Comments on GAO Forum on Workforce Trends

Offshoring is moving up the food chain -- higher level jobs are going to LCCs (Low Cost Countries - Boston Consulting Group's term),  It's true that wages will rise in those countries as expectations rise, but that can take a decade or two, and meanwhile many U.S. jobs will be lost for what, in the long term, turns out to be little comparative advantage.

I have been asked for the prescription to avoid job loss in mergers, downsizing, "rightsizing" or offshoring.  For downsizing, the workers retained will be those who are most productive and have the most current skills.  As in the joke about the two campers trying to outrun the bear, success is running just a little faster than your competitor.  For continuing education, IEEE's new XELL distance-learning program (now in prototyping) could be a boost here.

In mergers, success may depend on where you sit -- if there are two IT groups, the one in the company taking over may survive while the one in the absorbed company may disappear.  It may be too complex to try to evaluate the relative performance of those in the two groups, to pick and choose who gets fired from among both groups.

For offshoring, the answer is to jump ship; there may be temporary relief available in traveling to the offshore location to train the new people who will be taking over your job, but that just delays the inevitable parting of the ways.

Don't expect baby boomers to disappear from the workforce.  As noted in a new Fortune article, boomers who expected to inherit their retirement nest egg (one estimate in congressional testimony some years ago was $11 trillion passing this way [
B. Douglas Bernheim, The Merrill Lynch Baby Boomer Retirement Index: Update ‘96, 7,
21-22 (1996) quoted in
http://www.sec.gov/pdf/report99.pdf], and a report on the senior travel market pegged it at $10.4 trillion; see http://www.ntaonline.com/staticfiles/car_boomer.pdf ), are finding that stock market reverses and their parents' nursing home needs have pretty much dried up that source, and part-time work (at least) will be an expectation in retirement.  In 30 years, there could be 77 million boomers of retirement age.

Both presidential candidates have discussed amnesty as a way to meet U.S. needs for "jobs nobody wants". 
http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/01/07/bush.immigration/index.html   and  http://abcnews.go.com/wire/Politics/ap20040629_1754.html  Lou Dobbs  Moneyline last night featured a debate between an immigration lawyer and Tom Tancredo, moderated by Pat Buchanan, on the subject of immigration.  Tancredo favored clearing up the backlog and obstacles to legal immigration (green cards).  The lawyer favored that plus amnesty.  The previously-surfaced Bush amnesty proposal did not distinguish between low-skilled illegals and highly-skilled ones.

Approval of changes to ERISA to permit phased retirement could help keep older workers in the workforce longer, aiding in mentoring younger workers and transferring their intellectual capital before they finally retire.  Clarification of Section 1706, to permit retirees to work as consultants for their former employers, could avoid the dilemma with employee benefits programs when they are classed as regular employees.  Perhaps CWPC should reissue the previous position statement on this.

Ed Perkins has posted his view that conventional college curricula are not meeting the needs for mid-career continuing education.  The Dallas section is interested in doing something about that.  IEEE-USA also formerly had a position statement on tax incentives for continuing education that should be reviewed for reissue.  See
http://www.ieeeusa.org/forum/positions/taxlearn.html

George

From a posting in the Employment & Career Strategies VC Forum  https://www.ieeecommunities.org/ecs

---excerpt---

HIGHLIGHTS OF A GAO FORUM

Workforce Challenges and Opportunities For the 21st Century: Changing Labor Force Dynamics and the Role of Government Policies

What Participants Said

While participants debated the extent of future labor shortages and which industries and workers may be affected, they generally agreed that the United States will soon face tight labor markets in part  because of projected demographic trends and the need for higher skills in order to be competitive for higher-wage jobs. Forum participants made the following observations regarding demographic trends and skills:

• The baby boom generation could affect the U.S. labor market. The approaching retirement of the baby boom generation could lead to tight labor markets, affecting some industries more than others.

• Labor force participation rates are low among certain populations.High school dropouts, low-income individuals, and some minority groups continue to have low labor force participation.

• Immigrants help meet U.S. labor demands. Both legal and undocumented immigrants play a role in the current and future workforce.

• The United States is moving toward a knowledge-based economy that requires higher skills. A knowledge-based economy increasingly requires workers to have more advanced skills and higher levels of education than in the past.

• Workers are not receiving needed training. More training is needed, although it is unclear whether employers or employees are responsible for providing it.

• Some countries have a greater supply of young, well-educated workers. The United States faces a significant demographic difference in terms of the age of U.S. workers and their technological skill compared with workers in countries such as India.

• Offshoring of jobs has increased and is likely to continue. Given the high level of education and worker skill development in some countries, jobs moving offshore are no longer low-wage, low-skill jobs.

• Career education and apprenticeship training are not given enough emphasis. Some youth may not pursue higher education and instead need training, such as career education or apprenticeship training.

At the forum, participants suggested several potential solutions to address the tight labor market that considered both the needs of the U.S. labor force and the realities of a tight fiscal environment:

• Increase the effectiveness of publicly funded training programs.

• Encourage employers and unions to take the lead in determining training needs.

• Promote alternative education and training opportunities.

• Keep older workers engaged in the labor force.

• Consider changing immigration policies to better meet future workforce needs.

Highlights at http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d04845sphigh.pdf

George F McClure
g.mcclure@ieee.org
1730 Shiloh Ln
Winter Park FL 32789
Tel 407-647-5092
Fax 407-644-4076
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