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The help-wanted hurricane

Management | September 1, 2012 | By:

The aging of the U.S. workforce is predicted to cause skilled workforce shortages.

Fact: In the wake of the Great Recession, some Baby Boomers are delaying retirement, hoping that a few extra years of work will help them replenish nest eggs devastated by the economic downturn. Myth: Delayed retirements have become the norm and severe labor shortages are no longer a concern.

With all the hulabaloo in the media focused on prolonged retirements, some employers have mistaken delays in retirement for long-term workforce sustainability. It’s the equivalent of mistaking a category 5 hurricane for a light rain shower.

In early 2012, XYZ University teamed up with GradStaff, Minneapolis, Minn., to author a report examining the aging of our workforce in an effort to dispel some of the myths and set the record straight.

Turnover underway

The U.S. workforce is aging rapidly and turnover is already happening. On average, 10,000 Baby Boomers (1946-1964) retire every day. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a shortfall of 10 million workers in the immediate future. Four of America’s largest industries are also the oldest by median employee age: real estate, manufacturing, insurance and health care. The loss of skilled talent in these four industries alone is likely to generate economic fallout.

Research and surveys indicate that most industry executives realized they were headed for a talent gap in the early 2000s, but it’s 12 years later and companies still aren’t building the capacity they need for the future. By 2015, Generation Y (1982-1995) will outnumber the Baby Boomers in the workforce.

Turnover in entry-level hiring is astronomical—70 percent of college graduates leave their first job after graduation within two years. The bottom line is this: business success will rely solely on its ability to recruit and retain the next generation of talent.

Industry outlook

Specialty fabric suppliers and end product manufacturers have had to battle a number of fronts in order to succeed in the marketplace: Lack of demand for products and services throughout the value chain, continued industry consolidation, high raw material costs, overseas competition and tight credit markets.

There are companies who have adapted to the reset specialty fabrics industry. They see opportunities in the marketplace and take advantage of them, believing that an economic downturn is no reason to stop spending on innovation. They also recognize that the industry is evolving, and the need for a more highly skilled workforce is growing.

Perhaps the most startling statistic listed above is that by 2015 the majority of our nation’s workforce will be in their 20s. Considering this, it is imperative that industry leaders understand how to recruit, retain and engage the next generation of workers.

In many industries, employers continue to struggle to engage Generation X (1965-1981), which is rapidly approaching middle age! Generation Y will assume the majority workforce in just three years, and the oldest of Generation Z (1996-2012) are turning 16 this year.

The generalization is that these are skeptical, instant-gratification generations who were raised on technology and credit cards and they are often labeled socially inept, entitled slackers. Generation X is elusive and fiercely independent, while Generation Y thrives on collaboration and recognition.

These generations are different from the generations that have come before them. They are moving to a different beat, but it’s their beat that has the power to make or break any organization. At 120 million people, Generations X and Y will quickly become the majority—the majority vote, majority workforce, and majority consumer spending.

Ways to engage

There are strategies that are likely to have more success with Generations X and Y (GenX/Y).

Include them. In marketing, there are still messages being delivered without inviting participation. In boardrooms, the average age of directors still hovers at 58. Younger generations want to be valued, and to participate.

Make it easy. If GenX/Y don’t get it right away, or at least see how to get it, they’ll lose interest and move on to something or somewhere else.

Share. Make everything you do accessible and interactive everywhere, from Facebook to Twitter, and especially new trending sites like Pinterest.

Take a risk. From politics to products, make it honest, heartfelt, and see that it stands out from the crowd. Perfection doesn’t resonate with GenX/Y; reality does.

Give it meaning. GenX/Y readily seek out opportunities to make a difference in the world: “Do good and we will engage with your brand.”

What doesn’t work

Take yourself too seriously. Being funny and having fun is powerful. Laughter makes GenX/Y feel closer to each other and closer to your brand.

Be vague. Mission statements sound great in the boardroom, but they but mean next to nothing to a 20-something who will skip an ad after about 0.7 seconds.

Sell something. From the moment GenX/Y considers buying a new car to the moment they trade it in for a new one, they want to be engaged. Offer an experience, not a product.

Talk down. If you don’t respect younger generations, it will be obvious throughout your entire company culture, and turnover will be a continuing problem. They go where they are wanted.

Do nothing. The worst thing you can do is recruit a Gen X/Y to your company, board or association and then do nothing. They expect to be challenged, motivated and included every day.


Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges, but this is also an opportunity to innovate, compete, and be relevant to an entirely new generation of leaders, employees, clients and consumers. Whatever the generation(s) of your workforce, the most valuable resource you have is your employees.

Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University to help organizations bridge generation and talent gaps. She will be presenting on the topic of “Preparing for the Future” at IFAI Expo Americas 2012 in Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 7th

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