Where Have All The Planners Gone?

A note from the Doctor

As I travel the country, I am amazed at the shortage of planners. This is good news if you are looking for a job, but bad news if you are trying to hire planners. The following Management Doctor communication documents that one of our growing problems is large numbers of government employees retiring and asks the Doctor for thoughts on the issue.

Dear Management Doctor

You recently referenced an article, Are You Prepared to Manage Generation Y? This got me thinking, maybe we had better not only get ready to work with Generation Y but reinforce our relationships with Generation X.

Why? Well, not to belabor the issue, as I'm certain that we have all heard some reference to the baby-boom generation and their pending retirement and how that will affect social security and other entitlements. However, have we thought about the impact on staffing government services? Yes, it's possible that the boomers will act differently than prior generations and delay their retirement. It's also possible that Generation Y will rescue us from a pending labor shortage. However, as noted by one HR profession in PM Magazine, " In 2007 this is merely an assertion and is risky to presume because society is just now entering this phase, and the evidence is insufficient to support this as a trend. Organizations should not count on employees' continuing to work even after reaching normal retirement age as a means of ensuring full staffing." (Ibarra, 2007) It takes time to develop a work force with the requisite education, training and finesse required to be successful and maintain productivity levels.

Note that in the public sector, studies indicate more than 46% of local government employees nationwide are 45 years of age and older, but in the private sector only 31% are. Why does the age of 45 matter? In many instances these employees are eligible for retirement. Why does it mater if it's a public or private sector employee? As an industry, public sector employees require specific skills including more education and training above and beyond that required for most positions in the private sector. Furthermore, a recent study found an average of 35% of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2030, or 15% more than the projected national average. (Tucker, 2006) In some counties as much as 55% of the population will be over the age of 65, up from less than 10% noted in the 2000 census. (Tucker, 2006) The same study found that in some local government departments as much as 45% of the work force will be eligible for retirement in five years. Note that nationally, 30% of state government employees are eligible for retirement in 2006, and by 2008 over 50% of federal government employees will be eligible as well. (Ibarra, 2007) These are the most experienced workers. At the same time about 1/4th of the Gen-Y'rs will be entering the work force seeking entry level positions. And unfortunately Gen X'rs total about 1/2 the size of the baby boomers. So, as people retire, openings will occur, particularly in the areas that require higher levels of experience and education. In addition, new demand will be created as retirees desire goods and services, like health care or other assistance.

So, will we have enough workers aged 15-64 to fill the gap over the next 20 to 30 years? Unlikely. According to a study published by NACo, many counties are already experiencing a skills gap and worker shortage in various industries, so much so that it is limiting economic growth for their community. Still other studies suggest that to maintain historic levels of economic productivity and domestic output the U.S. workforce will have to increase by 58 million over the next thirty years; however, the number of available workers will increase by less than half that amount. This includes an increased participation by women and immigrants in the workforce. This labor shortage and skills gap will result in a domino effect as the available work force seeks the most advantageous and rewarding positions possible, affecting multiple sectors of the work force including local government. Thus, succession planning is important, and unless you are ready and willing to work with them, those so called disinterested Gen-X'rs as well as the up and coming Gen-Y'rs may find opportunity and fulfillment elsewhere.

It's not all bad, and there are some things we can do about it - such as plan for succession. According to Ibarra's article, The Myths and Realities of Succession Planning, there are 10 myths and realities that should be considered in succession planning. Click here to read a few of the myths and realities and a list of references. For more, check the article in this months PM magazine at http://icma.org. You may need to be a member of ICMA to get in.

In conclusion, Ibarra states that designing and implementing a comprehensive and systematic succession planning and management process remains the most viable response to the growing trend of large numbers of employees retiring.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Todd Tucker, AICP
Town of Frederick, CO


Reader Response

I just attended a California Counties Planning Director's Conference and heard much of the same about agencies having trouble recruiting, especially experienced staff. A number of the recommendations to plan for succession and mentor staff are good ones that I utilize and a few I am going to look at. My organization is also starting to look at this issue more broadly and develop some proactive strategies.

Art Henriques
San Benito County, CA

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