Most (okay, some – those over 30 for sure) will know how to complete this movie cliche: “you had me at…”

I think Amazon had me at: “Amazon is building brand new recruiting tools and services from the ground up…”  Which makes me kind of a geek. I’m good with that.  I’m also very happy to see lines like that in job postings.  We’re going to need many more major US employers to take up that attitude if we’re going to stay competitive as an economy.

Amazon gets it: what’s been good enough in recruiting won’t even come close to cutting it in the near future.  Blind acceptance of others recruiting methodologies, behaving in a reactionary fashion to job markets, and moving slowly won’t just make your job tougher: it may well kill you company.  Right now, Amazon’s in the minority. How many companies can you name that are really preparing themselves for the the coming shift in our work-force demographics? How many companies do you think even truly, deeply understand this shift, let alone how radical it might be?  If you work in human capital, and you’re thinking “what the hell is he talking about?”, I’d recommend getting yourself out of the trees and taking a look at the forest.  Things, they are a’changin.

Some Issues

If you haven’t, dig into the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008-2018 Projections – it’s sobering stuff.  I’m not going to dive into a full review (Josh Bersin has a nice, quick analysis over on his blog), but there are a few key points I want to lay out, and then go into a bit about impact.

There’s been a lot* of talk about the retirement of the Boomers. That quieted down a bit with the recession (nothing like putting off thinking about bad news – one of humanities recurring foibles). It’s still happening. They’re getting older, and – despite how the recession impacted their 401k plans – they’re leaving the work force. Illness, buckling down & living with less, mortality, and economic resurgence will push that trend in its inevitable direction.  Which means very soon, less than half the US population will be providing food, shelter, etc for the country. That may well be unsustainable. I think this graph shows it pretty starkly:

A few more juicy quotes from the study:

  • “Employment in management, scientific, and technical consulting services is anticipated to expand at a staggering 83 percent”**
  • “Computer and mathematical science occupations are projected to add almost 785,700 new jobs from 2008 to 2018.”

Which is bad. Beyond the fact that the percent of 16 – 24 year-olds is decreasing from 14% to 12% by 2018 (so, less fresh CS & Math grads to answer the increase in bullet 2), we’re also seeing a decline in CS & Math majors among current college students: “According to the Computer Research Association, there were 43% fewer graduates and 45% fewer CS degree enrollments in 2006/2007 than in 2003/20041.” (DARPA: CS-STEM Education Research Announcement – PDF)

Some Suggestions

Professionals in the human capital field need to stare at these numbers pretty hard, and begin to craft solutions – fast. Some of these will be industry/ geographic/ and-or company specific.

This loops me back to Amazon. I don’t know much about what they’re doing, beyond the interesting way they’re positioning their recruiting positions on the job boards, but my gut is they’re one of the few firms that’s being sufficiently proactive. They get that relying on their brand alone won’t cut it: these numbers I’m laying out means it’s going to get bloody out there.

What if you’re a SMB, with limited budget? First: go get some. Use the BLS’s data, the DARPA report, and any other credible data you need to make your case to your exec team. They’re (probably) pretty smart people. Numbers like these should get their attention.

No matter what company you work for, think hard about your short and long term talent strategies – do you have one? Does it factor in the coming disruptions?  If not, get to work. Lay out a strategy for how you think you’ll need to compete, from increasing brand awareness to getting more staff to work on the problem with you (shared resources and likely an increase to your recruiting staff). Commit to your ongoing education – from ERE to HCI summits. Take a relevant classes. Make sure you have the best possible technology available to you – if you don’t know what to use, invest in a consultant who can guide you through a dizzying array of solutions.

The way ahead isn’t totally clear – will we increase outsourcing, or loosen immigration policies? What impact will the cloud have on resources and productivity?  Are we going to evolve into a largely migratory workforce – ie, is the idea of salary and employer-issued benefits going to become a thing of the past?  One thing we can know: the numbers point to a serious drop in our available resources. And lack of resources is rarely a good thing.


*Googling “boomer retirement” OR “boomers retiring” brings back 75,500 results

**On manufacturing: if you’ve been reading this and felt your blood boiling over the loss of manufacturing jobs, and you’re composing a juicy comment about how “it’s criminal” or “it’s so-and-so’s fault”, etc: save it for the OpEd pages. It’s very clear that that’s a sore spot for a lot of people – right or wrong – and those sentiments seem to get tossed into any discussion about the labor force. Instead (please) give me your take on this: $38000 vs $35000. Those are the (rough) averages of the median salaries of the top-20 winners versus top-20 losers in the jobs created vs lost categories.  If you look at the #1 categories in both columns, it’s $62,450 vs. $19,870 (RN’s versus sewing machine operators). If the jobs we’re creating pay so much more, isn’t this a gain? Also: we’re going to be short-handed as it is. Perhaps losing low-skill roles is a good thing – frees up more hands for the areas where we’re going to need them.