US Government Expects Large Number of Baby Boomers To Leave the Workforce

Claire-Schooley By Claire Schooley

A government report published September 3, 2009 (and reviewed in a Washington Post article titled “Federal Government Needs Massive Hiring Binge”) reports on a detailed study of US Government positions that will become open requisitionss as Baby Boomers retire over the next four years. This concern about large numbers of government retirees is not new but this study makes some stark predictions that are eye-catching.


Top 10 Areas of Government Hiring in Next Four Years


Professional Field

Total Employees as of Sept.30, 2008

Percentage Eligible to Retire in 2009 to 2012

Projected Hires for Mission Critical Jobs, 2010 to 2012

Medical and public health




Security and protection








Compliance and enforcement




Admin. and program management




Accounting and budget




Information technology




Business and industry













Source: Partnership for Public Service

Retirement-age Baby Boomers are not like other generations. They fought and changed societal norms, government policies and business practices in the 1960s. Wherever then go and whatever they do, Baby Boomers leave a large wake in their path, and retirement and aging issues are no exceptions. As a result, the U.S. Government (and other governments as well in Europe and industrialized Asia) has to be ready for different approaches to retirement from this generation. Of course, some Baby Boomers will not retire because of financial concerns, the need for good health care coverage, or a heartfelt desire to continue to contribute doing work they like. Others will ask for part time or seasonal work as they gradually ease into retirement or even start that business that they’ve dreamed about. Still others will request more flexibility in work hours including working from home a day or two a week. But eventually Baby Boomers will retire and the Government must plan for:

  • Creation of mentor relationships between Baby Boomers and Millennials—born between 1980 and 2000-- (and possibly Gen x) workers so institutional and tacit knowledge is not lost.
  • A redefinition of jobs as employees retire. Business processes-- including new uses of technology--may redefine job roles so one-to-one replacement of retirees by new workers is not the norm.
  • Succession planning so that a pool of employees is prepared to step into the retirees’ roles. Succession planning and career development functionality within talent management suites can assist with this task. The Washington Post article also states that the US Government may start hiring in areas like health care, security, and legal. Most likely Millennials will make up a large percentage of these new hires. This means the Government must think about the Millennial characteristics in order to recruit and then retain them as workers. Millennials want to see:
  • Career growth opportunities that allow flexibility from the beginning (not flexibility they earn after years of employment). Examples include mentoring programs, secondment, opportunities to live abroad, etc.
  • Learning and career development opportunities to increase existing knowledge and help with advancement, like training programs, certification opportunities, etc.
  • Team collaboration supported as a way of doing work effectively and efficiently, including strong collaboration, video conferencing and Web 2.0 tools that support interaction between far flung team members.
  • Up-to-date technology to speed up the work process; some of today’s applications seem hopelessly out of date to Millennials. Even with an unsettled economy and the high unemployment rate, the Government will find itself competing with the private sector to discover those workers with the special talents they need. To address those needs, today’s employers, and especially the government, need to be very familiar with the two largest generations in the workforce, the Baby Boomers (78 million) and the Millennials (76 million) and their vastly different characteristics, work desires, and expectations. To ignore these differences spells trouble in the changing workforce.


re: US Government Expects Large Number of Baby Boomers To Leave

Great post. During this time of recession and high unemployment, it's hard for folks to conceive that a resource shortage is coming - but it is. One way companies can prepare for this expertise loss is to utilize social media to engage not only your current employees, but also alumni. The knowledge that will be leaving the corporate front door when retires exit need not be lost. Your bullet points 1 (mentor relationships), 6 (team collaboration), and 7 (up-to-date technology) are just some of the areas where social media can be successfully leveraged to continue the relationship and maintain some level of access to critical knowledge. Many companies have yet to recognize this opportunity. But those who have, have a great head start on their competitors.

re: US Government Expects Large Number of Baby Boomers To Leave

Claire's advice is spot-on in this blog entry (as usual) - mentoring and succession planning will be key activities for management at all levels throughout the next decade. With all the focus on the Boomer retirement impact to IT, it's nice to see Claire expand the scope of the problem to include other occupations. Contrary to some of the hype floating around out there, IT will actually fare better than many other occupations. However, that point doesn't negate ANY of Claire's exhortations to us for good planning, it only balances out some of the more extreme trade press articles.With a >peak< retirement period that will run from 2015 (1950 plus 65 years) through 2029 (1964 + 65) and beyond - good planning and knowledge transfer should be high on everyone's list. In an about-to-be-published piece of complementary research, I focus in on the historic and predicted trends for several IT occupations, the impact of Boomer retirement on them, and the need for good workforce planning. Look for it to be published in mid-October.Phil MurphyPrincipal AnalystForrester Researchpmurphy@forrester.comFillMurphy (Twitter)