Dan Hunting: Workforce Replenishment

By Dan Hunting
November 01, 2013

Arizona’s unemployment rate in August was 8.3 percent, a full percent higher than the country as a whole and the same as last August, but commentator Dan Hunting said the state will be looking at a labor shortage in the coming years.

Three thousand lawyers, 6,000 doctors, and 2,000 preachers walk in to a bar. They are not headed to the saloon as part of a massive joke but to celebrate their retirement.

Over the next 10 years, Arizona will lose a quarter of its lawyers, a quarter of its doctors and almost half of its clergy as the baby boomer generation retires. Almost 20 percent of our current workforce will reach age 65 by the year 2023. That is more than 540,000 jobs that need to be filled just to keep our economy working at its current level.

The soon-to-be-retiring boomers represent the most skilled and educated segment of Arizona’s workforce. These are workers at the peak of their game at the top of their professions, with higher levels of education than their younger peers.

Arizona’s business and education leaders need to provide education and training opportunities to prepare people to fill these soon-to-be open slots.

The state will need to find 123,000 college-educated workers to replace the boomers by 2023, and if we expect even modest levels of growth, we will need even more.

The bottom line is that over the next decade, Arizona needs to bring a $250,000 million people with a bachelor’s degree or better into the workforce.

Forward-thinking businesses are already contemplating how to handle the retirement of critical employees. Partnerships between business and education will be essential to ensure that people are trained to fill these positions, and while Arizona and every other state is trying to attract new workers for tomorrow’s economy, we must work to replenish the workforce that is already here.

The baby boom generation has shaped this country from rock and roll to the personal computer.

And as the boomers gradually withdraw from the workforce, we need to raise a glass and toast their successes but be prepared for the changes that will inevitably come. As those thousands of doctors, lawyers and clergy head off to that mythical bar to celebrate their retirement, let’s hope that the state has managed to train some young barkeeps as well, 1,000 retiring boomer bartenders will be joining the party.

Dan Hunting is a senior policy analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.