First of two parts
Harker is not alone as ITD and departments of transportation throughout the country gird themselves for a looming workforce shakeup and start reconsidering how they will do business in the 21st century.
The “Baby Boomers” — the generation born between 1946 and 1964 — are turning 60 at a rate of 330 an hour, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The implications for the nation’s workplace may prove to be staggering as boomers retire in waves over the coming years, leaving behind jobs that will need to be filled.
“I’ve been looking at this, in human resources, very seriously for the last two years,” Harker said. “Every time I go to a national human resources conference I hear other managers say ‘what do we do?’ ”
“If we wait and just hope we get the workers, we’re not positioning ourselves for the future,” she said. “This is one of the biggest challenges facing this department and human resource professionals.”
ITD has the equivalent of 1,833 full-time employees working at 220 different jobs, according to Harker. About 55 percent of the department’s employees will be eligible to retire over the next 10 years. The average ITD employee’s age is 48 – two years above the average age for state employees as a whole.
Not only will corporations and government agencies be scrambling to plug the “brain drain” represented by this massive exodus of skills, experience and knowledge, but society as a whole may struggle as more than 78 million “boomers” start drawing from the nation’s retirement programs over the next 15 to 20 years.
This phenomenon is being driven by three demographic realities – the disproportionate size of the baby boom population, increasing longevity, and declining birthrates, according to authors Ken Dychtwald, Tamara J. Erickson and Robert Morison writing for the Harvard Business School Press.
The authors note that the baby boom began following the Depression and World War II, continuing to rise until the Vietnam war at a birth rate average of 10,000 babies per day just in the United States, 1,000 in Canada and comparable numbers across Europe an Australia.
“At such numbers, the boomer generation has repeatedly reshaped American life and fueled much of the productivity of the last several decades,” they write.
Throughout most of human history, the average life expectancy was less than 18, according to the authors. During the past 100 years that average moved to 47– now, life expectancy is averaging 77 with many people living well into their 80s and 90s. Breakthroughs in healthcare and other quality-of-life advances are cited as allowing people to live longer.
The authors go on to note that after U.S. birthrates peaked at 3.7 in the mid-1950s, the average number of children per woman has declined to two. Nearly 20 percent of baby boomers will have no children and another 25 percent will have only one child.
“Declining birthrates across industrialized nations guarantee a recurrent shortage of native-born young workers,” they say.
They conclude that few large organizations are really preparing for this transformation of the workforce and subsequent affect on the workplace.
As boomers retire, demands on Social Security and Medicare health insurance coverage are expected to dramatically increase. In the 1950s, roughly 16 workers were paying into the Social Security system for every beneficiary. Today, there are 3.3 workers for every beneficiary, according to the Social Security Administration. By 2031, the number will drop to 2.1 workers per beneficiary.
(Next week, learn how ITD plans to cope with the coming workforce challenge.)