The Coming Brain Drain

Posted by: Jena McGregor on September 25, 2007

It’s hard to miss all the cries of fear about the coming brain drain. The boomers are going to retire, and if you listen to most workplace consultants, there’s going to be no one left in the halls of Corporate America to run the store. Those Gen Xers among us keep waiting for this golden career opportunity to suddenly materialize—plenty of challenging jobs! room to move!—but then keep wondering why we watch so many of our peers get laid off.

If you are a believer that the brain drain is coming—and few argue it won’t have at least some effects—you may want to take a read of this new report out by job search company Monster. It highlights a few startling statistics:

>>Only 12 percent of human resource managers report knowledge retention as a high priority within their organizations, despite the fact that one-third estimate 20 percent or more of their current workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next several years.

>>Only 23 percent of firms report having a formal method to identify the knowledge that needs to be protected and retained.

>>43 percent of respondents cite the ability to measure the ROI and effectiveness of a knowledge retention program as a chief stumbling block to implementing a formal strategy.

Reader Comments

Brandon W

September 25, 2007 12:50 PM

Mass amounts of knowledge no longer need to be "stored" by human employees. That information can be maintained in electronic databases. There are few (not "none", but few) challenging jobs to be had that require significant skill. Most jobs can be handled by anyone able to follow directions because modern jobs have been McDonald-ized; they've been converted into a set of processes anyone can follow. Most of the theoretical "better" jobs will never materialize. The rich know that the money is in owning the rights to the process and the "knowledge" - or intellectual property. Is there a brain drain? Sure, but it doesn't matter. The knowledge is sitting safely in a database ready to be accessed and used by the workers running the process. If only 23% of businesses have a method of identifying, retaining and protecting the knowledge *in databases*, then only those businesses will survive. The rest have no hope.

m

September 26, 2007 9:19 AM

Yeah, right. All you need to replace a machinist with twenty years experience is a bunch of .pdf's. A Radiologist? Just some textbooks and a PC.

nanheyangrouchuan

September 26, 2007 11:14 AM

It seems execs and hr are think they have the answers, but when it comes to intuition and have a "sense" of things based on experience, there is no replacement for people...unless there are secret plans to massively offshore management and special skill sets.

In many sectors, this would endanger national security. But Wall St. says "what me worry?".

Birddog

September 26, 2007 11:54 AM

Pardon me, "the money is in the knowledge"? Sorry, ask any skilled worker or professional whether or not their job is simply made up of knowledge or in fact is dependant more on experience and wisdom. As an example, would you like to have a surgeon that may have the knowledge about a particular procedure from studying it in Med school or having only observed it but may not have the experience or wisdom that comes from having performed that procedure in an operating room and under various complicating conditions? No, contrary to the current popular Gen X Credo, knowledge is only the starting point for many skilled jobs or services...

Henry Jordan

September 26, 2007 12:10 PM

A database is no substitute for a live, thinking person who can react to changes in priorities, establish direction, and just basically grind through the work.

Jobs have not be "McDonald-ized." More than ever as a director for a major US corporation, I need people, real, honest to god people who know how to work and who will see what needs to be done and do it.

A database isn't self-aware. It can't identify gaps and go fill them.

You can't replace a machinist with a database, and you can't even replace an office worker. A database is like a good screwdriver, a good tool. It isn't a replacement for someone wielding it with experience and creativity.

Obviously, you read some pop-psychology-business-babble book that told you that people aren't necessary, but don't believe it.

Haywood Jablomy

September 26, 2007 12:33 PM

Or this could be more self agrandizing by the boomer generation. Considering that the generations that come after them X and Y 1) are more creative 2) able to do more individually 3) represent an echo boom to fill in the gaps. People retire and move on. If you are part of Gen X you are used to mobility and people in your workplace changing. Eventually gne Y will grow up, and hopefully we can forget about the boomers!

Experienced

September 26, 2007 1:17 PM

In an globalized economy, jobs that rely on knowledge alone have already been, or soon will be, outsourced. Intuition and experience are key differentiators. This is obvious from the growing wage gap between the low-level jobs and sr.management positions. Any smart Gen-X'er will grasp this and position herself to take advantage of the coming shortage of experienced managers.

Brandon W

September 26, 2007 2:19 PM

Got you all thinking, didn't I? ;-)

baffled

September 26, 2007 2:43 PM

I'm a tax practitioner. Sure that body of knowledge has been sitting there and growing for years in the tax code.It's always been there. Try giving that to anybody on the street to read, understand and apply. All the knowledge in the world stored in your database won't do anybody any good if you don't have the right people with the right training, skills and experience to use and apply it.

angela

September 26, 2007 2:50 PM

There's is only a brain drain due to the incompetence of bad management and HR, C people have opted for A and B jobs. Who hire people like themselves ill equipped to train lead or manage their staff or company.

