Workforce renewal in an aging world – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Workforce renewal in an aging world

Popular wisdom holds that the public service will need to recruit a large number of young professionals, mostly recent grads, to replace soon-to-retire baby boomers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with following an unoriginal renewal strategy, as long it is consistent with current labour market trends. The dominant approach to renewal, however, is not. In Canada, as in most industrialized countries, the workforce is aging, and quickly. Young workers are becoming a rare commodity. According to Statistics Canada, ten years from now, there may not be enough young people entering the workforce to replace those retiring.

The public service, therefore, will soon have to look beyond recent graduates, beyond attracting mid-career professionals. But what other sources are there?

They can turn to workers 55 and over, who are increasingly extending their work life. Statistics Canada reports that the participation rate of workers aged 55 to 64 in the Canadian labour market has risen steadily during the past decades and predicts it will continue to increase. Similarly, surveys conducted by the Bank of Montreal and Fidelity Investments found many boomers plan to keep working during retirement.

Some private sector organizations have been exploring initiatives designed to tap into older talent. These initiatives have a twofold purpose: retaining soon-to-retire employees and tapping on the expanding pool of 55-plus workers seeking employment. Here are some of the most important lessons we can learn from those experiences.

1. Encourage a holistic approach
Much of the retirement planning assistance focuses on the financial issues facing retirees. But won’t public servants who have spent their careers making a contribution want to continue to do so? Forest products giant Weyerhaeuser, with employees in 18 countries, offers a workshop where older employees can explore the questions “what will my legacy be?” and “what will I do next?'” In the “Plus 50 Workshop,” employees and their partners reflect on what really matters in their professional and personal lives as a key step to determine what projects to pursue next.

The workshop helps employees understand how their current job and career prospects fit into their long-term life plan and, by so doing, it can increase employee engagement and loyalty to the organization. There is, of course, the risk that some participants will conclude that they are not pursuing their true passions and choose to leave sooner than they would normally.

Adapted to the public sector, workshops could be followed by seminars that discuss the broad range of geographic and role changes – including exchanges and international work, which are available before and after retirement, as well as corporate training programs that support employees in the acquisition of new skill sets.

2. Develop a retirees’ network
The public service could build corporate alumni networks to create a portfolio of experienced retirees who can be called up when necessary. For many years, only educational institutions recognized the advantages of developing alumni networks. Recently, however, a growing number of organizations have launched concerted efforts to keep in touch with former employees. For example, consulting firm McKinsey & Company manages an alumni network with more than 10,000 members worldwide.

By keeping in touch with retired employees, government departments can identify those who may be interested in working again, either full-time or part-time. Booz Allen Hamilton has a recruitment program called “The Comeback Kids” that targets former employees. Retirees can also be used as a source of referrals.

In effect, once retired doesn’t mean no longer interested in the department’s mission, nor does it mean retired forever.

3. Create career transition programs
Government departments can launch initiatives to attract 55-plus workers from other organizations, such as private companies, universities and other levels of government. In the United States, for example, there is a program known as FedExperience, whose objective is to help match the federal government’s hiring needs with the talent of highly trained baby boomers who are looking for new and meaningful challenges.

As part of the FedExperience initiative, the U.S. Department of Treasury and IBM are currently working on a project to identify and recruit skilled IBM workers and retirees and match them to mission-critical Treasury jobs. The project will ensure that specific Treasury job openings are sent to IBM employees with pertinent skill sets and experience (e.g., accountants); accelerate the hiring process; and provide career transition support to facilitate the integration of IBM employees to the government work environment.

Although FedExperience focuses primarily on attracting private sector employees, a similar Canadian-made program could target university professors, researchers, and specialists employed at other levels of government or in the not-for-profit sector.

4. Design flexible working conditions and assignments
Departments can use flexible work arrangements to attract and retain older workers with critical knowledge. Surveys consistently report that workers, as they age, are more likely to pursue flexible work arrangements. Recognizing this, Aerospace Corporation, a U.S. non-profit specializing in space projects, launched a flexible work initiative for experienced technical personnel. Known as the “Retirement Transition Program,” the initiative offers four alternative arrangements: pre-retirement leaves of absence; part-time assignments in preparation for retirement; post-retirement opportunities as contract employees; and post-retirement employment as consultants.

The public service should also consider reviewing its portfolio of benefits to create an attractive environment for older workers. For example, British supermarket chain Asda offers seasonal leaves of absence so that employees can spend the winter period in warmer regions. Swedish bank Forenings Sparbanken, has a program “55+” that includes time for exercise during working hours, an annual health check, and the possibility of working 80 percent of a full-time schedule for 90 percent of the pay. Similarly, the Public Works Department of Helsinki, Finland has a workplace health promotion program that supports older employees’ fitness and exercise activities.

5. Create learning and developmental opportunities
Workers 55-plus have a wealth of in-depth knowledge about their organizations and professions. However, in many cases, they will need to update their technical and technological skills to remain highly productive for another five to ten years. To support them in this process, departments should set up skill development programs targeting the needs of seasoned workers. For example, Health Care Trust, a British public health organization, offers a portfolio of professional development courses, which help older employees to explore career paths and options.

Engineering conglomerate Siemens also has a program that offers mature employees the opportunity to further their professional development. The “compass process” starts with an evaluative phase, in which participants reflect about their professional biography and get feedback from colleagues and clients. Next is a three-day workshop during which each employee formulates a company-related personal project outlining concrete actions. Following the course, a working group meets to check the feasibility of the projects. Finally, approximately four months later, participants attend a two-day follow-up workshop, where they assess the progress of the proje

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