Human Resources News & Insights

Ready for talent crisis after Boomers retire? These industries could be hardest hit

Are you worried about the supposedly inevitable brain drain that’ll follow the retirement of the Baby Boomers? If you’re in these industries, maybe you should be.

According to Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill, authors of Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus, these fields are likely to feel the absence of older workers more than others:

  • oil and gas producers
  • manufacturers
  • educational institutions
  • health care, and
  • government.

Young people aren’t going into the oil and gas industry because of lifestyle preferences, according to Ball and Gotsill — the time spent away from home is a turnoff.

Manufacturing suffers from image problems — young people describe working in manufacturing as a “life sentence” on a never-ending assembly line.

And the workforces in education, health care and government jobs are skewed heavily toward older workers, the authors say, because they’re the kinds of jobs people tend to stay in a long time. Thus, when the Boomers retire, the sheer number of vacancies will be bring huge headaches for hiring managers in those industries.

Is the ‘crisis’ real?

The first Baby Boomers turn 65 in 2011. But how many of them will actually retire?

We’ve heard reports that there are now more workers over 65 than there are teenagers in the labor force — the first time that’s happened since the feds began keeping track of such things in 1948.

That seems to reflect what many forecasters have been predicting over the past couple of years: Older workers just aren’t retiring in the traditional numbers.

Between retirement savings accounts going in the toilet due to recession to an older workforce that’s healthier — and more interested in staying active — than earlier generations, turning 65 is no longer seen as the career-ending benchmark.

Are you making plans to deal with the Baby Boomer exodus? Or do you think the dire “brain drain” predictions are alarmist? Tell us in the Comments section below.

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  1. JohnnyHR says:

    Heck, I’m making plans to be part of the Baby Boomer exodus. I don’t think the brain drain is alarmist. I think many companies will have a hard time replacing the knowledge – gained through experience – that they will lose with retiring boomers. My opinion is many younger workers don’t have the work ethic or patience to stay in a good job for very long. They want immediate job satisfaction and often believe they don’t have to pay their “dues” to move ahead. Moving ahead means moving to another company. My guess is the workplace will resemble a revolving door. Workers and managers will come and go and companies will have to be creative to retain good employees.

  2. Yes. Companies will have to get creative to retain good employees. Innovation is a GOOD thing. The working world right now is completely skewed toward the baby boomer generation. Changes they are a coming and it’s not a bad thing. No offense to boomers (and if you want to keep working great!) but a new day is coming. Thanks for your contributions but now we have to move ahead. New ideas, new blood, new horizons, new markets, new products. I know, not all new is good. However, not all old is good either.

    Companies are going to get a chance to maybe change some things for the better and drop some bad practices that have become institutionalized in the business world. America is falling behind and it’s time for a new guard and new approaches for our companies and our workers. We’ve stagnated and a change over in the work force may be just what the doctor ordered.

    And to you boomers who are saying we don’t have the knowledge, experience, work ethic, training etc. well, those things come with time. Something you have had. Time is running out for you. The clock has just started for the rest of us.

    To infinity and beyond…

  3. Pete

    You sound like so many of us that were going to fix all the problems that came from the generations before us as we entered the workforce in the 1960’s, 1970’s, & 1980’s. Yes the guard will change as the pendulum do, and hopefully newer and better will be there for awhile. History frequently does repeat itself look at AMC’s “Mad Men” and Cooperate America in the 90’s the 00’s while it is dramatized there is much truth.

    I remember in the 70’s I had been working for a number of years so to advance make a difference and earn more $ I was entered management. There was a report circulating about the mass retirements that would occur in city, state, and federal areas as well as the private sector. It was projected there would also be mass retirements from the Medical, Technology, Urban, Suburban and Exurban Infrastructure jobs ranging from potable water to how mass transit and waste removal were accomplished. There was a similar analysis regarding organizations that were private or profit making business with a remarkably similar situation.

    The retirements hit and hit a-lot harder than even the doomsayers predicted for there were no computers, manuals, internet E-mail and telephones were a limited tool. Mass copies were made not on copy machines but on mimeograph machines (Boy did we ever get a buzz from inhaling that stuff) and so were limited. There were no beepers cell phones fax machines. When the Administrators Department heads middle managers supervisors and workers all retired there were few who had the skills and experience to correct adjust maintain, fix problems and then to push ahead.

