business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It’s hard to believe there is anything to learn from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The government agency is widely despised, customer service is a nightmare and the rules of the road are impossible to understand.

Oh yes, and they are the people who take our money. So we hate them even more.

Only there is something happening in the IRS that merits our attention because it’s a reflection of a significantly larger workforce issue. And it happens with numbers that should alarm you.

John Koskinen, the current IRS commissioner, recently released some startling numbers about the IRS staff. Of the department’s more than 87,000 total employees, only 650 of them are under the age of 25 and only 1,900 are under age 30.

Admittedly, Koskinen reported these numbers in a discussion of morale and recruiting problems for the IRS thanks to budget cuts, but politics aside, those numbers are stunning. The reality is the IRS has many more people quickly moving toward retirement than are coming in the door to start careers. Imagine what customer service is going to resemble in 10 years!

(By the way, John Oliver delivered a unique view of the IRS in a recent segment of his "Last Week Tonight" show, which you can see here. As usual, Oliver's language can be a little dicey, so be warned that you may want to be careful about the sound if you are in an open cubicle or at home with kids running around.)

But forget your dislike of the IRS for a second and ask yourself how closely your company resembles the IRS in demographics. The odds are that you may see something disturbing.

Nearly 10 years ago, while working at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), I helped create the Future Connect educational program with this exact topic in mind. In countless interviews with companies of all sizes we found the same situation: large numbers of Baby Boomers filled the ranks of management slots, slowing the orderly advance of younger generations up the ranks to replace them.

In fact, we found the issue in countless other places, from the military to airlines and now, of course, to the IRS. It’s the simple result of two massive generations and Gen X all colliding in the workplace at the same time. At some point there is going to be a dearth of experienced management talent throughout the entire economy.

And that should worry you.

Yet the situation isn’t hopeless. First, as we’ve written before, the food industry has some natural advantages by being located in every type of neighborhood and therefore being accessible to all types of potential workers. In other words, we have access to all the diversity in society, provided we find ways to recruit and retain people of various backgrounds.

What’s more we have the rare attraction of jobs that require relatively simple skill sets that can lead to executive positions. Sure, everyone might want to work for Google, but not everyone can.

But to fully take advantage of those opportunities we need position ourselves correctly: as a place for careers for younger people and a place for flexible, part-time work for people of all age groups. That might appeal to younger workers struggling to find careers in a post-manufacturing economy and to aging boomers who might be looking both for things to do and ways to fund lengthy retirement.

It starts with how you position jobs, how you welcome and train people and how you create an atmosphere that leads to retention rather than turnover.

The trick is to begin now. Aging is a certainty. Just like death and taxes.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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