It just makes good business sense, because these are very likely your most promising hires.  Anyone working one or more jobs while engaging in some form of learning is highly motivated.  Helping working learners refine their focus, finance their ongoing education or giving them a chance to master new tasks and technologies while on the job will go a long way toward stabilizing and securing your own workforce.  As employers make strategic decisions about their enterprise of the future, the more information they can share about the kinds of skills and competencies they will require, the better equipped their existing payroll employees and prospective hires. Surveys show that nearly half of current workers are confounded by what it will take to prepare for the jobs of the future.  Those potential new entrants must be lost as they search for a good career fit. Now is an opportune time for employers to help them find their way.


Conduct an environmental scan of the workforce

Firms of any type and size can mitigate setbacks in productivity and shortfalls in necessary talent by doing a thorough assessment of their current human capital capacities and future needs.  Boston College and other centers examining the relationships between demography and American business show upward of 40 percent of employers are worried about the impact of the changing demographic landscape on their respective company’s bottom line – yet in the broad-based BC survey, over two thirds of the same employers had not looked at the changing demographics of their own workers!

Every enterprise, from the five-person shops to the larger companies with hundreds or thousands of employees, every sustainable enterprise draws on self-assessments.  And whether a firm is in food processing, heavy machinery, or silicone chips, strategic planning is essential for effective investments in human capital.   Perform gap analysis to reveal current talent shortages, identify immediate and longer-term skills needs for jobs seekers, trainers, and educators, anticipate future demands, and plot the talent trajectory for employers.  The spectrum of skills is broad:  some enterprises say their expansion plans are eclipsed due to a shortage of entry level people who can read basic blueprints, do basic math, and perform machine set up; others lament the lack of high-level design engineers.

Identify high job growth areas and horizon industries

Map the skills required, the available sources of training and education (certificate programs, vocational centers, union apprenticeships, blended learning, community colleges, and colleges and universities), their costs, and the possibilities for those fees to be underwritten by government, foundation, corporate in-kind, and other support.  Develop new training opportunities as needed to create a cadre of capable talent. 


Develop follow-on strategies to help industry leaders, educators, labor leaders, and community advocates empower employers to soak up the talent they need, including: 

Inter-generational opportunities. The two biggest pressures on joblessness and job generation are the bookends of the workforce:  the would-be new entrants, 16-24 years old, who need the education and skills to take on increasingly complex tasks and mature workers, 55 years and older, who are now the dominant demographic group in the workforce and exploding in numbers.  Across the United States, mature workers will fuel 90 percent of the increase in the U.S. labor market between 2008 and 2018. 

Baby boomers are coming of age, people are living longer, and they are extending their working lives.  But financial pressures, exacerbated by pummeled pensions and the prospect of living 35 or 40 more years, have pushed many millions back into the job market.  This fast-growing group may not necessarily want replacement earnings but rather to supplement meager retirement income or simply to put acquired expertise and experience to continued productive use.  Their younger counterparts have actually reduced their own percentage of workforce participation in recent years – many are staying in school longer to prolong the time when they have to seek gainful employment.  Others have simply given up the job search.  For the employers scouring for talent and worrying about their future hiring needs and for those who already see their labor shortages hurting output and market share, the surges of youthful unproven and largely unskilled job seekers and the seasoned workers at or nearing retirement may not seem like a solution to their problems.  But with some good strategies, employers can turn what appear to be looming liabilities into actively performing assets. 

C-suite executives, managers, and supervisors who view these seemingly competing youth/mature forces as complementary rather than competitive recognize not only that the intergenerational workforce is inevitable, but also that it will characterize American labor for decades to come.  These leaders will realize the greatest returns on their human capital by meeting the following challenges:

Extending the reach to K12 schools

Schedule visits to classrooms and class visits to the plants and factory floors to demonstrate the elements of manufacturing.  Formalize in-school and after-school mentoring relationships to cultivate interest in the company, the trade, and industry careers.  Develop introductory workforce training programs, with a special focus on “soft skills” numeracy, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and an introduction to skilled trades.  Help create or join forces with the best of breed schools, and build an exemplar in the community.  

