Heiden: Solving the talent crisis

With retirements looming, the government can use five strategies to keep and attract workers

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke to Congress recently about how failure to deal with the upcoming retirement of baby boomers could lead to serious economic harm. The country’s lawmakers debate how Social Security and other fiscal policies can address the looming financial burden. But they should consider another crisis — a talent crisis — that could have a significant
impact on the economy: how to replace the skills and experience of those retirees.

That often-ignored problem hits close to home for federal agencies, yet we all know the statistics from the Office of Personnel Management:
  • 60 percent of people in the federal workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years, and 40 percent are likely to retire when they first become eligible.
  • 90 percent of civilian senior government executives will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years.
  • 18.5 percent of the government workforce — about 290,000 employees — will retire by the end of fiscal 2010.
Until now, the country has not faced such a dramatic loss of its most experienced employees while experiencing a talent deficit as they look to replace and hire workers with the necessary skills.

The good news is that agencies can and should take steps today to prepare for the projected talent crisis. Many solutions are available to help agencies and organizations improve their talent management practices.

Organizations in the private and public sectors are re-evaluating their strategies for strengthening the workforce. As those organizations strive to achieve a better balance between acquiring and developing talent, they should pursue strategies that deliver long-term results, minimize the loss of critical talent and, ultimately, save money.

Those strategies should include:

1. Cultivating existing talent. Farming rather than hunting for the right skills will allow agencies to keep skilled employees longer, decrease training costs, and reduce or eliminate hiring cycles.

2. Improving employee satisfaction. Agencies can reduce attrition and conserve their knowledge capital by providing greater opportunities for and access to learning and development activities. In addition, they should support employees in their personal career and mobility plans.

3. Planning ahead for succession. To ensure that baby boomer retirements do not leave mission-critical positions vacant, agencies should prepare succession plans for critical job positions and keep transitions short.

4. Acting on performance reviews. Instead of managing performance appraisals once a year, agencies must perform an ongoing analysis of performance data against position requirements, career and succession plans, and employees’ goals.

5. Gaining talent visibility. By viewing and analyzing the quality and quantity of their existing talent, managers can make informed decisions that will allow their agencies or departments to thrive during a talent crisis or shortage.

To mitigate the looming talent crisis, some agencies are embracing talent management solutions that support new practices, such as better communication of goals and performance expectations across all levels of the organization and career and succession plans that encourage employees to look for growth opportunities internally.

Heiden is executive vice president of global field operations at Plateau Systems, which sells Web-based workforce management software.  

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