Firms Get Ready for Upcoming Retirement Rush

September 20, 2005 ( - Industries which stand to get hurt the most from the brain drain caused by the pending retirement of large numbers of workers include oil, gas, energy, health care and government, a new research report indicated.

With the large numbers of pending retirements and the resulting skill shortages, some companies in these sectors are increasingly turning to older workers for their future growth prospects, said The Conference Board report. The technology and pharmaceuticals industries generally express worries about the development of new products and services and anticipate a drain in experienced engineers, key account sales representatives, and senior managers, the report said.

“These companies recognize that a maturing workforce can positively impact customer satisfaction and profitability, but not without effective initiatives designed to make it easier for different generations of workers to work better together,” researchers wrote in the report.

One-half of companies interviewed feel that the departure of mature workers presents potential knowledge vulnerabilities. About one-third have conducted workforce planning studies and identified potential knowledge areas where they could be vulnerable. One-half of those interviewed have some form of mentoring program in place to share and transfer knowledge.

The initiative is being driven by the fact that more than 40% of the US workforce is expected to stop full-time work by the end of the decade. To keep from losing them entirely, the research report said some “forward thinking” firms are recruiting, retaining, and developing flexible work-time arrangements and/or phased retirement plans for these workers (55 years of age or older), many of whom have skills that are difficult to replace. That is putting them ahead of firms viewing the older workers as burdens that put more strain on their pension and retiree health care programs, the Conference Board asserted.

“The maturing workforce is often seen as an issue to be dealt with instead of a great opportunity to be leveraged,” said Lorrie Foster, Director of Research Working Groups at The Conference Board and co-author of the report with management consultant Lynne Morton and Jeri Sedlar. “The skills and knowledge mature workers possess can be utilized to great advantage by a company that knows itself well and can identify its weak areas that can be bolstered by the right mature workers.”

Staying Around

More older workers want to remain in their jobs for both personal fulfillment and financial reasons. In a related forthcoming study from The Conference Board, more than half (55%) of older employees surveyed said they were not planning to retire because they find their jobs interesting. Significantly, 74% also cited not having sufficient financial resources as a reason they were continuing to work, and 60% cited the need for medical benefits.

Boomers also indicate that the historical linear life plan – where certain years are earmarked for education, work, and then leisure – is becoming obsolete. Boomers want to work on terms that are customized to their needs. “New work arrangements that capitalize on this desired work/project orientation have to be developed to meet the needs of the mature worker and the headcount concerns of the corporation,” said Sedlar. “The need to create a corporate culture as well as learning institutions welcoming to all generations is becoming more apparent.”

The report is based on a “managing mature workers” working group comprised of executives from a cross-section of industries, staff and line functions, and job titles. It includes such major companies as BP America, Ernst & Young LLP, Ford Motor Company, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, and Shell International. It’s one of 10 current Research Working Groups designed by The Conference Board to examine major issues facing business.

More information on the study is here .