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The Electronic Recruiting News is a Free Daily Newsletter For Recruiters, HR Managers, Advertising Agencies and Clasified Advertising Operations Read Today's Bugler       Read current Blogging News: BERT

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Workforce Woes: The Demographic Challenge

(July 12, 2007)  At the heart of the challenge of finding people to join your high quality workforce is a great deal of demographic upheaval. Global population, which doubled twice in the past century will only grow by 50% in the next century. That's a slowdown to less than 1/4 of the old growth rate. It already feels like someone slammed on the brakes.

This happens to companies, families and most forms of human organization. Extraordinary growth rates are unusual. They happen in adolescence and are the precursors to the less disruptive growth rates of adulthood.

We are emerging from a century of extraordinary growth. It has shaped our expectations and assumptions. A world that grows more slowly (read that as sustainably, if you must) is a more natural and mature phenomenon. But, it's a radical shift when you're used to a diet based on logarithmic growth.

So weird stuff starts to happen and expectations begin to change.

Over the course of the history of the United States, the percentage of the population who were not born here has averaged about 15%. During the 20th Century, that figure declined to a low of about 3% in the mid seventies. At that point, it began growing back to its historical average. In other words, absorbing the baby boom made it impossible to absorb immigrants in the way we did in the early years. Now that the "pig in the python" has just about been swallowed, the only way we can maintain growth is to find new citizens somewhere.

This competition is going on around the world amongst industrialized countries. The phenomena are the same. It seems like you can't get enough of the right kinds of workers. From Japan and South Korea to France and even Mexico (which, if you didn't know, is the largest user of social networking software online), the battle to win the "right" immigrants is being waged at borders and on billboards. It's simple, really, in order to keep the fire going, you need more fuel. The natural demographics predict slowdowns so the wise start importing (or managing work elsewhere).

Additionally, there is a serious change in the way the population is put together.

Typically, we are trained to think of population as a pyramid. Not so many old people and a lot of young people at the bottom. All of our management systems are designed this way. It's the essence of hierarchical thinking. If you take a moment, you will realize that much of your thinking about work, retirement, success, organization, politics and economics has this pyramid idea in the background. For hundreds of thousands of years, that's how human population worked. Lots of young ones, few old ones.

Today, in the top 50 industrialized countries, population distributions look more like a phone pole. There are (roughly) as many old people as young. In fact, there are about as many 50 - 54 year olds as there are 30 - 34 year olds (give or take 15%). Instead of swarms following behind the old folks, there are barely enough to replace the old.

And, the old seem to just get older.

It's a different labor supply than we've seen before. It's not caused by the school system and it's not because they are lazy, ill mannered louts. Rather, there is a fundamental difference in supply. Instead of five for one (as it was in the baby boom and gen x days), it's one for one.

Talent is distributed at the same percentages, there is just less of it.


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