February Jobs Report: Prepare for Employee Exits Now — and Five Years from Now

The February jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released today shows that the U.S. economy added 295,000 jobs last month. It builds on January’s strong jobs report, which also exceeded analysts’ expectations.

In early January, I sensed we’d see continued momentum in the hiring market in 2015, and so far, that positive energy is evident. In fact, the overall unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level since May 2008. It’s now 5.5 percent, compared to 5.7 percent in January. The unemployment rate for college-educated workers 25 and older also continues to decline; the BLS reports the rate is 2.7 percent, down from 2.8 percent in the first month of 2015.

Here are some additional highlights from the February jobs report:

  • February marks the 12th consecutive month of job gains over 200,000.
  • Employment in professional and business services increased by 51,000 in February and has risen by 660,000 over the year.
  • In February, employment continued to trend up in management and technical consulting services (+7,000) and computer systems design and related services (+5,000).

As Bloomberg View notes in its coverage of the jobs report, these latest unemployment figures mean that private sector job growth in the United States has expanded for almost 60 months. However, while employers are adding jobs, more workers are quitting their jobs. And many companies also are struggling to find candidates with the requisite skills for professional-level positions. This situation is likely to worsen as more baby boomers retire, and take with them decades of hard-to-replace knowledge and leadership abilities.

The positive jobs news and impending retirements underscore the need for employers to act now:

More boomers are ready to make a move

During the most recent downturn, employers were spared the loss of some of their most seasoned workers because so many people opted to put retirement on hold until conditions improved. Now, the strengthening economy has more baby boomers thinking seriously about transitioning out of the workforce, according to research by CareerBuilder.

CareerBuilder found that 53 percent of U.S. workers age 60 or older are delaying retirement, compared to 66 percent in 2010. The bright spot for employers is that 49 percent of respondents surveyed feel retirement is at least five years out, and 54 percent plan to work part- or full-time after retiring from their current job.

Still, five years isn’t a lot of time for employers to prepare for the loss of invaluable institutional knowledge. And company leaders shouldn’t assume that baby boomers will want to continue contributing to their organization post-retirement. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found many baby boomers are launching an “encore career” — which the U.S. Small Business Administration defines as “a career that transforms a lifetime hobby or interest or years of professional and trade experience into a lucrative line of work.”

Employers: Don’t wait to prepare for the inevitable

So, what can employers do to encourage highly valued professionals on their teams to keep their retirement plans on ice? And what can be done to keep these workers engaged once they do start to transition out of the workforce?

Quite a lot, actually. Here are three smart strategies:

  1. Make succession planning a priority. Succession planning is a wise practice, in general, because you never know when you might lose a star player. The upside of knowing now that key employees are preparing for retirement is that you have time to make sure the departures will be manageable events instead of crises. Make it easier to replace these workers by identifying their successors now and preparing them to take the reins with confidence.
  2. Accelerate knowledge transfer through mentoring. When you team experienced employees with up-and-coming professionals, you do two important things: First, you underscore to the veteran workers just how valued they are. Second, you show the less-seasoned employees that you believe they have a bright future with your company.
  3. Keep the door open for consulting or part-time arrangements. These employment opportunities are ideal for baby boomers who prefer taking a phased approach to retirement. While they prepare for a new chapter in their lives, your organization continues to benefit from these workers’ expertise. Consider flexible work arrangements and alternative schedules, too.

While employers may be worrying about retiring boomers, the good news is some retirees may be looking to come back to work.

Opportunities for workforce re-entry

Recent positive jobs reports likely have some retirees considering a return to the workforce. Are you one of them? Given the demand for skilled talent, the opportunity is certainly there for those who have the knowledge and abilities that today’s employers seek. Consulting and part-time work could provide inroads to full-time employment, or keep you in the game while allowing you to maintain control over your schedule.

If you’ve been retired for more than a year and are now thinking about re-entering the workforce, consider speaking with a recruiter or career coach to discuss your options and determine if you have any skills gaps to address. Taking a course or workshop could help you learn new skills — or just keep up on the latest trends. And don’t forget to tap your network for leads: Former colleagues and business associates may know of appealing work opportunities for which you’d be the perfect fit.