Find and hire the right people. Develop and retain employees. Recycle the baby boomers. These are some of the steps discussed by Keith Reester, public works director in Loveland, Colo., in our May 2008 cover story “The Replacements.” Penned by Managing Editor Vikki Sicaras, it examined the trend of retirement by members of the baby boomer generation in the public sector, and how the industry could best cope and compensate with their successors, members of Generations X and Y.
Just longer than a year and a hard-hitting economic recession later, and the story has become the complete opposite — baby boomers are now delaying retirement in order to offset the financial strain caused by the country's fragile economic state.
According to a recent survey of government managers, nearly half of respondents said 20% or more of their employees are eligible for retirement in the next five years. However, of that percentage, 85% reported that their employees plan to delay their retirements. Census data reveals that more than one-third of the public sector is comprised of employees aged 50 or older — the baby boomer generation, which caused the initial throng of retirees that inspired last year's feature.
The financial crisis is also forcing sky-high unemployment rates, so once the storm is over the industry will be left with older workers ready to resume their plans of retirement, leaving very little manpower behind (most layoffs are guided by seniority, effectively thinning the ranks of younger employees). Much of Reester's sentiment remains the same. He still encourages knowledge transfer to prepare for what will happen once this cycle is over, but also discusses his frustration with layoff policy.
“The younger you are — you're gone, no matter what your contribution was,” he says. He foresees the challenge of filling these open positions when the time comes.
Heidi Vorhees, a recruiting consultant who was also featured in the piece, has noticed a significant decrease in recruiting and urges governments and organizations to start succession planning now so they can fill up the empty seats when the economy allows for it.
“We need young people to choose this as a career. We have to market local government as an interesting and exciting career choice,” she says.
Reester and Vorhees remain hopeful that the economy will recover soon and restore some normalcy to the public sector. In the interim, both advise managers to continue preparing and planning for the future while using patience and creative thinking to work with what they've got in the present.