THE large number of Oklahoma classroom teachers who are 50 or older could result in a shortage of teachers in the not-too-distant future as these men and women retire, although one education official wonders whether the Great Recession has put some of those plans on hold.
Chance are it has, but in time the economy will recover, and when that happens the line of retirees is sure to grow — not just among teachers but across state government, which is filled with Baby Boomers. This has the potential to cause problems particularly in specialized areas such as information technology.
Melissa Maynard with stateline.org wrote recently about the effects of what one Indiana official called the “dam of older folks” who had been planning to retire but have put those plans on hold. In Oklahoma, Hank Batty, deputy administrator for the Office of Personnel Management, said the recession has delayed expected retirements but also has made it tougher to ensure a smooth transfer of knowledge to younger workers.
“It has forestalled the inevitable,” Batty said. “We have not had to deal with the issues that five years ago we thought we would be dealing with now. However, there is no anti-aging cream in the works, so we will have to deal with this at some point.”
A Stateline analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the number of state workers 55 and older has almost doubled in the past 10 years while the number of those younger than 55 has grown slowly. The result is, as Batty put it, “all the Millenials at one end of the spectrum and the Baby Boomers at the other, and there's no in between.”
At the same time, states have seen their budgets cut significantly, resulting in layoffs — often to those in middle management. And so the gap between highly experienced and those with less experience has only widened.
State personnel directors say it takes time to develop employees who can manage large groups. Batty told stateline.org that Oklahoma has already had a challenge finding people with supervisory experience who also possess the skills to step into specialized jobs that have opened up as a result of retirements — and that's been the case even when the budget hasn't been such a big concern.
“We've just had to consolidate those duties among other positions,” he said. “That's the part of knowledge transfer that to me is very scary.”
When the economy cranks up and the state can restore lopped services, we hope there are still some lights that can be left on as retirees shut the door on their way out. The watchword in state government for several years has been “employee furloughs.” Soon it may be “recruitment incentives.”