With baby boomers retiring, companies are working to fill talent gaps

Baby boomers retiring will impact every industry in this decade. Companies are planning ahead with recruitment, training, and diversity initiatives to avoid talent gaps.

Woman carrying belongings with happy retirement sign and balloons

Shawn Radcliffe

June 18, 2024

min read
  • The labor market is bracing for a monumental shift as baby boomers head toward retirement.

  • Companies are proactively planning to address talent gaps through strategies such as recruitment, training, and diversity initiatives.

  • Innovative solutions include specialized programs that support workers as they age.

A seismic shift is coming to the workforce as baby boomers get ready to retire en masse, a trend driven by the aging of the workforce and general population. Baby boomers are America’s second-largest population segment (behind Millennials), and 10,000 of them will turn 65—traditionally thought of as retirement age—every day between now and 2030.

By then, over-65ers will make up one-fifth of the general population. Many baby boomers are working longer, thanks in part to advances in health care leading to longer life expectancy, but, eventually, aging workers will retire, taking with them years of accumulated knowledge and experience.

Electrical engineer inspecting winding on generator stator in electrical engineering factory
More than a quarter of workers in architecture, engineering, and related industries are 55 years or older.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2011 and 2023, the percentage of workers 55 years or older increased across many sectors, including:

  • Architecture, engineering, and related industries: increased from 25% to 27%

  • Construction: increased from 17% to 21%

  • Manufacturing: increased from 20% to 25%

  • Advertising, public relations, and related services: increased from 16% to 17%

These shifts mirror what’s happening in the overall workforce. Among all people of working age, the percentage of those 55 years or older increased from 21% in 2011 to 23% in 2023, BLS data shows. For perspective, consider that, in 1995, only 12% of the overall workforce was 55 years or older.

Architecture, engineering, and related industries are not immune to these demographic forces: With employees 55 years or older currently making up to one-quarter of the workforce in these industries, companies could see a large departure of talent in the near future. For example, more than two-thirds of current working architects will be eligible for retirement within 10 years, according to the Sparx 2023 State of Enterprise Architecture Survey. Smart organizations are already planning ahead to ensure they maintain a stable workforce throughout this transition.

Companies taking steps to avoid talent gaps

Faced with an aging workforce—and a potentially rapid loss of experienced employees—many organizations are taking steps to avoid talent gaps. However, according to Autodesk’s 2024 State of Design & Make report, one-fifth of respondents said their company is not handling the challenges of this demographic shift, which risks leaving them scrambling to catch up later on.

The State of Design & Make report is based on a survey and interviews by Autodesk with almost 5,400 leaders, futurists, and experts from the architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO); design and manufacturing (D&M); and media and entertainment (M&E) industries from countries around the world.

For companies that are looking ahead, the most popular strategies are increased recruitment and training, the report shows. In particular, 29% of those surveyed said their organization is strengthening the workforce by investing in recruitment and bringing on younger talent.

“We have shifted our efforts to developing a structure within our engineering group that hires and trains newer engineers,” says Jeff Walling, co-owner of ABM Equipment Co., a process engineering and integration firm. “We’ve found that the cost of onboarding is offset by not having to help newer employees unlearn bad habits.”

Professor giving instructions on electronics to adult students in classroom
Many companies in the Design and Make industries are investing in training programs to minimize the risk of talent gaps.

In addition, 17% of State of Design & Make respondents said their companies are focusing on training and development for existing employees. This includes initiatives to help older employees develop new technical skills and stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

Upgrading skills for current employees, especially older ones who may not be comfortable with newer tools, will be essential moving forward because 21% of adults 65 years or older will be in the labor force in 2032, the BLS projects, up from 19% in 2022. In fact, older adults are projected to account for 57% of labor force growth in the United States over this period, BLS data shows.

Another approach that 10% of companies are taking in the face of a rapidly aging workforce, according to the State of Design & Make report, is implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives. This includes creating a culture in the workplace that values employees of all ages and recognizes the unique experiences and perspectives that each person brings to projects.

Other efforts include proactively identifying employees with leadership potential and preparing them for those future roles, creating internship and apprenticeship programs to develop future talent, and using technology and artificial intelligence to support workers.

A smaller number of respondents (4%) said their company is using salary, benefits, and perks to attract and retain talent while the same percentage said the same about their organization offering remote work options and flexible work schedules.

Supporting workers as they age

Although ensuring that older employees are fluent in the latest technology is essential, companies will be faced with other issues as the workforce ages, some of which are not directly related to employees’ job descriptions.

Among Americans aged 55 to 64 years, 70% have at least one chronic health condition, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, or cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, 37% have at least two chronic conditions, and 14% have at least three.

Organizations can support these workers by offering comprehensive workplace health or well-being programs. According to the World Economic Forum’s Evolving Together: Flourishing in the Age-diverse Workforce report, 46% of business leaders surveyed across nine global markets agreed that providing employee health and well-being support is essential for businesses to succeed. In addition, 49% think tax incentives for employee well-being programs are needed.

Senior woman in a wheelchair with her daughter and son-in-law on a garden path
Support programs can benefit employees who are balancing their job duties with caregiving for an aging parent.

While companies are already offering some health perks for employees—such as gym memberships and healthy snacks at meetings—older employees may need more specialized programs, such as support for those caring for an aging parent (sometimes alongside children) or modifying the workplace to make it more accessible to workers with chronic conditions.

By taking a multipronged approach to addressing the aging workforce, companies can ensure that older workers can continue to be productive and work well alongside younger colleagues while proactively preparing younger generations to step into older workers’ roles when they eventually retire.

Shawn Radcliffe

About Shawn Radcliffe

Shawn Radcliffe is an Ontario, Canada–based freelance journalist and yoga teacher, specializing in writing stories about health, medicine, science, architecture, engineering, and construction, as well as yoga and meditation. Reach him at ShawnRadcliffe.com.

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