Younger workers needed to fill jobs as boomers retire

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The boom is almost over.

The baby boom, that is.

The infiltration of the Alaska work force with members of the post-World War II baby boom generation rapidly is coming to an end. As the largest segment of the population approaches retirement age, industries across the board are about to develop a serious need for workers -- and that means a promising future for Alaska youth interested in staying in the state.

According to an article in the March 2002 issue of Trend magazine, which is published by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the population of the United States is comprised primarily of three generations: the baby boomers, generation-X and the echo boomers.

Baby boomers include the huge generation of people born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s. Generation-X is the much smaller generation born between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s; and the echo boom includes the children of the baby boom, born from the late 1970s to late 1980s.

Baby boomers make up the largest portion of the population throughout the nation, but even more so in Alaska, because many moved to the state during the pipeline construction period in the mid-1970s and the oil revenue boom of the 1980s, according to the Labor Department article.

Because so many baby boomers stayed in the state, the population of echo boomers -- baby boomers' children -- also is relatively high in Alaska.

Generation-X, on the other hand, comprises a relatively small portion of the Alaska population, in part because when members of that generation were reaching working age, the national economy was on the upturn, while Alaska's primary industries, such as oil, fishing and logging, were declining, the article said.

Put all together, that data paints an interesting picture for the Alaska work force.

It means most workers in the state are between 38 and 58 years old and most will reach retirement age in the next decade. It also means there are far fewer 25- to 38-year-old workers to fill the jobs that will empty as boomers retire.

That may be a scary picture for Alaska industries, but it also can be a beacon of light to the younger generation -- those who are in school right now.

While workers are facing high unemployment rates and an economic slump throughout the nation and state today, students in kindergarten through 12th grade can expect a brighter future.

Almost all industries will need workers to fill the gap, though some are in more immediate need than others. In 2001, 26 different industries on the Kenai Peninsula alone had work forces with at least 30 percent workers ages 50 and up, according to statistics compiled by the labor department.

That includes education, where nearly 37 percent of elementary teachers and 40 percent of administrators were 50 or older.

It also includes the health-care industry. Nearly 33 percent of all registered nurses, 35 percent of all medical secretaries and 36 percent of all medical transcriptionists on the peninsula are at least 50. More than 42 percent of all licensed practical nurses and almost 39 percent of medical and health services managers also were over 50. Jobs in health care also are expected to expand quickly as the baby boom generation continues to age and need more medical services.

Various trades on the peninsula also will need more workers, with about a third of all maintenance and repair workers, production, construction and mechanics managers, power line installers, electronics repairers, millrights and electrical engineers approaching retirement.

Other peninsula industries with higher worker ages include accountants ( 32 percent 50 or older), court clerks (32 percent 50 or older), airline pilots (62 percent 50 or older), social services (53 percent of managers and 37 percent of protective workers 50 or older) and librarians (nearly 60 percent 50 or older).

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