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Surfing the Silver Tsunami

Posted on January 22, 2019


Jenny Kosek is Communications Strategist for the City of West Allis. When not sharing her excitement for local government, she can be seen onstage at theatres throughout Milwaukee, or at home, making breakfast foods for every meal.


silver tsunamiWhat stage of the Silver Tsunami is your organization in? We’re all well aware that Baby Boomer employees will be retiring at a rapid rate in the next few years.

Some municipalities are bracing to lose upwards of 50% of their workforce to retirement in the next five years.

In the private sector, the thought of losing half our staff in five years would’ve sent us into a panic. While I’ve gathered that municipalities are nervous, not enough are downright scared. I can tell, because fear can provide momentum, and governments aren’t making much progress on preparing for our impending worker shift.

Challenges with recruitment are a frequent pain point shared at conferences and trainings I’ve attended since joining the public sector. Coming from an HR role in the private sector, we faced the same challenges.

Small to mid-size businesses deal with the same constraints as local governments, such as offering competitive salaries, limitations on benefit offerings, and struggling to find candidates with the experience to match the job.

But the private sector is doing much more, much more rapidly, to change its past practices in an effort to attract and retain younger candidates.

They’re abandoning traditional Monday – Friday work weeks and offering flexible schedules, or work from home options.

They might not be able to offer the highest salaries in their industries, but they do offer on-site fitness classes or rebates on gym memberships.

But most importantly, they’re changing long-held internal hierarchies, abandoning old job titles, and creating new positions that will offer challenges and opportunities for growth to candidates.

They’re meeting the new workforce halfway, and as a result, they’re having an easier time filling positions than their public sector counterparts.

Put salary and benefits aside. Many studies have shown that younger works value many other things over salary when choosing a job. We know that younger workers are seeking careers that are satisfying, that make them feel like a part of something, and that let them make an impact on the organization from the beginning.

Yet government clings to a start-at-the-bottom-and-work-up mentality that has gone the way of the payphone.

As Baby Boomers leave, we cannot fill their positions without drastic modifications to our organizational structures, because the workforce we want to fill those roles is radically different than their predecessors.

We can’t maintain upward promotional paths – Clerk I, Clerk II, Clerk III – but need to explore vertical paths, such as training administrative staff to perform communications functions, or sanitation workers to master water main break repair.

Millennials often leave one job for a very different job, and organizations need to think about how they can offer those career transitions within their own workforce if they expect to keep those workers for any period of time.

Getting new workers to stay with us will take creativity, flexibility, and fast and furious change. Is your organization willing to respond?


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