Who are overwhelmed by managerial duties, unable to manage stress or basic work but just want the large pay check, prestige and not the responsiblity.

A well managed company will always choose the right people/team players, to lead their company because that equals productivity and profit which ever way the wind may blow - they will implement a strategy that works.

angela

September 26, 2007 2:51 PM

There's is only a brain drain due to the incompetence of bad management and HR, C people have opted for A and B jobs. Who hire people like themselves ill equipped to train lead or manage their staff or company.

Who are overwhelmed by managerial duties, unable to manage stress or basic work but just want the large pay check, prestige and not the responsiblity.

A well managed company will always choose the right people/team players, to lead their company because that equals productivity and profit which ever way the wind may blow - they will implement a strategy that works.

JB

September 26, 2007 5:27 PM

The major income of American corporations is now primarily due to their high volume production. The processes will keep turning, either with highly skilled people or with chair warmers.

BAFFLED, that is great example. However, a tax accountant graduating from a public university CAN DO the job competently. They are going to miss all kinds of details, and the end result will be mediocre, but they can show up and do the job. The world will not stop turning if the average tax accountant is one day a very experienced person, and the next day a mediocre "C" grade graduate. (This goes for ALL professions.) The line also blurs further when defining “skills.” How about a “highly skilled PhD” who cannot manage his way out of a wet paper bag, but who is in charge of mission critical operations? I see repeated patterns of this in industry. What is the difference in an operation with “skilled” people versus “unskilled” people? The employees can be efficient and happy, or everyone can feel tremendous stress because of unskilled leadership. Again, the wheels will turn in both cases! Absolutely, American labor has been "commoditized”! Note, I do not advocate the above scanarios, I hate them, but they form today’s reality.

dw

September 26, 2007 6:17 PM

I doubt there is much of a danger of a brain drain. The more 'baby boomers' that retire, the more jobs that will go over seas. There are very few jobs that exist today, that can't go. Most of them require a personal presence. But thats today, tommorow you will see fewer of those. The reason HR and executives are concerned is why be concerned about a non-event? Soon enough all jobs will be globalized!

george

September 26, 2007 7:08 PM

we started with offshoring manufacturing jobs, now the higher skill sets jobs i.e. engineering, etc are moving offshore.
the next to follow will be the executives and HR jobs.
last person out be sure and lock up when you leave!

RcW

September 26, 2007 10:30 PM

Dw, You might want to re-think that statement regarding off-shoring. Over the past few years the salaries of those workers in India, and Pakistan have been rising. Especially in India.
So much so that companies are re-evaluating the overall cost benefit. Couple that with the backlash that has swelled in this country and the military tensions in that region and the pendellum is starting to swing back this way.

As for "Skilled" workers Don't belive the hype! I'm an IT Professional w/20 years experience in trenches. My skills cover Hardware and Software, Network engineering and User support with a couple of stints a consulting. The trick is to be a moving target and never get so trusting of Corporate America that you don't see the traing comming because you weren't paying attention to what's going on with your industry and the firm you're working with. Company loyality is DEAD! Get over it. If you stat to see profits going south either for your department or the company in general, BAIL!
Corporate America has no one to blame but themselves! All the mentoring and Jr. man/Sr. man pairing efforts that could have stemmed the drain of knowledge, skills, and expertise died out over a decade ago so a lot of intrinsic technical wisdom evaporated.

Finally, Henry Jordan is dead-on in his comments. Who do you call after the low-wage technician has gone through the database and read all the .PDFs? Right the Experienced Sr. Tech. OOPS! his position was cut and he was let go last week. Funny, When he was maintaining that MRI scanner, it alway stayed up and running!

Uday

September 27, 2007 11:27 PM

I am sure this is coming, though the reasons are different and apparent, that is the current myopic leadership have no clues to future visions and innovations bryond some web portals and hyping up defunct services. Human Knowledge and educated intuition are surely irreplaceable for a worthwhile future, but the question is what are our chances for such future with the current quality of leadership.

Ravin

June 20, 2008 4:40 PM

Read the book "America's Corporate Brain Drain" if you want the whole story. What's happening is that the people who are capable of following directions are not the people who are likely to be in big companies. The best people are going to small companies or starting their own.

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