Here in Hampton Roads, we are rightly beginning to pay more attention to our millennials. Just this year, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce established tHRive, a chamber young professional’s organization, which has taken off and continues to gain momentum. However, we also need to focus on the specific challenges at the other end of the employment age spectrum.
According to U.S. Census data, over the next 10 years almost 25 percent of the workforce – more than 36.5 million people – will be eligible to retire. Almost every industry segment is expected to be impacted with one exception: the skilled workforce. The need for electricians, plumbers, shipbuilders, pipefitters, etc., is expected to climb closer to 40 percent.
A study by the Boston College Center on Aging and Work found that only 33 percent of companies have completed analyses to determine the needs that their workforce will have over the next 10 years. According to Mick Smyer, co-director of the center, “companies that do not plan for this aging workforce may find themselves suddenly faced with a loss of labor, experience and expertise that will be difficult to offset, given the relatively small pool of new workers and the competition for new talent likely to result from so many companies facing the same problem.”
As a result of these statistics, two major challenges face our community. First, how will business leaders plan for this “gap” to avoid the inevitable loss of vast knowledge and expertise? Second, how will business leaders, and the community at large, address the issues and challenges facing our aging population?
To get ahead of these impending challenges, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is leaning forward now to take an active role in providing information and opportunities for our business community to address them head on.
For instance, business leaders in Hampton Roads may consider looking to American Express’ success to see how long-range planning for such trends pays off. Almost 10 years ago, executives at American Express became concerned with the two challenges of the looming retirement-workforce gap. They had to have a trained workforce prepared for the retirement wave, and had to plan for a transfer of institutional knowledge from one group to another. In 2006, they developed a plan to offer their senior workers a more flexible schedule. They also made it one of that group’s primary duties to develop the next generation of leaders. In the end, this strategy had minimal costs. American Express has kept its senior employees longer than the national average, and the company gained both quantitatively and qualitatively in the intergenerational knowledge transfer.
Additionally, in Hampton Roads, the chamber is proactively working with our regional workforce specialists at Opportunity Inc., along with K-12 schools, universities and community colleges, to address our impending workforce gap. Opportunity Inc. works with governments, youth, displaced workers and employers to fill today’s employment needs, and analyze and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.
Our other community challenge is to care for our ever-expanding senior population and to help them have happy, healthy and productive retirement years. Specifically, we need more nurses, aides, therapists, assisted living facilities and gerontologists to care for this growing population. Furthermore, as we see this sector of our economy grow, there is also inherent opportunity for business. A larger senior population will create meaningful and rewarding new opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses who are informed and prepared.
To gain the unique perspective and greater insight on senior issues, we recently partnered with an amazing advocacy and support group for seniors appropriately called “Senior Advocate.” They provide a plethora of news, information and resources in the region for seniors. This partnership has resulted in the creation of the “Senior Advocate Chamber Roundtable,” a monthly meeting of businesses that are interested in supporting our senior community. The roundtable will share ideas, trends and develop better ways to serve our seniors. The program kicks off kickoff Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the chamber. Advanced registration is required. Call Senior Advocate at (757) 645-6364 to register your business.
By 2030, over one-fourth of our total population will be over the age of 65. It is incumbent on the business community to develop ways to bridge the workforce gaps, to create new business opportunities, and to better support our senior citizens as we make Hampton Roads a great place to live, work and retire.