The Fond du Lac Association of Commerce and the Fond du Lac Area Human Resource Association, in partnership with Moraine Park Technical College, conducted a survey last summer to gauge employees’ thoughts about when they plan to retire. As Association President & CEO Joe Reitemeier tells Insight News Editor MaryBeth Matzek, the results were surprising.
WHEN WE DID THE INITIAL Retirement and Departure Intentions Survey Report in 2008, we thought it was a reliable indicator of what we needed to prepare for: a significant labor shortage by 2026. The past few years have been full of a lot of changes – a new president, a new governor, a prolonged economic slowdown, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – so we thought we should go back and do the survey again to just see if anything had changed.
And it did change, but not how
we expected. We now anticipate an even greater labor shortage – 19,500, up from the 17,000 we projected
back in 2008. The reasons why
people are retiring are also changing. People aren’t going to retire to join a spouse or to start a business. For the most part, people say they will retire when they have the financial means
to do so and they are looking to escape the stress associated with workplace stress. This told us the labor shortage is real and it’s not just in Fond du Lac. It’s a national issue. You just need to look at the numbers. As the baby boomers retire, there simply aren’t enough workers waiting in the wings to take their place. It’s a simple math problem.
We also realized in this process that the message that gets delivered again and again to children and teens is that you need to go to a four-year college. But research tells us that among students in the public system, a full 75 percent never achieve that four-year degree. We need to identify success in other ways. We need to reach children earlier – I’m talking about elementary and middle-schoolers – to educate them about the wealth of job opportunities out there that don’t require a four-year degree. A four-year college isn’t for everyone.
We are pulling together a group of K-12 educators, post-secondary educators, business leaders, government officials and senior HR people to look at the issue and help us come up with a constructive way to address the worker shortage. We need to let students and their parents know about the opportunities out there and we need to provide more options. This is going to require businesses and educators to work shoulder to shoulder on curriculum.
Businesses need to articulate better with educators about the kinds of skills they’re looking for in employees. Despite the impending shortage, I am encouraged that businesses and colleges are eager to work together. They all realize that as the labor pool shrinks, everyone will be affected.
But this issue goes beyond schools; it’s all of society. We need to change how we talk about success and that it just doesn’t require a college degree. We have businesses that will be in dire need of workers and not all of them require a four-year degree. It could be an apprenticeship or a two-year program. There are very few industries that won’t be affected by the coming worker shortage. We in Fond du Lac need to figure out how to remain attractive to people living here so they stay as well as how we can attract new people to the area.
We also need to realize that one size does not fit all when it comes to employee recruitment and retention. We’ve been contacted by some communities who are interested in the data we’ve collected. This isn’t just a problem for Fond du Lac, but the solutions are hard. We need to change the mindset of everyone of what defines success when it comes to education and we need to work with students to help them find a job that is a good match for them and then get them that training.
There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re up to it.