My business practice focuses on two areas – executive and professional search and business transition planning.  Not surprisingly, many fellow business owners, baby boomers themselves, are regularly asking if I have talent available to fill entry and mid-level positions in their companies.  These questions arise as many of their own baby boomer employees who occupied these, and other positions retire, and individuals in those entry and mid-level positions are given opportunity for upward mobility.

An approach for mid-level positions is the subject of another article.  Here, I focus on the entry level positions and their impact on boomer businesses.

The Problem – Where Can You Find People To Work?

Entry level positions are hard to fill, particularly in the New England region. In prior years, many of these positions may have been filled by individuals who were baby boomer children, as their first or second full-time jobs. But with the trend toward smaller families, many of these positions have been filled through various immigration U.S. visa programs, and, as more attention has been given to the number of visas issued (based in part on an assumption that immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens), immigrants able, willing, and qualified to perform entry level work has declined as the visa quotas have declined.

Boomer Owners Work Longer Hours

A direct result of unavailable labor for a business is stagnation.  Unless the boomer owner can find more help, somewhere, they press themselves and their remaining workforce into longer hours to fulfill customer demand. (If you wondered why the boomer owner who you have known for years doesn’t come and speak with you at her restaurant anymore perhaps it’s because she is waiting on tables or cooking in the kitchen).

And what about those service businesses that are going to take care of those retiring boomers?

What Research Tells Us

These are my anecdotal observations, not borne by research.  I leave that to others.  I do know however, that as boomers are leaving the workforce, fewer and fewer people are available to replace them – and provide services to them.  A recent article in the Spring Grove Herald indicates that Greater Minnesota may become gray Minnesota without immigrants. 

The author notes:

“Minnesota is already experiencing an increased demand for senior care and support services. However, that care is now more likely to occur in the home. Nearly 80 percent of seniors say they plan to stay in their home as long as possible.”

The article goes on to say:

“The tricky part is how to provide those services with fewer working age people in Minnesota contributing tax revenue. Even trickier for Greater Minnesota is finding enough able-bodied workers to provide those services and keep businesses open in rural communities where those seniors want to stay.”

Another point of view, perhaps too politically direct, but worthy of discussion, comes from an article in WTVA.com recently: Why Trump Voters Need The Immigrants They Want To Turn Away.

The author notes as follows:

“The equation is unmistakable: as America ages, the older and blue-collar whites at the core of Trump’s electoral coalition in 2016 need more working-age immigrants to pay the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare.  Without robust immigration, each American worker will need to support substantially more retirees in the future than workers do today. And that will greatly increase the pressure for either unsustainable tax increases or biting benefit reductions in the federal retirement programs that the older and blue-collar whites central to Trump’s support rely upon so heavily.”

Now let’s go back to that Minnesota article, the author further states:

“The number of adults 65 and older in the entire state goes from 19 percent of all adults in 2015 to 27 percent in 2030.

 The shift can be blamed on the baby boomers and their parents. The parents of the baby boomer generation were part of a group that had many child-bearing families and they produced a large number of children. Those children, now baby boomers reaching retirement, have the longest life expectancy in history.

 The trend of smaller families and longer life expectancy will likely continue, so this trend will have some staying power to it.”

 The numbers are staggering. Minnesota is projected to have 20,000 fewer students in kindergarten to 12th grade and 455,000 more seniors by 2030. Numbers for Fillmore and Houston counties show that already there are more adults 65 and older than there are children, which is a historical first.”

As a baby boomer child, I have a smaller family.  There are many boomers who raised smaller families – so the workforce is smaller.

Solutions?

Won’t come easy.  I do think we need to examine the issues surrounding the following:

  • Baby boomer retirement trends,
  • The lack of homegrown talent to replace boomer retirees,
  • The expense to care for the boomers, and
  • How immigration policies interact with these trends.

It’s easy to say “close the borders” –

  • Yet when I get employers asking for talent I can’t supply,
  • When I continually interview qualified and highly interested foreign talent that wants to come to the U.S. to work (trust me, I search everywhere for homegrown talent first), and
  • When I interview baby boomer business owners who tell me that they can’t retire unless they decide to shut down their business due to lack of individuals to service their customers –

I know there are sets of issues that need comprehensive discussion and resolution.

I realize there are many sides to the discussion, and the solutions will not come quickly or easily.  Before we close the entry ports, I hope we will all engage in a better, well-informed discussion on the needs of baby boomers, boomer business owners, our national immigration policy, small business ownership, and the continued opportunity for our economy to grow and prosper.