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Deborah Russell, Director Workforce Issues Outreach & Service, AARP Washington DC

Workforce Assessment Tool: Preparing for the Future

Does your company know which key positions are currently held by employees approaching retirement? Would you be able to fill those positions quickly? If not, how would they affect your company's ability to successfully compete and thrive?

AARP now offers a free, online tool, called Workforce Assessment Tool (www.aarp.org/workforceassessment), that can help your organization better prepare for the labor challenges that lay ahead. Take a look at how some companies have used the tool to identify critical job gaps and create an effective staffing plan that will give them a sharp edge over their competitors.

Earlier this year, Bernadette Kenny began closely monitoring the demographic changes in America's population and labor force. As the chief career officer at Adecco Group North America, a global workforce solutions company that supports 6,200 employees in North America, she was exploring the impact these changes would have on staffing.

A lot of companies are starting to worry and for good reason. They're bracing themselves for the skilled labor shortage that has been slowly gaining momentum over the past few years. Due to this country's aging workforce, there will soon be more jobs than people to fill them. While the civilian labor force is projected to increase by nearly 13 million, reaching 164.2 million in 2016, the number of people 55 years of age or older will reach 87 million that same year, representing the fastest growing segment of the population 16 years and older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

Some employers have already begun to feel the pinch. To help human resource (HR) professionals better understand how their company stacks up against future staffing demands, AARP developed a free online tool that assesses a company's workforce. Called the Workforce Assessment Tool, it maps current employment practices, identifies areas of improvement, offers suggestions for creating an age-friendly workplace and highlights workplace strengths that can be used to enhance an employer's brand for recruitment and retention. HR can now transform broad, demographic information into realistic action steps to recruit and retain talent their company needs to successfully compete in the 21st century.

First Impressions

This tool is ideal for small- to mid-sized companies that often lack inhouse expertise to evaluate their long-term staffing needs but also works well for large companies, such as Adecco, says Kenny.

After logging on to AARP's website she registered her company, then began plugging in critical data, such as the ages of employees, key functions within the company, number of staff in each of those areas, training and development opportunities, flexible work arrangements, workplace accommodations and types of benefits employees receive.

What impressed Kenny the most was the report's thoroughness, user-friendly format and speed in which it analyzed her customized information.

Once data was entered, it only took a few moments for the tool to produce a 17-page report. While she's still digesting the information, she says it offered realistic approaches to help her company accomplish its staffing goals. None of the ideas were beyond her company's budget, resources or even "horsepower."

"I'm very practical and look for action steps I can integrate and use as a road map that aren't so visionary that I'll never get anything accomplished," she says. "That's what I appreciated about this tool. It provided me with a very practical guide in terms of what's important and what I can do."

While some of the report's suggestions were already in the company's pipeline for next year, she says it never hurts to have an objective, expert source validate that Adecco is headed in the right direction.

Kenny says the biggest "aha" was that she needed to conduct a survey that linked essential company skills to employees' ages to uncover what skills or functions could be threatened in the future.

Action steps were also helpful, focusing on creative ways to accommodate older people in the workplace, something that really wasn't a priority on her to-do list. Other steps mentioned better branding Adecco's employment proposition to engage older workers and expanding employee work arrangements to include virtual or remote jobs.

"These were new strategies to me," she says. "It gave us a heads up as to how people want to work. From a technology perspective, you have to embed those strategies in your long-term IT planning and management training because managing a remote workforce requires a very different skillset than managing a workforce that's sitting outside your office." v Overall, the report showed her how to create a more positive work environment by combining a variety of employee benefits and employment practices that tend to get overlooked by some HR professionals.

"It's not rocket science but was extraordinarily complete," Kenny says. "I'm still considering the whole gestalt. It helped me get information in a way that makes sense."

New Pathways

The workforce assessment tool introduces new concepts or approaches that aren't always obvious.

When Linda Brenner and Cindy Lubitz used the tool in February for one of their company's clients-Toys R Us-the 10-page report suggested that the company audit its recruitment materials to ensure that the images and language were age-friendly.

