Kansas City, Mo. — Every 10th worker in America is eligible to retire this year or next.
Depending on your work situation, that may not be a startling estimate. If you're in an organization that cut staff more than that during the recession, or in a venture populated by young people, you might shrug off impending retirements.
But in many organizations, the loss of experienced employees — presumably workplace survivors because of their needed skills — could pack a punch.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that nearly 1 in 4 members of the U.S. labor force will soon be 55 years old or older. That's up from about 1 in 8 in 2002.
The baby boom exodus from the workplace already has grabbed human resources officers' attention. Some boomers were downsized and haven't returned to work. Some left because of disability. Many others voluntarily are taking early or planned retirement because they are financially comfortable.
When the bulk of the 76.4 million members of the baby boom generation were in their prime working years, 80 percent of them participated in the labor force. The labor bureau sees the boomers' participation rate plummeting to 40 percent after age 55.
Already, the percentage of retired baby boomers has nearly doubled just since 2010. At the same time, every member of the big "baby boom echo" — the millennial generation — is now of working age.
Is the boomers' "institutional memory" being passed along? Will their "mature experience" be missed? And is the boomers' well-regarded work ethic replicable?
Some human resource officers are asking these questions and preparing answers. Others admit to being unprepared for the demographic change in workforces.
A new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that one-third of organizations fear that the potential loss of older-worker talent could be a problem for their industry or organization.
"Definitely. We are concerned. We have a lot of long-term workers, a lot of baby boomers," said Jill Crutchfield, director of human resources at North Kansas City Hospital, which employs about 3,000 workers.
Crutchfield said the hospital was working diligently to ease boomers' departure by offering them part-time and job-changing options rather than losing them outright. It's also beefing up its recruitment and retention of younger workers, especially in its nursing core.
"Maybe 10 percent of our staff is likely to retire in the next year or so, so it's a big topic of discussion," Crutchfield said. "A lot of what we know comes from experience, so we worry a lot about the knowledge transfer."
Formal and informal mentoring is encouraged, she said. But that's most effective if both older and younger workers can be kept on board.
Employers around the country and in most professions have found that younger workers are more apt to change jobs frequently than boomers. For hiring, training and mentoring programs to be cost-effective to organizations, the millennials need to stay awhile.
The human resource society's survey found that just one-fifth of organizations have done in-depth assessments about what the retirement of older workers means to them in terms of filling potential skills gaps.
Only one-third of the survey responders said their organizations had taken specific steps to fill those gaps. One in 5 said their organizations had no strategies to transfer knowledge from older to younger workers.
That's a problem that KCP&L is trying to avoid. Human resources director Kelly Murphy said the utility may be ahead of some organizations' planning because "we provide a critical infrastructure service. We have to look around the corner."
Looking ahead means reaching down into the school systems to support science and technology education and programs, such as robotics, that will excite young people about entering the industry. It means setting up programs for millennials at work and encouraging their participation in metro-wide organizations that trumpet the area as a vibrant place to work
"Twenty percent of our workforce is eligible to retire in the next year or so," Murphy said. "The fact that they're retirement-eligible doesn't mean they'll walk out the door. Our turnover is less than that, and what actually happens is based partly on the economy."
But the statistic itself demands attention. That's why results of the human resource society's survey surprised some practitioners who see that the challenge of replacing departing boomers goes beyond attracting and retaining younger workers.
The society reported that more than half of the organizations surveyed said they don't actively recruit other older workers. And that's somewhat ironic. The same survey respondents listed these "advantages" they get from older workers compared with younger ones:
■More work experience, 77 percent.
■More maturity or professionalism, 71 percent.
■Stronger work ethic, 70 percent.
■Able to serve as mentors to younger workers, 63 percent.
■More reliable, 59 percent.
Tina Uridge, executive director of a group financed by county taxes that works with about 50 nonprofit organizations in the Kansas-City area, said she sees high priority placed on trying to retain experienced workers.
"They have the institutional knowledge, the emotional maturity," Uridge said of the tenured nonprofit and social service employees she encounters. "And in small organizations like mine — we have just 3 1/2 employees — it's essentially to have a lot of cross training and teamwork."