Leveraging labs

Take advantage of the growing interest among national and federal lab directors to become more of a community resource.  These massively funded and state-of-the-art institutions can provide a range of access points:  student internship opportunities, teaching training or fellowships for teachers in STEM, visual and virtual arts, and beyond. They can provide access to simulators, labs, and scientists.  And companies in their orbit can profit enormously by becoming part of the education equation, as they reach into schools and captivate students by demonstrating how lessons learned at school have direct on-the-job application.


Help bridge the technology gap.  Approach school superintendents and the local school board, and propose that they give high school credit (to satisfy community service or other requirements) to students who train mature workers in technology.  Youth can teach their older counterparts valuable, time-saving skills such as spreadsheets, keyboarding, graphics, social media, and networks.  And concurrently, youth will witness their own capabilities become “applied learning” as their mature mentors demonstrate, first-hand, the utility of these technical skills in the workplace.

To attract motivated students, work with higher education administrators to develop courses that qualify for college credit (a number of community colleges already do this).  Reach out to local K-12 school superintendents to provide opportunities for high school students who have met graduation requirements and have the time for supervised internships to connect with a mentor and learn entry-level trade skills.  An important by-product:  these measures will go a long way toward improving completion rates for degree programs (two-year and four-year) and help bridge the gap between matriculation rates and graduation rates. Corporate stock in the community will soar as locals take note of the influence and react positively.  And businesses will draw from a growing pool of inspired and qualified jobseekers.  

Converting liabilities into assets

Nationwide, more than 12 million students are projected to drop out of high school over the next ten years, taking a $3 trillion bite out of the GDP.   Latinos represent the largest single demographic group of dropouts in many states; and given the projected national increase in the Latino population (demographers expect it to surge by 63 million before 2040), the nation's challenge is to educate and integrate Hispanics into the productive economy.


Small- and medium-sized businesses can thrive by exploring models of success, including economies of scale derived from pooled workforce training programs and shared technologies.  Larger firms, of course, have a major stake in their supply chain’s workforce and have extensive company-specific training needs. Many models can be scaled and tailored to meet present and anticipated talent needs. Numerous first-rate organizations with superb metrics for success tailor their programs for the wide variety of consumers.  Included among these, for example, are the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA), as well as the world’s largest after-school mentoring program, Junior Achievement, and its refined focus on financial literacy, workplace readiness, STEM, and entrepreneurship.

 Forming mature corps

If the local community college is not proximate enough or not the preferred partner, make use of company resources by calling on mature workers’ practical experience, skills, and wisdom to form a mature corps that trains teachers, mentors middle and high school students, and creates a pathway to local manufacturers by connecting them to school year and summer internships.

Vetting education/ training partners, demanding results

Here’s what to look for:  effective entry assessments of students to determine career pathways; expedited student connections to the job market with relevant coursework, certifications, and just-in-time training offered in the classroom, offsite, and online; accredited programs that tap student interest in STEM/manufacturing and award post-secondary credits to high school students who work with mentors and learn entry-level trade skills; strategic partnerships with national and/or local industry that lead to well-informed curricular planning with direct relationships to job market demands and access to an array of in-kind support (such as teacher training, industry professionals and tradesmen/women as teacher and student mentors, simulators, facilities, work-study programs, and internships); and metrics that track the correlation between field of study/mentoring/job placement/employability/staying power of graduates.

Building the network

A network in which business leaders counsel entrepreneurs and small business owners in production-related fields.  Innovation knows no boundaries and involves an array of players and partners:  private industry; public/private partnerships (such as with major utilities); national and federal labs, where so much innovation takes place yet has such a tough time making it to production and then to market; leading-edge organized labor training; educators and trainers; state, municipal, and local governments; as well as community-base.