Job seekers should take heart because millions of great jobs could be on the way. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the over 78 million baby boomers who constitute more than a third of our workforce are now beginning to retire. Since boomers have had far fewer children than their parents, they are expected to leave a surplus of jobs to the generation that follows. In other words, those needing better employment are about to be outnumbered by job openings.
Sounds great–but there is a catch. According to Joshua Zeitz, a contributing editor at American Heritage, baby boomers are as a whole more educated than their children. While boomers were hard at work, they left little time to prepare young people to succeed them. The result? Many employers who want to hire young Americans find them ill-equipped for the highly-skilled work of their parents.
#1: Businesses complain of worker shortage
“We have employers who are having a hard time finding people across all industries,” says Roy Krause, CEO of Spherion Corporation. Few people can feel the pulse of U.S. employers like Krause, who runs a nation-wide temporary employment and staffing company. According to Krause, the absence of qualified younger applicants is contributing to an emerging pattern among employers of rehiring retired boomers as temps or consultants.
But younger people are not just lacking skills to fill jobs vacated by retirees, says AT&T executive Randall Stephenson–they are also unprepared for new high-tech jobs created by changing technology. Stephenson recently announced AT&T’s inability to find enough qualified American candidates for all the outsourced jobs that it had hoped to return to U.S. soil. Addressing the complaint that foreigners get jobs because they accept less pay, Stephenson counted that foreign professionals are more competent. “I know you don’t like hearing that, but that’s the way it is.”
#2: Companies work to recruit and train laborers
Azim Premji, recently ranked the world’s 21st most wealthy person, also chided the U.S. earlier this year for failing to address its lack of talented workers in the high-tech industry. Like Stephenson, Premji plans to invest in the U.S. by strategically bringing foreign operations to the states. He then hopes to partner with nearby universities to recruit employees, believing that strong ties with schools and students are vital for a forward-thinking company.
For some companies, though, the need for hirable workers is so immediate that they must take matters into their own hands, devising their own apprenticeship-style training programs. Though apprenticeships are common in union trades, they are becoming so necessary among private companies that they sometimes become an industry-recognized practice.
Take the shipping industry, for instance. Gregory Lewis, who analyzes shipping for the New York Credit Suisse office, admits that worker shortfalls have forced many shipping companies to open their own schools.
#3: Unfilled job vacancies hurt business
In the absence of skilled U.S. candidates, international businesses can often rely on foreign workers, and some companies have the luxury of funding their own education and recruitment programs. But what about those employers that are still without workable strategies for attracting new employees?
Such companies face numerous difficulties. Consider, for instance, the story of the Hamill Manufacturing plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Despite having a sufficiently large facility to complete work orders on time, the company has stacks of backorders. Hamill executive Jeff Kelly explains that there just aren’t enough skilled laborers to operate the available machinery. As unfulfilled work orders continue to mount, Kelly wonders why younger people aren’t getting the needed training.
Though manufacturing work may not top many fourth-graders’ “When I grow up, I want to be” list, it typically provides good pay, benefits, and the promise of a stable career.
#4: Experts look to immigrants for help
Given the overwhelming number of expected job vacancies, many social agencies are scrambling to find and develop the skills of anyone who will listen. Roger Herman of the Herman Group, a strategic planning firm in Greensboro, N.C., expects U.S. companies to look more and more to immigrants for help filling job openings.
Many experts and activists agree that gaining the attention of immigrants is an important part of the solution. Immigrants maintain huge communities in important urban centers like Southern California, sometimes composing over half of their cities’ populations. By force of their numbers alone, they must recruited by local companies needing skilled labor.
Plus, immigrants’ multicultural backgrounds and bilingualism make them increasingly attractive to businesses that in today’s global economy find themselves needing more diverse teams. And yet, a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC suggests that, like native-born workers, immigrants are largely unprepared to meet the needs of today’s employers.
#5: Businesses need skilled workers now
While some experts and employers express pessimism about the increasing want for skilled workers, this can be an exciting moment of opportunity for those who gain the necessary training. According to Arlene Dohm, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist in Washington D.C., technical and scientific jobs are the hardest for companies to fill.
As job seekers consider their options, training in science, math, technology, and skilled labor deserve special notice. Such classes may not be the most popular, but when it comes to finding a good job, they are likely to deliver.
The U.S. Department of Labor suggests that retirements may leave the greatest need for pilots, special education teachers, welfare workers, postal clerks, and police supervisors among other professions. Still, all industries are beginning to feel the pinch of insufficient talent. One survey by the National Federation of Independent Business suggests that 25 percent of businesses cannot fill at least one position. From universities to manufacturers to hospitals to tech service companies, everyone seems to need more qualified help.
The good news is those willing to adapt to employers’ needs by furthering their education should enjoy unprecedented odds at securing desirable employment, advancement, and promotion.
Publish date: June 16, 2008