A Publication of WTVP

America is facing a revolution in changing demographics, increased workplace skills, and global competition. This revolution has a direct impact on our ability as a region, state, or nation to continue to prosper in the globally competitive “knowledge economy.”

We’ve previously discussed the definition of “workforce development.” It includes developing the quantity, quality, and match of the workforce to meet the needs of business in a changing global marketplace. As we examine economic and workforce trends, we see some daunting challenges ahead for our society.

Quantitative challenges translate to low workforce growth projections for our state and nation, possible worker or skill shortages, retirements of huge numbers of Baby Boomers, and the shift to the global talent pool. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects declining rates of growth for the nation’s workforce (ages 15 to 64) for the next 15 to 20 years. Over the next 40 to 50 years, the projected rate of growth for the U.S. workforce will average less than 1 percent. This declining growth of the workforce will be compounded with huge numbers of Baby Boomers leaving the workforce due to retirement over the next 25 years.

The Greystone Group further predicts that by 2030, 76 million Baby Boomers will have retired, only to be replaced by 46 million Generation X and Y-ers. This will result in a potential shortfall of up to 30 million workers nationally.

This shortfall of talent is manifesting itself in a number of occupations. Deloitte Research indicated four industries will suffer a mass exodus of employees: health care, manufacturing, energy, and the public sector. Ominous projections include a shortfall of more than 1 million nurses within the next decade. In engineering, the U.S. will graduate only 198,000 students in science and engineering to replace 2 million Baby Boomers scheduled to retire between 1998 and 2008. In addition, more than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers report a shortage of qualified machinists, craft workers, and technicians.

Predictions indicate 75 to 80 percent of tomorrow’s jobs will require education, training, or certification beyond high school. Since many of the new jobs of the future don’t even exist today, technical skills derived from education or training will have an increasingly limited shelf life. As a result, life-long learning and ongoing professional development will be workforce essentials. Our education and training also will have to include “soft skills”: effective communication, teaming, customer service, interpersonal relations, and diversity.

While increasing levels of education and training will be essential to survive and prosper in the 21st century global economy, U.S. students are falling behind students of other nations. In a 2004 study of 30 industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked first for adults aged 45 to 64, fifth for adults aged 35 to 44, and tenth for adults aged 25 to 34.

As we see declining trends in both the quantity and quality of our entrant workforce in the U.S., the global economy is producing increasing numbers of skilled and educated workers from China, India, and Eastern Europe. In future articles, we’ll discuss these trends and their potential impact on our economic development. IBI