Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Applied Workforce Planning: Air Traffic Controllers

There's plenty of disagreement over whether the aging of the U.S. workforce will indeed spark a wave of simultaneous retirements and thus a scramble to replace employees. Personally, I think it's going to depend on a lot of factors--the housing market, health care costs, and technological advancements to name a few.

But there are instances that demonstrate what it could look like if a significant portion of the U.S. workforce retires. One of those instances is the air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and were the subject of a recent piece on NPR. Let's look at the situation and the implications:

- In the summer of 1981, President Ronald Reagan replaced 12,000 striking air traffic controllers all at once. When you make such a large number of hires, in the same classification, with a lot of them probably being around the same age, in public sector (where folks often stick around for a long time), you better be thinking about workforce planning.

- Thirty percent more controllers retired last year than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicted. That's significant, and whether it's due to insufficient planning or not, it provides an example of the scope of the problem we're facing.

- Last year the FAA imposed a new labor contract on the controllers which lowered pay for new hires, froze pay for those with longevity, and placed new restrictions on the working environment. Not a great way to attract new candidates into a field where you need a high number of replacements in a short period of time.

- According to the union, employees feel stretched and burned out, which may lead to a serious accident. Not the type of publicity that demonstrates an outstanding employer brand.

Lessons? Like politics, all workforce planning is local. And yes, it's an inexact science. But sometimes the numbers just hit you over the head and demand attention. Do you have a situation like this in your organization? If so, what are you doing about it?

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