    Those of us who were working in unionized settings and were not unionized had to fight with unions that were over powerful and hostile (I was supervisor in a private hospital located in a metropolitan area. During a strike we had to sneak in laying on the floor of ambulance’s. We had to go in that way as the entrances were all blocked by picket lines and the unions would not let us enter the facility, so police escorted the ambulances to the ER doors. As in many facilities because the organization did not close down and give in to the union demands the plate glass windows in the lobby were smashed by bricks. The bricks were hurled at them by union members from unrelated facilities that were picketing the one I worked in. As this was happening our union workers (same union) were on strike and picketing other facilities. All supervisory staff had to stay in the hospital to operate it and provide care for the patients, as we were “salaried employees” we had to do the work our staff did and the most important tasks we did. We slept in the facility working an average of 18 hours a day.). And the workers had to come back to be supervised by us…….That whole era caused much bad blood between administrations managers supervisors and union members. I remember one incident in particular as one manager and had to be admitted to the ICU because he had been given a concussion by a brick thrown when he was crossing the picket line.

    At this time there was also rampart crime, social disorder as well as corruption and systems that were cobbled together or designed to fit an urgent immediate need. There was no thought to passing the stuff on. Mass transit fell apart health care became unreliable city state and federal services all staggered under a load of youngsters that were untrained and had no manuals or reference work to guide them. However all were trying to keep the whole thing from falling apart.

    Quality management was a theory interdisciplinary teams for problem solving were unheard of. There was no security in any building that if they were considered “Public Building” the public had to have access all the time.

    Basic services staggered example-City Water was considered the best water in the world it was bottled and shipped world wide. When civil service was reduced the control of City water supply was loosened and the quality dropped. The same for public health care mass transit and most other services people take for granted. There was ongoing inflation and depression the Korean War and Vietnam War were a constant drain on the counties young and strained public moneys to try an supply services. Many people in the US were uneducated and starving to death. There was no health services provided without some sort of payment. On the job there was no law requiring Personal Protection Equipment for workers no Right to Know program for workers nor was there a freedom of information act. There was little worker education and the banks did what they wanted. We as a people survived and tried to make it better and as technology made many things more reachable we progressed. Mistakes were made but that is part of living and trying to make things better.

    Now there are so many more resources for all people ranging from education to responsible sexual behavior. What scares me is I look around and with this wealth of tools we have to make the world better more productive to keep people fed and healthy and to move our species up the evolutionary ladder we have adults who cannot make change of a dollar unless a machine tells them to. These are adults that have graduated high school and do not know what button to push without a picture on the button. Just as the energy situation the banking and credit situation came about by decontrolling and stripping agencies of the authority to correct what is identified as substandard.

    There was a lot accomplished from women’s rights, gay liberation, civil rights, sexual liberation, now hopefully the right to healthcare, workers rights including the right to a safe workplace and education. But in those same areas and many more there are needs to be addressed updated and errors corrected that is if all humans are to be competitive with each other in a global market place.

    At 59 this year I will be 60 I started working at 14 so I went to school had a paper route and a part time job. As time went on I fell into a profession and kept educating myself so I could help and take care of my family. I have also now been working where I currently work for over 20 years. I am ready when I reach a financial situation and the age for retirement to pass the torch on. I also realize it is a human tradition to blame those before for what ever problems arise when the guard changes. But it would be wrong to not recognize the efforts of those who came before…….What they faced with what tools? Who did they have to work with? I know my generation frequently blamed our parents for the problems we found but did not credit them with the considerable progress they made and that seems to be true all over. There is also no matter how fair you try to be or to make something it is unfair to someone, all we can do is keep trying

    I truly would like to see where things would be at in the future of 50, 100, 150, 200, up to 10,000 years to be clear I do not want to live that long. Not unless I could have a body that is perpetually about 32 years old but none of that is possible.

    Pete I like your enthusiasm and remember mine and I truly hope you accomplish what you set out to do……..From an old dog……..GOOD LUCK and I hope you get it done.

  4. HR Kansas says:

    I was at a meeting a while back and one of the speakers nailed it: While everyone talks about “alternative” working hours/settings for the “new” generations, it will be the retiring generation that drives this change. The millineums have little to offer and suffer the highest unemployment. The baby boomers will be offered half days/alternating work days/even seasonal work schedules to keep their knowledge from walking out the door.

  5. I also will be retiring. I am afraid of my replacement and what they will bring to my office. Others have left in our department and frankly, these young-in’s just out of school have no drive or need to do superb work. I believe us “baby boomers” were taught, good manners, as well as punctuality, determination, and drive. I do not see this in the people fresh out of college. That goes without saying that we are the “best” due to experience. This is true. However, I do not see my boss or supervisor begging me to stay. They would rather hire at a lower salary than mine and put up with what they get for their money. It does make me sad to leave my job to someone that doesnt care. Its just the way it is.

  6. Organizations can creatively pass Baby Boomer brain power to Gen X and Millenniums by offering mentoring sessions. Many Boomers would welcome an opportunity to brain dump their years of experience to where ever needed – via a temporary assignment or temporary extreme commute situation. The work place is changing quickly and organizations must get creative so they are prepared.

