Beginning in 2011, a shift in the labor force is going to occur because the front edge of the boomer generation is going to turn 65. While many are concerned about a potential labor shortage, I am mostly concerned about a sudden and continuous brain drain from our organizations.
All around me are workers who are at or nearing retirement, depending on when they actually started working for government. Many of these are middle and senior managers who carry with them a great deal of institutional knowledge. I know of whole sections and departments that will be retiring at the same time or following each other out the door continuously for several years.
If this doesn't bother you, it should. Why? Mainly because government usually does a horrible job of cross-training and making sure that there is more than one person responsible for a function.
It's not that government workers don't like to share knowledge (I'm being kind here) but that government organizations typically are not staffed with a lot of redundancy in positions, and the workers in these positions generally wear many hats. Which means two things: One, that there is a great breadth of knowledge contained in a single individual. Two, that individual is usually too busy to document their knowledge or take the time to share it with someone who can step in and fill their shoes. So when they go, so does their knowledge.
As I look around organizations that I'm familiar with, I see this as a real potential problem. It's not good to have all your "old" hands leaving at or near the same time. But at the same time, we can't prevent it. So in order to prevent the potential problem, we need to prepare for it. Kind of like the Y2K problem. Proper preparation led to a potential disaster being hardly a flash in the pan.
So what can we do to prepare? There are a number of things that we can do if our organizations can wrap themselves around the fact that there is change coming, whether they like it or not. Here are some suggestions in no particular order:
Personally, I have to deal with this issue now. I plan on tackling it through mentoring, cross-training, and retraining, as well as trying to establish a new way of doing business through tools such as Wikis and blogs. The point is, many of us will have to start dealing with this as time draws nearer to 2011. Yes, it is only 2006, but time flies when you are getting old ;-) So start preparing now.