For decades, the backbone of America's workforce has been formed from one generation: the Baby Boomers. Born in the years following World War II, "Boomers" are now supposedly on the brink of mass retirement, with economic doomsayers forecasting the demise of the working world as we know it. But as the oft-quoted Mark Twain said, "The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated." More and more signs are showing that this workforce exodus either will not happen or is completely skewed in scale. The business world needs to worry less about the Boomers leaving and worry more about the arrival of the Millennials.
The Boomer "Problem"One of the major reasons behind the bogeyman of Boomer retirement is the sheer scale. Doomsayers are preaching that the number of jobs will only continue to increase, while the number of available workers (with the Boomers retiring en masse) will not be able to meet the talent demand. With almost every company expecting to lose a portion of their employee base through the exodus, competition among employers is likely to heat up, making talented, and therefore desirable, workers more expensive due to the increased need for their skills.
Another reason is the loss of the knowledge, skills and abilities (collectively known as KSAs) possessed by Boomers. After having been entrenched in the workforce for decades, Boomers often occupy positions that require a high level of technical expertise, business acumen or, at the very least, industry experience. Watchers fear that even if there are enough bodies to fill every position left vacant by retiring Boomers, the odds that these new workers will be able to function at the same level as their experienced and knowledgeable forefathers are very low, and succession planning therefore becomes a relevant phrase in the talent management lexicon.
This KSA vacuum plays into another business concern: lost experience. Even if a fresh or recent college graduate can demonstrate the technical or business skills necessary for a position, how can businesses replace the savvy and historical perspective of their former employees? The answer is that they cannot, striking fear in the hearts of CEOs and management boards around the country.
So is business Armageddon at hand? The short answer is no. The proposed shortage of workers is shaping out to be less and less of an issue, with a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figure showing that by 2012, there will be 165.3 jobs available for 162.3 workers; a shortage, but not nearly as severe as some are predicting. Many Boomers will also continue to work longer, past the "normal" retirement age, simply due to poor financial planning. With the dollar falling and the cost of living increasing, the retirement flood will probably shake out to be nothing more than a slow trickle.
As for the KSA drought brought on by retiring Boomers…it does not exist. Especially in technical fields, recent upticks in certification numbers mean that the business world's technology knowledge base is actually increasing. Professionals are earning certifications in all aspects of technology, from specific coding languages to hardware to networking, making it easier to replace a retiring Boomer in a technical position as candidates can demonstrate immediately whether or not they possess the necessary KSAs for the position.
If Not Boomers Then…?With the Boomer exodus effectively debunked as a major business catastrophe, organizations can now set their sights on what is shaping up to be an actual problem: Millennials. The term refers to the newest generation of workers, those entering the workforce in the 2000s. While technically savvy, their collective attitude is something previously unseen in the business community and for which older employers are completely unprepared and unfamiliar.
While previous generations of working professionals were prepared to sacrifice self-interest for their career, Millennials are not. They have a sense of entitlement to their job as well as a need for constant positive reinforcement and feel that if THEIR requirements for the job are not met, they will move on…and they do. Job-hopping, previously considered a black mark on one's resume, is regarded by Millennials as just one notch on their working life's ladder and representative of their pursuit of the "perfect" career.
Reinforcing the Millenial and Replacing the BoomerResponding to the Millennials' need for constant positive reinforcement can be faced in much the same way as replacing retiring Boomers: through certifications. For Millennials, certifications serve as an effective means of positive reinforcement, letting them know that they are competent in their position and are doing a "good job." This validation gives them the feeling that their organization cares about them and will continue to care about them, as they have validation that their KSAs are correct for their position.
Certifications play an even more important role in replacing retiring Boomers. Unless your organization utilizes some obscure legacy system on the back end, filling a technical position with a certified professional can actually be considered a KSA "upgrade" in some cases. Many Boomers in technical positions have allowed their certifications to lapse or relied solely on their experience to get the job done. By hiring a certified professional, businesses can be assured that their candidate has the current skills and knowledge necessary to do the job properly, and possibly even more effectively, than before.
With the rumored worker shortage disproved, businesses must focus on new problems inherent with the influx of Millennials into the workforce. These talented yet fickle workers will require constant positive reinforcement, something that certifications provide along with the side benefit of showing their supervisors that they possess the necessary skills and knowledge for their position. Certifications will not only help organizations replace their skilled Boomers, but they can also aid in the management of the Millennial, the true talent management crises de jour.
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