The Coming Talent War: Young, Global, Diverse

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published its Occupational Outlook for 2018 (the next 10 years) and it is well worth reading.  This data, coupled with a number of meetings I”ve had recently with HR and L&D executives, clearly tells me that we are about to re-enter a new “war for talent.”

This phrase has been thrown around for years, so many of us have become somewhat dulled to the concept.  But this time I think it warrants serious consideration for any HR or L&D leader.   I will be presenting some new thoughts on this subject in my IMPACT 2010® keynote in April, but meanwhile here are some things to think about.


In the next ten years the US workforce is going to decline in size (relative to the population) and greatly age.  The percent of workers over 55 will grow by over 30%, yet the percent who are 30 and below will be flat.  This means that every single organization (of any size), is going to become squeezed by the eventual retirement of the baby boomers and the need to compete for young professionals and managers.

There are many implications to this, which I will discuss during my speech:  we are going to need completely new recruiting strategies (and global organizations must now recruit from “younger” countries), we must develop highly effective “authentic” recruiting models to attract the right people, and we must revamp leadership development to lean much more heavily toward people in their 30s.  I will be detailing these practices and many examples at IMPACT.

Lockheed Martin, for example, expects to need 250,000 more technical professionals over this period of time.  Think about the challenges this creates in all areas of HR and talent management.


I live in Oakland, California so I am very aware of the diversity of our future workforce.  The data spells it out very clearly:  in 2018 the US working population will be 35% more Hispanic, 25% more Asian and other non-caucasian races, and 8% less caucasian.  Every workgroup, team, and leadership pool will be far more diverse than today.  This means that diversity must be included s in our talent management strategy, not in some “compliance group” in the organization.

We have many examples where diversity is critical to business success.  Textron found that higher performing engineering and service teams are more diverse.  Healthcare organizations are mandated to meet diversity targets and measure them by JHACO (the compliance and certification authority).   Retailers must focus on diversity because their potential workforce is diverse and their customers demand diversity in products and service.  And manufacturers now realize that a diverse workforce builds skills and capabilities in market understanding which they need to succeed.  Take your talent management strategy and add “diversity” to the mix (our new Talent Management framework will discuss this in detail).

Under and Un-skilled:

Sadly, all the data I can find shows that the US educational system has now hit the wall.   More than 30% of the employers studied in a recent report by ASTD state that their new college graduates do not have the basic skills to enter their workforce without some form of remediation.  Typical skills they need include communication, critical thinking, self-learning, and writing.

The occupational forecast data shows that the three fastest growing occupation areas for the next 10 years are healthcare, technical and professional roles, and service.  The first two, which make up almost 75% of all of the job growth in the coming 8 years, require education and training.  Yet today more than 1 in 5 high school graduates drop out.  In my area the numbers are even higher.

California’s education system is so broken that we just had a group of rioting protesters shut down the 880 freeway (the main artery between San Francisco and San Jose) to protest the lack of funding.  The elementary school in my neighborhood just sprouted a wall of beautiful pictures, drawn by the grade schoolers, asking for more funding to make their school a better place.

We, as employers, are just going to have to deal with this and spend more time and money on remedial training, basic skills development, and partnerships with local universities and community colleges.  One of the programs I’m going to talk about at IMPACT is Northrop Grumman’s apprenticeship program with local colleges, which has dramatically improved their ability to hire ready technical people.  Healthcare providers have done this for years – and we all have to plan for this kind of training in the future.

Youth Oriented:  Looking for Leadership and Empowerment:

Finally, the data also shows that as the “changing of the guard” takes place in our organizations (turning over the reigns from baby boomer leaders to Generation X staff in their 30s and 40s), we must also change our attitudes a bit.  Data from Chevron and other clients we have interviewed shows that the turnover rate among workers under 30 is nearly twice the turnover of older workers.  I do not believe this is because they are fundamentally different – rather I think our organizations have become too “old-oriented.”

As a company ages in population, the types of programs, culture, activities, and communications target the needs of older workers.  Young people, who crave interesting developmental assignments, open communications forums, social activities, development, mentoring, and lots of culture-building programs which make work an enjoyable and gratifying experience.  As we get older and have families we focus more on benefits, stability, progression, and other needs.  We need to “youngify” the workplace we create.  (I know that’s not a word.)

A New Set of Challenges

This kind of discussion is not new, but it is now becoming urgent.   With the economy starting to grow, these issues are back on the table – I will be discussing them in detail at our upcoming research conference, please come join us…