Wandering into a demographic disaster

Apr 23 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Despite facing a looming demographic crisis that will see the numbers of working age people plummet over the coming decades, a mere one in seven (14 per cent) of employers in developed economies have any strategies in place to recruit older workers.

The extraordinary absence of action to pre-empt workforce shortages emerged from new research from employment services company Manpower Inc. based on a survey of more than 28,000 employers across 25 countries and territories.

Apart from an absence of recruitment strategies, the research reveals that only on ein five (21 per cent) of employers have implemented retention strategies to keep workers aged 50 or older in the workforce.

"Many employers have not yet recognized the need to forecast the percentage of their workforce that is set to retire in the next five to 10 years and planned ahead to stem the potential loss of productivity and intellectual capital that will occur when those people walk out the door," said Jeffrey A. Joerres, Chairman and CEO of Manpower Inc.

"A surprisingly large number of organizations are still viewing upcoming retirements as cost-saving opportunities, but this is a dangerous and shortsighted view, as older adults will be relied upon as one of the most important sources of talent for the future workforce."

Some countries, notably Japan and Singapore, did buck the trend, however. Some eight out of 10 employers in Japan and half of those in Singapore said they were working proactively to retain their older employees.

In contrast, a mere six per cent of employers in Italy and Spain said they have any such strategies in place.

"One key reason that Japan and Singapore are so much more focused on keeping their aging employees on the payroll is due to government legislation and incentive programs designed to promote such activities, whereas countries like Italy and Spain do not have the same level of government-inspired call to action," said Joerres.

Even in the United States, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of employers claimed to be unconcerned that an aging workforce might hamper their ability to recruit and retain talented workers.

Fewer than three out of 10 (28 per cent) of American employees said that they have put in place a strategy to retain workers past retirement age while just 18 per cent have a strategy to recruit older workers.

According to the report, the extent to which employers have addressed the recruitment and retention of older workers to ease talent shortages depends on a variety of complex factors.

The major variables appear to be the size and demographic profile of the national labor pool, the degree to which talent shortages are being experienced at present and

legislation that either promote or discourage labor force participation by older workers.

"Talent shortages are always a great motivator for employers take action and proactively engage segments of the workforce that tend to be under- employed or under-valued, and the older workforce is no exception," said Joerres.

"It appears that most employers worldwide are ignoring the demographic forecasts and evidence of growing talent shortages, and instead, still waiting to see it in their headlights before they begin to think differently about the older workforce."

"By then, it could be too late to avoid the impact of large-scale retirements on the productivity and knowledge base of their company."

Joerres added that this problem would be exacerbated because the older employees who have the talent companies most need to retain are also those who have the financial flexibility to retire or downshift to a more flexible work arrangements.

That means that employers have to put flexibility firmly at the heart of any efforts they make to attract and retain older workers.

"The best way to attract and retain older workers is to have jobs they want, and what they want is flexible, part-time jobs that interest them," Joerres insisted.

"It may be a few more years before employers determine how to effectively offer the part-time roles that mature adults would prefer."