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(August 30, 2002) - For those who noticed and asked, yesterday's charts and data are from the ongoing research here at interbiznet and are based on current Department of Labor reports. The full details and more regional information will be published as a part of the 2003 HCI subscription series.

The simple demographic fact is that the workforce is beginning to age and contract. The rate at which that happens is predetermined and the direct result of birth rates in the 80s and 90s. Nothing much can be done about the numbers of people who will enter and leave the workforce over the next 20 years. While HR ought to be a strategic function, we doubt that it will ever control the worker replacement and fertility program. 

The question is simply which operations will survive the change in demographics.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an instructive article on the workforce in Botswana. Ravaged by an AIDS infection rate of 40%, supervisors routinely wonder who is going to accomplish all of the work. Succession planning is in real vogue as the average lifespan dwindles from 40 to 30. In Botswana, it's not for executives, it's for the line workers, truck drivers and diamond miners who make the economy tick.

While we aren't suggesting that things will become as severe as they are in Botswana, we think the idea of succession planning for the lowest status jobs is in order. The labor shortage will hit us below the belt. While truck drivers, agriculture workers and maintenance professionals will be getting scarce in 2004 or 2005, the high-faluting managers and professionals will not be touched until later in the decade. As a manager, knowing who will replace your current drivers will keep you from having to drive the truck yourself. Workforce contingency planning, using scenarios from a hyper-competitive environment ought to become the norm pretty quickly. While it's nice to see the top management team as critical, no truck drivers means no invoices. No invoices means no cash.

We've long believed that management is "just another function" that had more status than it deserves. A sustained shortage of truck drivers would certainly underline that particular point. We should see that in the next 18 months.

Meanwhile, we're reminded by the recent news that the Pentagon has a time honored tool for managing shortages. The reserves provide income and training to people who are basically 'ready to go to work'. It's an interesting system that bears being mined for utility as we approach the dwindling of the workforce.

 -John Sumser


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