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Concerns Grow over Workforce Retirements and Skills Gaps
SHRM, AARP team up to help companies address talent management shortages

By Theresa Minton-Eversole  4/9/2012
 

The writing’s been on the wall for a number of years, but only now are people starting to read it: Corporate America must reinvest in its workforce and come up with creative ways to retain that massive amount of knowledge that will walk out the door as millions of Baby Boomers retire.

A joint survey released April 9, 2012, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and AARP shows that U.S. employers are ramping up training programs aimed at closing expected skills gaps left when Baby Boomers retire. In addition, companies are enhancing employee benefits that they hope will help with recruiting and retaining older workers, defined by the survey as workers 50 years old and older. But fast action is needed.

Stepped-Up Corporate Response

An analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data revealed that during the past decade the percentage of Americans age 55 and older who are in the labor force increased from 32.4 percent to 40.2 percent. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the labor force is projected to grow by 8 percent between 2008 and 2018 and will include nearly 12 million workers age 55 and older. The number of workers ages 16 to 54 is projected to grow by less than 700,000 during that same time.

Data from the Pew Research Center revealed that 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach age 65 every day during the next two decades. The oldest of the country’s estimated 77 million Baby Boomers began turning age 65—the traditional retirement age—in 2011.

Despite this alarming data, the SHRM-AARP survey—conducted Feb. 13-March 12, 2012—found that many U.S. organizations are largely unprepared for the brain drain and skills void that talented, retiring older workers will leave. While 72 percent of the poll’s 430 responding human resource professionals described the loss of talented older workers to be “a problem” or “a potential problem” for their organizations, roughly 71 percent said their company has not conducted a strategic workforce planning assessment to analyze the impact of workers age 50 and older who will leave their organizations. Sixty percent have not even identified their company’s workforce needs over the next five years.

“At AARP, we believe that business leaders need to better understand how important the unique talents and skills of their employees age 50-plus will be to their future success,” said AARP CEO A. Barry Rand.

HR managers said that the actions their organizations have taken to prepare for the loss of talented older workers who retire include:

Increasing training and cross-training (45 percent).

Developing succession planning (38 percent).

Hiring retired employees as consultants or temporary workers (30 percent).

Offering flexible work arrangements (27 percent).

Offering part-time positions to attract older workers (24 percent).

The survey asked HR professionals to identify the greatest “basic skills” and “applied skills” gaps between workers age 31 and younger and those age 50 and older. Among the basic skills identified, about half (51 percent) of HR managers said they find older workers to have stronger English language writing, grammar and spelling skills.

As for applied skills, just over half (52 percent) of HR managers said older workers exhibit stronger professionalism and work ethic.

Helpful Resources Available

“Although we are encouraged to see that many organizations across the country are preparing for the challenge of Baby Boomer retirements, much more work needs to be done in both the short- and long-term,” said SHRM President and CEO Henry G. (Hank) Jackson. “That is why we are working together with AARP to provide organizations and their HR professionals with the tools they need to retain and engage their older, experienced talent.”

To help U.S. businesses and organizations, SHRM and AARP offer numerous resources through their partnership, including AARP’s free, online Workforce Assessment Tool, which provides a snapshot of an organization’s workforce and demographics and analyzes its programs to leverage the talents of its older workers.

In addition, SHRM members can access a a SHRM-AARP Partnership Resource Page on SHRM Online. The resource page includes poll and survey findings, articles and links to AARP’s assessment tool, among other tools.

The survey is one of several projects marking the SHRM-AARP partnership to raise awareness about older worker issues and to provide resources and strategies to address these issues.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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