In 2008, we reported that a large contingent of public works professionals was reaching retirement age, and they would take their institutional knowledge and expertise with them. At that time, only 6% of salary survey respondents were under 35.
The anticipated flood of retirements was put on hold by a deep recession that left older workers financially insecure. State and local governments facing financial crises also helped slow retirement by redefining government-sponsored pension plans and increasing the age at which some employee groups would be eligible to retire. According to the bipartisan organization National Conference of State Legislatures, five states passed such legislation in 2009 and 11 states followed suit in 2010, as did 17 in 2011.
But the nation is now recovering. The Baby Boomers are a little older and once again preparing their exits. Those not yet eligible for retirement benefits are biding their time in service.
“I’m hanging in there for the state pension,” explains a 55- to 60-year-old water department specialist who has served 11 to 15 years in her present position and 16 to 20 years in the public sector. “It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Eighty-three percent of the Boomers who took our survey are counting on receiving a pension to help carry them into retirement, as compared to 74% of those younger than 50. The younger the respondent, the less certain he or she is of receiving a pension.
Based on comments received in this year’s survey, we expect the tidal wave of retirements to begin within the next three years, barring any economic catastrophes. Eighteen percent of our 1,500 survey respondents are over the age of 60. That’s 261 positions to be vacated in this sampling of public works professionals.
The Great Recession gave public agencies a chance to better-prepare for replacing its largest generation of workers by establishing succession plans, mentorship programs, and other knowledge-transfer methods. Did your agency take advantage?
In case you were wondering, 13% of this year’s salary respondents are under the age of 40. For more on attracting and keeping talent, as well as succession planning, revisit “The Replacements,” May 2008, Public Works.
“I am within retirement age, but so far am going to work for the next few years. At this time I’m anticipating getting a retirement. But with a Republican governor and possible financial difficulties with the state, there may be problems with pensions in the future.” —New Mexico state highway engineer making $60,000
“When comparing my level of responsibility with others in the organization of the same level, my pay is much lower. It has hampered our ability to find qualified applicants to take my place.” —Iowa city (pop: 50,001-100,000) water department superintendent making $69,000