  7. Utilities are facing the same problem as oil and gas. Upper management does not listen to the “old dogs” when they try to tell them they need a mentoring program to get the new kids “up to speed” and consequently they find themselves hiring retirees back as contractors for major replacement projects because of the extreme lack of experience onsite. One wonders why an efficiency analysis would not point this out to these fools.

  8. I find it funny that Boomers complain about the younger generation not being taught certain skills, manners, work habits, etc. Who were the younger generation’s teachers? Boomers!! It’s hypocritical to complain about the kids today when you’re the ones who raised them.

    I don’t disagree that the American work ethic has eroded, but the cause is entirely of our own making. All too often, parents make things too easy for their kids and are unwilling to exercise discipline. Now it falls to people outside the family — teachers, employers, etc. — to try to impose some structure and the need for hard work. But these habits should start at home.

  9. HR Kansas says:

    Every generation complains that the “younger generation” has a crappy work ethic, I’m sure the silent generation said it about the “greatest” generation and they said it about the baby boomers. Personally I have observed some of the worst work ethics displayed by the oldest of the baby boomers that are in senior positions simply because they have been there the longest. The 2 hour “three martini lunches”, hiring secretaries based bedroom talent, taking credit for the work of others, but these offenses don’t seem as common among the middle and younger baby boomers (or are at least more discrete).

    But until you can hire 20 and 30 year olds with 20 and 30 years of experience a majority of the baby boomers will find their talents in demand at schedules they can dictate. While some of the other boomers that seemed indispensable will learn their true worth.

  10. In 2000 I saw one corporate giant fire 2,000 middle managers all in one day. A few years later, about half of these managers were working as consultants for the same company, and much higher rates of compensation (less benefits, of course) because the new MBA’s didn’t have the experience to carry on. Education is wonderful….I went to night school for 10 years to get my BA….but nothing can beat a good mentor.

    Hopefully there will be a bridge of mentors to support the new people coming up. As for each generation believing that the next is spoiled and has no work ethic, I imagine that those folks living through the Great Depression felt that my generation was spoiled (I am 58) and undisciplined. We like to think that living through the riots and social changes of the 60’s and 70’s, the Viet Nam War,
    the Cold War, and all the rest make us somehow wiser. Each generation has their “Viet Nam”, each one has their Cold War and social unrest.
    Let us hope that these two generations can find a good combination of mentors and students, of experience and new ideas. Otherwise, hello China……

  11. I have absolutely no plans in working past the age of 65 and will, perhaps, retire earlier. Luckily, I have that option.

    Are we in trouble when the Boomer general starts retiring? Absolutely!

    I see all around me now the younger generation’s lack of discipline, lack of respect, lack of work ethics. I generally see the lack of things needed to be a productive, hard-working American citizen. Those who are employed in the workforce today of the younger generations insist on receiving salaries that management earns after years of climbing the ladder. It’s the typical “entitlement” attitude we Boomer’s are forced to deal with every day.

    And, please, stop blaming others for your attitudes. You are now adults and know right from wrong, how to act and how not to act, how to treat others and how not to treat others. Our generation had to clean up our parent’s messes; now it’s your turn.

    To those of the younger generations who are willing to work their way to success, who care about the mess we’re in now, who want to right the wrongs of the Boomer generation, I applaud you! I wish you the best of luck; I wish you great success; I wish you great wealth. But, take my advice. Not many of you will make it unless you get government out of your pockets. Because the way things are going now most of that hard-earned money you’re trying so hard to get will end up in the pockets of Uncle Sam.

    And, by the way. Is it really too much to ask for a response when I say “thank you” to one of the younger gens. out there? Really, just grunt will do.

  12. Um, that’s Boomer generation…not general.

  13. Speaking from the “young-ins” point of view:

    I have been working since I was 16 in order to pay for school clothes, gas and insurance for my car, and various school activities I wanted to be a part of. I was the second oldest (only by 11 months) of 7 children and grew up to experience first hand what the value of a dollar was and how important “treating your elders with respect” was. I have constantly been seeking the advice of more seasoned colleagues so that I can learn from their experiences. I am currently going back (at night) to get my MBA in order to have a leg up, once that Golden Opportunity comes. But, I have found that the more seasoned colleagues brush me off as a “young-in” and don’t care that I am trying to learn from them. They don’t make time for me and are always too busy to have a quick 10 minute conversation.

    Over the last several years I have been involved with an organization outside of work and have organized “mentoring” events. They were very poorly received, because the mentors just didn’t have time for us.

    I show up to work 15 minutes before I am “supposed” to be at work and often work well past the “8 hour” work day- including weekends. I appreciate how tall the ladder is and I am willing to burn the mid-night oil and assist those that I can in order to gain the experience necessary. However, getting a few precious moments with a senior level manager is next to impossible. They just don’t have the time to spend.

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