From their Economic Insight, April 2010:
“There is a certain difficulty in preparing for the next generation of workers at this time, as our economy begins to move out of the recession and businesses begin the recovery process. While the need to focus on increasing both sales and efficiencies is of crucial importance, the potential workforce challenges that are facing companies throught the nation and the world continue to loom in the not to distant future. The effects of the Baby Boomer retirements over the coming years will be felt by all industry sectors, and thought must be given as to how to address and overcome these challenges.

Starting in 2008, the Baby Boomer generation began to reach age 62 (the average retirement age for U.S. workers). 2008 saw a 30% increase in the number of Minesota workers turning 62, with an estimated 52,000 individuals reaching retirement age (up from 40,000 in 2007). During 2011, it is estimated that 60,000 Baby Boomers will turn 62 across Minnesota. This growing wave of potential retirees will put significant strain on local and state businesses and organizations as they work to replace retirees and develop innovations to decrease total workforce needs.

To look at impacts locally, based upon estimates of the State Demographer’s Office, Douglas County is currently home to an estimated 6,640 individuals age 65 and older (2010 estimate). This age group makes up roughly 18% of our local population. By 2035, Douglas County is projected to be home to 13,420 individuals age 65 and over which will equal almost 29% of the total estimated population.

The impacts of the aging population will not only be felt by businesses, but by communitites and regions across the nation and around the world. As stated by MN State Demographer Tom Gillaspy, “The keys to survival and growth for businessess and the state will be directly tied to education and workforce – training, drive and innovations.” Without a strong workforce, communities and regions will be sorely pressed to retain and grow their existing businesses, not to mention be extremely challenged to be attractive to organizations from outside of the area.

Based upon data gathered through an informal survey process in 2008, large employers across Douglas County shared that they are projecting significant employee turnover due to retirement in the coming 5-10 years, with one large manufacturer projecting as much as 30% turnover. According to Gillaspy, businesses shouldn’t rely on retirement-age workers significantly extending their employment to fill this employment gap even for short term: “Future retirement ages may increase slightly, but people will likely be working just 1 to 2 additional years prior to retiring.”

In a growing effort to increase awareness of regional career opportunities and to address future workforce concerns on the local level, a number of partnerships between schools and businesses are gaining traction to develop new business-based curriculum within our K-12 school systems. In one example, Alexandria District 206 is working to utilize Project Lead the Way curriculum with support from a number of manufacturing businesses and support organizations to provide innovative, integrated coursework for students interested in math, science, engineering related careers. Other districts throughout the region are forming similar partnerships to both create a broader awareness of career opportunities and to provide hands-on learning opprotunities to develop our future workforce.

At the post-seondary level, Alexandria Technical College continues to respond to companies from throughout the region to develop[ traditional and Customized Training Programs to meet the educational needs of the current and future workforce. According to ATC President, Dr. Kevin Kopischke, “Alexandria Technical College continues to focus on its two main sectors: Those who are in need of career entry or career-changing learning opportunities and incumbent workers who are in need of up-skilling or retooling of their skill sets. A major factor that will continue to be on the horizon for all of this state and country is our ability to capture the awareness and interest of high-school student to engage them in manufacturing and other science and math related careers. We simply must build more connections between K-12 and our regional two-year colleges that provide students with access to college-level work as they prepare for their careers. This learning and teaching design which was once viewed as a “future opportunity” is in front of us today, and we need to be very diligent about implementing it immediately.

As so aptly stated by Tom Gillaspy (State Demographer) and Tom Stinson (State Economist), “The ‘normal’ of yesterday is gone. We need to accept this and move forward. While the changes may be frightening, times of great change are the times when great organizations get started and great opportunities are created.” We need to embrace the change and move forward to take advatage of the opportunities that have been created for our businesses, communities, and future workforce”.