Workforce Mosaic Policy Summit Addresses Major Demographic Shifts

Huge demographic shifts in the workforce — from Baby Boomers staying in the labor market to Millennials unable to enter it — were at the forefront of today’s “Workforce Mosaic Policy Summit” at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Other demographic trends including rapid growth in the nonwhite population and military veterans re-entering the workforce were also highlighted.

Sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and hosted by National Journal, the event featured U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, a demographics presentation from Dr. William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an expert panel moderated by Ron Brownstein, National Journal’s editorial director, to discuss these workforce trends and their implications for America’s competitiveness in the global economy. Panelists included:

  • Esther Aguilera, President & CEO, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
  • Sandra Boyd, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Achieve
  • Mike Brown, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition, Siemens U.S.
  • Dr. Kathleen Christensen, Founder and Director, Workplace, Work Force and Working Families, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Edward Vitalos, Principal and Founder, Grey Wave Ltd.
  • Michael Walcoff, Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The significant demographic changes of the future workforce are among the biggest challenges employers face, Solis said, adding that employers and employees have to be flexible and adaptable to successfully match the needs of the workforce and workers with the right skills.

Education and training opportunities are essential for the American workforce to have a competitive advantage, she said.  “This is not the time to talk about cutting back on education and training,” Solis said.

The panel echoed the need for greater coordination between the skillsets of workers and the specific requirements of employers. One issue Christensen noted is that “labor markets are local” and can vary significantly by region.  Boyd said we had to do more to ensuring the K-12 education system matches the needs of the workforce, saying we have a “skills disconnect.” 

Aguilera added that the solution must be a joint effort between government, the private sector and nonprofits.  “There is a strong business case to invest in pipeline programs” to get the desired workforce, she said.

Shifts in how people view work has also undergone a huge transformation, Christensen said, noting that today’s workforce is one that is carrying multiple responsibilities – from the stresses place on military families, those caring for aging family members or young kids. Christensen today’s workers seek greater flexibility and don’t want to “choose between being a good work and being a good member of their family.”

Managing how these shifts happen in the workplace is something organizations can do better, Vitalos said. As workers move more frequently from job to job, Vitalos said, some companies cut training programs first – at the same time more informal training opportunities were lost due to the recession and leaner organizations.

Brown said he thought “good companies are doing exactly the opposite” in terms of training and that the significant resources put toward training help build retention. At Siemens, he said they now used employee engagement surveys instead of employee satisfaction surveys to better understand what is working and should be replicated. 

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