ATD Blog

Society Is Aging: Implications for the Workforce

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." 
—Betty Friedan

Society is aging. This trend does not only affect the United States or any single industry, but is a global issue that needs examining. From a global perspective, in the year 2000, only a small portion of the world’s population (about 20 percent) was over the age of 60, and that was primarily in European countries. By the year 2025, the aging population will shift toward a larger portion of the world, with only Latin America (in particular Mexico), India, and Africa having a younger society and workforce.   

Although the aging of society is a global trend, today’s developed countries are leading the way into humanity’s graying future. Nowhere is this trend more obvious than in the United States, where Baby Boomers are beginning to either retire or move into a different phase of their life (possibly semi-retired).  

Of course, aging is further compounded by the fact that people are living longer. While in the 1900s, the average life expectancy was 47, it is 80 years of age today. What does this mean? Not only will there be a brain drain, but a workforce drain with a large retired population. 

Indeed, this aging of society presents interesting challenges and opportunities not only for countries, but also for organizations and business. The big question: How do the underdeveloped countries create infrastructure, processes, and opportunities in order to capitalize on their large but unprepared and undeveloped young workforce? 

The Magic Number 


From a societal workplace perspective, there is an interesting number that countries and organizations need to know and understand: 2.1.This number is the workforce replacement rate as labor shortages continue to increase. It takes into consideration immigration, emigration, births, and deaths. 

Specifically, the United States stands at 2.0, with Mexico and India at 2.8. Meanwhile, China is at 1.4, Japan at 1.3, and Spain at 1.1, among other countries in similar situations. More importantly, a country’s specific workforce replacement rate can lead to further questions: 

  • If they are dramatically below 2.1, what can they do to turn this around? How can a country's organizations replace their exiting workforce? 
  • How can countries (and their businesses) compete in the future if they don’t have a workforce to replace the existing and exiting one? 
  • Do organizations increase their recruitment efforts globally in order to attract potential employees from other countries? 
  • Can automation of work help? If so, how much and how soon can it be ready? Even with automation, there is the question of who will manage it—since you will likely need an educated and talented workforce to work in this new environment? 

Prepare Today 


In the United States, some projections claim that 80 percent of the workforce will be over the age of 50 in the next 20 years, and more than 70 percent expect to continue working after retirement. However, for every two experienced workers that leave the workforce, only one (relatively inexperienced) worker joins. In other words, the future workforce is already born, finite, and shifting.  

Without question, competition for the limited, skilled, and educated workforce will increase at a global level. While some futurists say having enough water for the world is our future shortage challenge (and I agree), I also believe a limited, highly sought after skilled demographic of potential workers will pose major challenges in the future. How countries and organizations proactively prepare to address this shortage will prove critical for future success.


About the Author

Edward Mouriño-Ruiz, PhD,  is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a seasoned multi-industry human resources development (HRD) professional. He has more than 30 years of experience in a variety of organizations and industries, including the U.S. Air Force, utilities, aerospace and defense, and medical. He has served as an Association of Talent Development (ATD) chapter president as well as a member of the National Advisor to Chapters. He has been a guest speaker at numerous conferences and events, including the Futurist Conference, IT Symposium, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC), and the Corporate University Exchange (CUX) among others. He also serves in the capacity of adjunct faculty at the graduate level at institutions, such as Rollins College and Webster University. He has written numerous articles on a variety of subjects in a variety of publications and recently published The Perfect Human Capital Storm: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21 st Century .  

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