"This really took us down a path that I haven't been lead down before in this way," says Brenner, managing partner at inTalent Consulting, an Atlanta consulting firm that focuses on talent management and staffing process improvements. "It really helped me get a sense of where the opportunities are with respect to hiring a demographic that a lot of our clients don't think about that often."

The firm has been helping the head of staffing at Toys R Us build a staffing strategy that also focuses on sourcing candidates.

Many employees at Toys R Us are typically in high school or college, she says, adding that the report helped both herself and Lubitz, also a managing partner at the firm, launch a discussion with senior management about casting a wider recruitment net to capture older workers. Brenner says it opened the company's eyes in terms of exploring a new pipeline of talent.

"The report gave us suggestions for sharing its feedback with senior leaders, helping them understand the need to specifically target the hiring, recruitment and retention of older workers," says Brenner. "I don't think an HR person would think of what this report says to do."

While the tool addresses issues that affect the hiring and retention of workers at all ages, Lubitz says it does highlight the older worker population and what employers need to do to create an age-friendly workplace.

Meanwhile, she says the tool helped Toys R Us become more broad-minded about different sourcing vehicles. At the macro level, she believes that was its most significant contribution.

As everyone dove deeper, the report also brought up the issue of retention and prompted a series of questions. What types of benefits does the company offer that would appeal to older workers? How could the work environment become more age-friendly? Would the company's image change if it employed older workers at its stores?

"The report gave us a laundry list of things we could do," says Lubitz. "It is an excellent diagnostic tool for companies to leverage."

Power of Numbers

The tool delivered both good and bad news to Mark Rowe about the future of staffing at his company, WellStar Health Systems, which owns five hospitals and a physician's group with 65 offices throughout Northwest Atlanta.

As the organization's director of workforce development, he says the skilled worker shortage hasn't hit his company---yet. But it's coming, he says.

"I'm in the middle of developing a strategic plan, trying to do some projections as they relate to supply and demand," he says. "Projections are stating that we'll start seeing the major impact of the shortage around 2010 when a huge number of baby boomers will retire. It's going to get tough."

The tool helped Rowe identify shortages in a variety of functions. In fact, he says two are systemic. He points to one function, technicians, an umbrella category for allied health care workers requiring a license, ranging from nurses to X-ray technicians. The tool reported that three percent or 69 of the organization's technicians will reach retirement age by 2010. But by 2020, that number soars to 14 percent or 285 employees of its 11,200 workforce.

Likewise, six percent of WellStar's service workers, such as those employed in the laundry or nutritional service departments, will reach retirement age in 2010. By 2020, that number almost triples to 17 percent.

"This tool really hit us between the eyes and said, 'Look, you've got to continue to recruit and not get too comfortable if your vacancy is now low in those areas, " says Rowe. "And we need to come up with some flexible arrangements to keep them beyond retirement age."

Now for some good news: the report also provided Rowe with raw metrics to share with WellStar's leadership. In the past, he says health care organizations typically made decisions based on anecdotal information, offering a generic, bird's eye view of the problem without solutions. Not anymore. This report dug into the trenches and recommended specified strategies the company can implement now to combat a staffing crisis in the future.

Currently, his department is building a cross-functional team of employees to review and implement most, if not all, of the report's suggestions. He says his staff previously discussed many of the action items, but no one had the time to implement them until now, after learning the hard, cold facts.

"We knew we wanted to get out ahead of the game and talk about how we can proactively plan to maybe short circuit that huge gap between supply and demand," he says. "[The tool] forces you to do some of the work that you know you need to do. Now we've got a nice, workable format with action items and recruitment ideas that leverage our organization's strengths. "

Now is the time to find out if your company will be prepared for the nation's talent shortage and aging workforce. To register and complete the free online assessment, view www.aarp.org/workforceassessment

AARP

AARP is a 40 million-member nongovernmental organization that represents and addresses the needs and interests of persons over age 50..