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World’s #1 Diversity Challenge Comes as a Surprise

Mary van der Boon discovers that aging isn’t easy, and there’s not a whole lot we’re going to be able to do about it…..
(this article first appeared on www.expatica.com/hr)

"The dominant factor for business in the next two decades – absent war, pestilence, or collision with a comet – is not going to be economics or technology. It will be demographics". Peter Drucker (1997)

When asked to name the diversity issue that will ultimately be the world’s top problem, most would list gender, ethnicity, religion or disability. According to Leon Martel, Senior Fellow with The Conference Board in New York, they would be wrong - the biggest problem facing our descendants will be under-population.

Dr. Martel, author of the recent management bestseller ‘High Performers: How the Best Companies Find and Keep Them’ told a rapt crowd at the 3rd European Work-Life and Diversity Conference (November 13-14 in Amsterdam) that the median age of Europeans, now 37.7, would rise to 52.7 years by the year 2050. Referring to the cyclical nature of market economies, Dr. Martel predicted that the aging workforce issue would become very acute at the next economic upturn, when demand for skilled labour will rise and the growing shortfall will become evident. Higher compensation will be required to attract key employees, resulting in increased inflation.

The consequences of an aging workforce will be widespread. Globally the workforce pool will shrink, the percentage of unfilled jobs will rise, competition for the best and brightest will increase, key talent will be lost to competitors and companies may have to rehire retirees.
The impact of the problem is already being felt – in 2008 the U.S. will need to fill 24 million jobs, and will likely encounter a shortfall of 20%, or roughly 4.5 million people to fill those positions.

One way to address this shortfall is to recruit and retain mature workers, something today’s leading companies are already doing. Most mature workers require flexible work arrangements, training possibilities, part-time schedules, reduced responsibilities (they can handle the responsibility, they just don’t want to) and greater attention to health care.

"We will never again see the rate of population rise" said Dr. Martel. He gave 1961 as the transition point where birthrates started to drop, and made the disturbing revelation that ‘our daughters are having fewer daughters’. Worldwide, he reported, if women are surveyed the majority will say they would prefer to have a boy if they were allowed to select the sex of their future children. This does not auger well for survival of the species, and is a major reason for the declining birthrate.

There is an ill wind that blows no-one good, however: one distinct growth industry for the future, according to Dr. Martel, will be executive selection firms and headhunters as the fight for talent becomes acute. Today’s recruitment and headhunting practices will no doubt pale in comparison to the ruthless, no-holds-barred tactics of tomorrow as employees write their own ticket and companies scramble for ever-diminishing resources. A Brave New World indeed.