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It’s time to figure out who will replace the boomers

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in HR Management,Human Resources

by Tom Gillaspy

Next year, the number of American workers turning 62 will jump by 30%. That trend will continue for the next 15 years or so.
    Despite what you’ve heard about would-be retirees clinging to their jobs long into their golden years, the average retirement age is 62. That means the boomers are going to start racing into retirement.
    How many employees is your organization going to lose?
    Chances are, you don’t know. Most organizations don't know how old their employees are or when those in their 60s plan to retire. Supervisors may know on a case-by-case basis, but what the organization needs is an overall profile so a mad dash out the door doesn’t catch anyone by surprise.

Supply and demand

If retirement thins your ranks, you could find it’s harder than you think to find replacements. There’s no long line of experienced, highly specialized people waiting to fill the empty seats in your organization. Most people who want to work already have jobs. And within three years, a greater number of “60-somethings” will be leaving the work force than “20-somethings” will be starting their careers.
    That will become more acute when the first boomers turn 65, become eligible for Medicare and no longer need the company’s health benefits.
    That imbalance is going to cause huge problems for organizations that aren’t prepared for it. If your business doesn’t siphon the expertise of its older workers, they’ll leave with it.

HR’s opportunity to lead: 7 options

It will fall on HR to make sure they don’t. As such, your job could become increasingly crucial, as you focus on the structure of your work force and how to prepare for staffing needs.
    Here are some options:
    1. Retain older workers for as long as possible. This means devising ultraflexible schedules that allow would-be retirees to work part-time or part of the year. That’s if they want to and are healthy enough to stay. Remember: The average retirement age is 62.
    2. Import labor from other countries. The national controversy over green cards makes this an uncertain solution.
    3. Export jobs. Expect offshoring to become the norm for large companies and for the practice to trickle down to midsize companies as the American labor pool ages and shrinks.
    4. Downsize the business—not just the staff—so you don’t need as many employees.
    5. Retrain lower-level employees so they can perform more specialized jobs. This takes time; start now!
    6. Increase worker productivity. This is the logical response to a labor shortage. Many large firms are focusing on doing more work with fewer people.
    7. Transfer knowledge. Long before your experts retire, have them train and mentor younger potential replacements.
    Start by identifying which jobs at your organization are crucial and examining whether more than one person has the expertise and history to perform each job. Don’t overlook lower-level jobs; the aging electrician who keeps the lights on might be the only one who knows where all the switches are hidden.
    Knowing the ages and retirement intentions of your most valuable players is the only way to ensure that your organization doesn’t get trampled during the baby boomers’ mad rush to retirement.

____________________________________
Tom Gillaspy is Minnesota’s state demographer. Contact him at tom.gillaspy@state.mn.us.

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