A ‘Silver Tsunami’ is looming

The government workforce is primed for mass retirements, which has been dubbed the silver tsunami

Baby Boomers will soon retire in great numbers … how will government workforce be affected?

Workers in the United States are aging…and aging so quickly it frightens most employers. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 10,000 Baby Boomers will celebrate a 65th birthday every single day between now and 2030. For perspective, the largest stadium in the NFL – MetLife Stadium in New Jersey – holds more than 82,000 people. To contain all the workers reaching retirement age in just one month, it would be necessary to find a stadium three times that large.

Photo by 401(K) 2012 licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Photo by 401(K) 2012 licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This phenomenon has created lots of news coverage but it has primarily been related to private-sector companies, universal health care issues and individual retirement savings. But, there’s another looming issue as well. The government workforce, at every level and jurisdiction, is primed to take a huge direct hit.

A silver tsunami, or an abrupt upsurge of Baby Boomer retirements, could cripple the U.S. economy by harming both public- and private-sector employers alike. We have been fortunate so far, because we’ve not yet experienced the mass exodus of retirements that will definitely come. Experts tell us it’s only a matter of time before the wave hits.

Some public entities are preparing for the flood of retirements. A few have implemented knowledge transfer programs, where expertise and knowledge from departing staff is being collected, analyzed and captured so that younger employees can be prepared to step into leadership roles. It is absolutely critical that institutional knowledge and expertise is not lost because of retirements.

The state of Washington was truly visionary and in the 1990s, the state developed a plan that became a knowledge transfer program. The knowledge transfer program focused on only one agency at a time because each was different with varied cultures, issues and mandates. Agency leaders were charged with identifying key business drivers and areas of weakness for every division.  Knowledge gaps were outlined and history was captured. Government officials in Washington became experts in a myriad of ways as they identified retirement threats.

Sarasota County, Fla., has also been a leader. The county is working to identify younger employees and to steer them into apprentice roles in various departments where retirements are anticipated. More senior workers are responsible for training and teaching them. They are allowed the opportunity to learn from senior staff members who want to know that the work will be handled well when they decide to retire.

Governmental leaders who are addressing these problems realized rather quickly that training would not be a complete fix. The challenge also includes attracting new talent and creating enticing career paths. Competition from private-sector firms is intense and government must offer similar benefits and incentives.

In Fort Collins, Colo., leaders of the utilities department began preparations after realizing that many employees were considering retirement over the next few years. The department initiated a plan with two phases. The first phase identified at-risk areas within the organization. Then, the necessary skills for each position were outlined. During the second phase, a consultant was brought in to work with senior staff on the technical aspects of their jobs. The objective was to capture history, data and information that could be shared with more junior staff. Finally, they developed a pathway for younger employees that included growth opportunities as well as work-life balance plans that would allow them to be competitive with private-sector companies. The department now offers employees the option to work remotely. Also, a tuition-support program and a shadowing program are offered to new employees.

By 2025, experts believe that millennials (the generation born between about 1980-2000) will constitute 75 percent of America’s workforce. That’s less than a decade away. If ever there was a time for private-sector firms with career development options to approach public entities, it is now. Government must focus on attracting new talent, initiating professional development programs and providing an enticing workplace for millennials.

A silver tsunami is coming and public officials will be working overtime in the near future to ensure that new leaders emerge to fill the ranks of government.

SPI’s team of procurement consultants and government affairs experts can help you navigate difficult issues like the silver tsunami. Contact them today!