As pointed out by Michael Daniels, of SAIC and  Network Solutions Inc., during the panel discussion at the Virginia Conference on Economic Leadership, we will soon be facing a shortage of 25 million workers nationwide.  The first of the baby boomer generation is about to hit retirement age, and the number of coming-of-age workers will not cover the retiring workers by any means.  Thus, we are left with 25 million jobs vacant.

Out of any of the other proclamations at the conference, this one stood out the most to me.  I found this most alarming because the rest of the conference was focussed on how we are preparing for the future through education.  If the people aren’t there to be trained, then it seems to me that all the training in the world won’t make up the difference.

Some of the other attendees eased my mind by sharing some of their experience, which resonated with some of my own observations over the past few years.  The most important observation is that just because a large part of the population will become eligible for retirement doesn’t mean that they will all just up and retire right away.  That gives us time to find solutions to ease the transition.

Not only will the entire baby boomer demographic not retire simultaneously, but more and more people are working longer — either in their current occupation or taking the opportunity to start a second career.

There are three key components to filling the gap here in Virginia:

  1. Use official graduated retirement plans in your business.  Rather than counting on your experienced workers to continue working, give them incentives to do so.
  2. Immigration, either domestic or foreign.  It’s a dirty word to a lot of people,  but it is the lifeblood of the country, and must be addressed.  We can’t close our borders entirely, and by the looks of things doing so would strangle our economy — even just from the perspective of this one issue.  We need to encourage the immigration of highly skilled labor, whether it from other countries or from other states.
  3. Retention of graduates from our state universities is another key issue.  We have some of the best schools in the country, and we train a lot of graduates that end up going back to their home states or get lured away for good-paying jobs in other areas.  We need to up the ante and figure out how to keep these graduates in Virginia.

It was an alarming statistic, but after some reflection and discussion, it sounds as though it is not nearly as catastrophic as it first sounded — as long as we approach it with some forethought.  Now is the time to discuss it, not when we are in the middle of a huge labor shortage.

I am interested to hear any observations that any of you may have
either about how you have seen this issue handled, or how you are
planning to handle it in your own business.

See also:  What’s the plan for VA’s economic development? (1st in a 4-part series)
See also:  Northrop Grumman speaks on workforce development (2nd in a 4-part series)
See also:  Northrop Grumman speaks on workforce development (3rd in a 4-part series)