Boomer retirement expected to create professions shortages

Gloria Dunn-Violin


What will your company look like in 14 years — after most of the Baby Boomers retire?

Many industries will be severely impacted by Boomer retirements. As Boomers leave the workforce, the nation is expected to see shortages in many professions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these shortages include management analysts, industrial engineers, financial managers, labor relations managers, postal clerks, police detectives, registered nurses, social workers, and lawyers.

A poll by AARP revealed that 48 percent of companies have not, and will not, do any strategic planning to analyze the impact on their businesses of retirement by Boomer employees.

At the same time, newspaper headline stories across the United States are filled with anxiety about this upcoming crisis.

The Twin Cities Pioneer Press headline blares: “Can Minnesota survive the baby-boomer retirement wave?”

Some Minnesota companies are finding few replacement workers as they try to fill skilled positions. “We’ve already started to see significant slowing,” said Steve Hine, research director for the State Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Some industries in particular, the skilled trades—accounting, finance, and education—are already sounding alarms.

“It’s a huge crisis that’s unfolding in slow motion right before my eyes,” said Joe Coombs, a longtime trades recruiter for Express Employment who has visited 50 factories and manufacturers across the state.

Massachusetts has an older workforce and is already feeling the effects of Baby Boomer retirement as industries from health care to manufacturing face worsening labor shortages.

The Boston Globe reports that by 2018 employment growth in Massachusetts is expected to plunge by more than half—not because there aren’t jobs, but because there won’t be enough workers to fill them, according to the most recent forecast by the New England Economic Partnership.

Kimberly Abare, president of New England Die Cutting Methuen, realized she had a problem when a longtime employee who is 62 said he would retire this year. She looked at her 40-person workforce and realized that about one in six were 55 and older—many in crucial roles such as quality control, operations management,and research and development.

“This is really going to hit us,” Abare said. “It leaves an employer extremely vulnerable.”

Larger companies are facing similar pressures. One out of four workers is a Boomer at Liberty Mutual which expects to see the rate of retirement pick up over the next five years. The impact could be particularly acute in underwriting and other areas that require years of experience.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association said U.S. hospitals have known for years that their workforce is aging. Economists estimate that by 2020, about 80,000 registered nurses a year will retire nationwide, up from 30,000 a decade ago.

Another headline from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states: “Baby boomers creating ‘Silver Tsunami’ in workforce.”

“We have about 130,000 people who are between the ages of 55 and 64 in Allegheny County. That group, as they move into old age, will need to be replaced. It’s one of those sleeping giants most people don’t think about. They deal with it when someone leaves,” said Andrew Pena, assistant vice president for human resources at New Mexico State University.

As Boomers exit, a few companies are heeding the call to action. General Motors Co. has both formal and informal efforts in place to capture the institutional knowledge of its 200,000-plus employees worldwide, said Chris Oster, the Detroit automaker’s global director for talent development.

To prepare, other organizations need to forecast future manpower and skill needs. Then, they need to design incentive plans to convince top employees to put off retirement and help their organizations devise concrete strategies to stay in business. Finally, before thousands of years of work experience exit the business sector, there must be a concentrated focus on capturing and transferring the knowledge and expertise of retirees.

What is your company doing to insure your business survives in 2030?