There is a phenomenon occurring right now in this country known as the “Silver Tsunami.” The Baby Boomers, those born between 1946-1964, are exiting the workforce in droves, taking with them decades of knowledge and experience. While this is affecting all sectors of our economy, the government workforce is on average older than the private sector and will be hit especially hard by this transition. At LAGERS, we too are feeling this shift in the tide. When I started at LAGERS 12 years ago, we were hosting nine pre-retirement seminars per year. Next year we are planning to host 34 seminars in order to accommodate all of our members closing in on retirement. In 2004, the year I joined LAGERS, we saw 898 members retire. Last year, that number had ballooned to 1,698.
Attracting quality people to work for local government will be a priority for Missouri’s political subdivisions in the coming years. It will become vitally important for government leaders to examine the way they attract talent to fill the void the Boomers will be leaving. This issue is on the radar for many government leaders in Missouri. I have had discussions recently with many management teams about using their LAGERS pension as a tool to attract and retain a quality workforce. One such meeting centered around using the Rule of 80 to help lure young people. Another entity spoke to me about how they believe LAGERS benefits will help them recruit replacements as their current employees retire. So how are local governments to approach this wave of workforce change? I have compiled some tips from various sources to help address the great opportunities ahead.
Governments may need to adjust their culture.
Elizabeth Kellar is the President and CEO of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and deputy executive director of the International City/County Management Association. She has been examining this issue closely and says that governments may need to adjust the culture of their work environment to make the structure more attractive to younger workers. In a June 21, 2016 article by Kellar on Governing.com, she writes “Perhaps the most important commitment is for governments to become learning organizations. To fill many positions, governments not only must seek qualified applicants from the outside and market themselves, but they also need to be prepared to bring back retirees to work on projects and to mentor young talent.”
As Kellar put it, Millennials, those born between 1980–1996, “are ambitious and eager to build their skills and expertise quickly.” Because of this, they often seek to learn from a progressive and forward-thinking employer. Millennials are also concerned with making a difference in the world and respond well to public service opportunities. Governments would be wise to emphasize public service and community enhancement when targeting younger workers.
Knowledge transfer will be a key component of this transition.
Experienced workers are valuable. They know all of the best ways to complete a job without having to look at a manual. I spoke with a spouse of a LAGERS member at a recent pre-retirement seminar who was attending in place of her husband who was busy training both people who were replacing him when he retired! Rodney Bourne, the General Manager of Rolla Municipal Utilities, uses a simple story to illustrate the value of experience. He said that if you ask an inexperienced utility worker where the water lines are, he would say that they are in the ground. But an experienced worker will be able to tell you the exact location of all the water lines throughout town, without looking at a map or diagram.
Local governments will need to find ways for these experienced employees to effectively transfer knowledge to their replacements before they retire so time is not wasted constantly sifting through policies and procedures. Mentoring and phased-retirement programs may be a couple of ways to accomplish this.
Promote benefits using language that connects with the younger generation.
One sentiment I hear over and over again from government management teams is the concern that they are unable to attract quality people with salaries that can compete with those found in the private sector. However, they do believe they can use a total compensation approach that emphasizes benefits. One key weapon that LAGERS-participating employers have at their disposal is a well-run defined benefit pension plan, something that is very rare these days in the private sector. The key is to promote the pension using language that will resonate with the younger crowd. A young job-seeker may not be all that interested in a “pension” but they most likely would respond well to “secure monthly lifetime income during retirement.” Another term that resonates with people of all ages, but especially Millennials is “financial independence.” Who wouldn’t want benefits that promote peace of mind and security?
The upcoming transition of seeing Baby Boomers off into retirement and welcoming the next generation of workers is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. But it can be planned for and, if handled appropriately, can propel government organizations toward future success by focusing on culture, effectively transferring knowledge and talking about benefits the right way.