employers who take a wait-and-see approach will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. A focus on the people side of the business, an area many managers find too complicated to handle, must become a top priority. While cooperative efforts are important, where they don’t exist, employers must go it alone. And that means commitment, time and investment. Everything else will fail without skilled talent. This problem is not going away.

Contingency plans and actions must be adopted and implemented now. The lights are flickering. Hoping they’ll stay on is a mistake. It’s not a question of whether they’ll go out or not, it’s when. Remember, we live in Maine. You want that fireplace and generator ready to fire up. We’ll need them.

To learn how Rick Dacri can assist you with planning, click Dacri & Associates.

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1 Comment

Filed under Economy, Management

One response to “Aging Workforce: Few Employers Prepared

  1. Pingback: Five 2016 Workforce Challenges | Uncomplicating Management

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