Hooray! Baby Boomers are retiring! |

Younger workers will see more job openings and faster promotions

Baby boomers finally are starting to retire.

This good news for younger workers gives employers and labor organizations a different problem: replacing experienced people.

“What these older folks take with them when they retire is not something you can just teach in a classroom,” said Rob Belisle, director of the IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland on Airport Way.

The union spokesman said that to address this growing construction industry challenge, Local 48 of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) has geared up to improve and expand apprenticeship and journeyman training for younger workers and provide new training for (union) management jobs — foreman, project manager or general manager.

For years, retirements out of the 4,500-member union local has annually totaled about 100, Belisle said. This year, the number increased to 110 with the total expected to grow as more baby boomers finally stop working.

While loss of seasoned workers will be an ongoing issue for employers especially in industries such as construction and manufacturing it will mean more job openings and more opportunity for promotion for younger workers, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis said in a recent report.

Boomers are late to leave

Until lately, said the OEA, baby boomers in Oregon have been retiring two years later than workers just 15 years ago. That meant about 1,000 job openings a year from retirement. Going forward the number of annual retirements throughout the state will climb to about 6,000 to 7,000 a year, the report said.

So despite robotics, despite down-sizing, artificial intelligence and software innovations, there will be jobs for younger workers.

The OEA is forecasting job growth in Oregon over the next 10 years of just 1 percent per year. But that weaker net figure “masks the generational churn taking place under water,” the analysis showed. “That’s because for every retiring baby boomer, a firm has to hire two workers to see positive job growth…the first worker to replace the retiree, while the second job represents real growth.”

Employers, meanwhile, will have to work harder when hiring and training new workers in order to replace the experience and institutional knowledge they’re losing to retirement, wrote Nick Beleiciks in the OEA report.

Many Portland-area employers have long been working to recruit qualified new younger employees. Boeing Co, for instance, runs several internship programs to attract young workers who might be interested in becoming machinists.

At Leupold & Stevens Inc., the Beaverton-based manufacturer of telescopic sights, many key jobs are held by machinists, engineers and skilled assembly workers with long-time work experience.

“Some of our employees have been with us for 40-plus years,” said Kimberly Shaw, a Leupold senior human resources specialist. “Average (on the job) tenure of our workers is 11 years, average age is 40. We have definitely been having conversations about retirements.”

The company with 650 employees is working on several fronts to attract new talent and enhance skill development of its workforce, Shaw said. Apprenticeships and internships are part of the effort. High school students are invited to tour facilities several times a year. “The good news is that we are seeing more Millennials applying for work here,” Shaw said.

Jeff Kennedy, CEO of TwinStar Credit Union with 350 employees and branch offices in Oregon and Washington, said that filling front counter positions with the credit union is not as critical as it might be at a manufacturing operation. But, he said, the credit union also faces retirement issues.

“We do have a lot of long-term employees and we do see a brain drain as these experienced people walk out the door,” Kennedy said.

Hitting age 70

A report earlier this year from the Oregon Employment Department said the oldest members of Oregon’s population of baby boomers turned 65 in 2011 and hit 70 this year.

“The bulk of working boomers are now ages 55 and older,” the report said. Many over the next decade will reach 66, the earliest age at which they can receive full retirement benefits from Social Security.

The pace of retirements will vary by industry. U.S. Census data show that industries in Oregon with the highest percentage (30 percent and above) of workers age 55 and older are: mining and utilities, agriculture, fishing and forestry and real estate.

The sector with the greatest number of workers 55 and over is educational services with 41,110 workers or about 29 percent of the 141,656 people employed in Oregon in that job category. Health care and social assistance also stand to lose a significant number of people to retirement.

According to the Employment Department report, no area of the state will avoid the effect of retiring boomers. But Multnomah County, alone, has more workers 55 and older (104,000) than the total 62,000 in all of rural Oregon combined, the report said.

As for job openings, every sector will be seeking replacement workers.

Job openings

Between 2014 and 2024, the employment department is forecasting that Oregon will have 233,000 job openings due to economic growth and an additional 440,000 replacement job openings from workers permanently leaving their occupations.

While recovery from the Great Recession, which trashed retirement savings plans and eroded home values, has delayed retirement for many, the tide is now turning.

Employers that have key employees who are approaching retirement “should consider the skills that will walk out the door with that final punch of the time clock,” the Oregon Employment Department report said. “While equivalent degrees and education can be hired through other workers by offering the right wage, specialized knowledge about a certain business, product or service can only be gained with hands-on experience.”

For directors at Portland-based IBEW Local 48, the retirement gap is looming.

“Right now, there’s a lot of work out there (in construction), union director Rod Belisle said. “Business is really strong, probably one of the strongest we’ve seen in our history. We know of contractors who are encouraging certain key workers to stay on,” he said.

The industry now is frantically trying to make up for lost time with more training and more rapid promotions, he said.

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