"Where's the talent?" Business owners, managers, human resource (HR) professionals, recruiters, and even economists and strategists are asking this same question. Who they're looking for are people with the right skills to fill positions in their organizations. Some HR experts say the cry will be one we hear for decades. They point to workforce trends that indicate future employee shortages won't blow over for decades and affect all industries.

One such expert, Dr. Ira Wolfe, strongly believes the argument. In his book, The Perfect Labor Storm, and accompanying Web site (www.perfectlaborstorm.com), Wolfe presents his point of view. His book, based on more than five years of research, lists hundreds of trends pushing America to the brink of a workforce crisis. Just like in the movie namesake, where several weather events collided to produce one of the most powerful weather storms on record, changes in world economics and demographics are beginning to collide in what's shaping up to be "The Perfect Labor Storm." "The result will be a worker gap, a skills gap, and a wage gap that will threaten the American employer's ability to compete and be profitable," says Wolfe.

Wolfe cites trends and facts on aging workers, retiring baby boomers, rising health care costs, shortages of skilled workers, generational gaps, work ethics, etc., to support his theories. More than 300 of these trends and facts are accessible on his Web site. Some are presented below.

  • The 50 and older population will grow at a rate 68 times faster than the rate of growth for the total population during 2000 to 2050.
  • A growing number of retirees must be supported by the production and income of relatively fewer workers. This is called the "dependency ratio," or the ratio of the elderly population to that of the working age. Between now and 2080, this ratio is expected to double.
  • 52 percent of high school graduates lack the basic skills required to do their jobs adequately.
  • $18 billion is lost on productivity due to absenteeism.
  • Workstress costs the nation more than $300 billion each year in health care, missed work, and stress reduction efforts.

After reading through this material, you'd think the sky was falling. Let's be honest: Wolfe is trying to sell himself. Regardless, his view is just the worst-case scenario of what most HR experts are concerned about.

So what's his solution? Wolfe believes employers must create a company culture that attracts and retains talent. That means responding to the needs of four working generations that want more pay but have placed different values on health care benefits, flexibility, and work-life balance. You'd better get your umbrella out. IBI