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Meg Peppin

MP Partnership

Founder And Director

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Book Review: Workforce crisis – How to beat the coming shortage of skills and talent


The baby boomer generation are starting to retire and declining birth rates mean fewer young people are entering the workforce. 

Unsurprisingly, therefore, exploring the implications of what this situation means for the economy and for workforce planning as well as understanding the different generational needs, is currently a hot topic.
In fact, it appears to be one of the singularly most written about and discussed topics around at the moment – I did a quick online search using the term ‘workforce changing demographics’ and received 10 million potential links.  
The authors of this book – Ken Dychtwald, Tamara Erickson and Robert Morrison – are researchers and consultants in the field of organisational performance, who have been exploring the subject for many years – the work originated out of a Harvard Business Review article that was written in 2006. The focus of their work is on four key areas:
  1. The management challenges posed by changing workforce demographics
  2. Segmenting workers into three cohorts and finding ways to engage them
  3. The new employment deal and how to shape it
  4. Management practices for the new workforce.
This chunking of the book into four easy-to-digest sections, each of which include research data, analysis and case studies, helps the reader to navigate through the authors’ examination of what is changing and how HR professionals need to shift their thinking and practices as a result.   
Demographics are primarily based on US data, but correlations are also offered with UK and global trends and UK case studies are likewise provided.
Three career cohorts
A key argument is that skills shortage will precede labour shortages, which means that it is important to start creating learning organisations (anything new there?). 
The authors do not simply produce glib forecasts as to the potential implications of such skills shortages, however, but instead ask a lot of intelligent questions and encourage the reader to come up with their own answers.
The book also identifies three “career cohorts”, which inform many of their suggested interventions:   
  1. Mature workers – 55+
  2. Midcareer workers – 35-54
  3. Young workers – 18-34
But the question is, if we focus on the differences between the three cohorts rather than their similarities, don’t we risk widening the perceived divisions between them? For example, there appears to be a desire for flexible working practices across all three age groups, even if their reasons for wanting them are very different.
Young workers, for instance, are generally interested in going down this route because of an interest in exploring opportunities outside of the confines of their job.
While mid-career workers tend to have the greatest need for flexibility, they are usually more reluctant to request it due to anxiety about negatively influencing their career prospects. Mature workers, on the other hand, are often keen on the idea in order to give themselves more time for family commitments and taking sabbaticals.
Reviewer’s rating
I found this book to be a useful resource and believe it would be of interest to anyone who thinks strategically about work force issues. It has a lot of practical suggestions and examples, is well written, avoids jargon and is chunked into clear sections for easy reference.
The work also offers many case studies, which include some from UK organisations such Tesco and the NHS, and there is a practical resource section that provides the reader with some insightful questions to help explore the needs of both individuals and the workforce as a whole.
Moreover, despite the potential limitations of segmenting the workforce into three groups in order to better understand them, I think that the book offers a rich resource for people who are trying to develop and tailor employee policies and practices.   
  • This book was reviewed for us by Meg Peppin, founder and director of organisational development consultancy, MP Partnership. (With thanks to The Corporate elearning Consortium for donating it to us.)
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Meg Peppin

Founder And Director

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