Supporting Workforce Wisdom in a Global Economy

Supporting Workforce Wisdom in a Global Economy

Jeff M. Allen (University of North Texas, USA), Pamela Scott Bracey (Mississippi State University, USA), Mariya Gavrilova Aguilar (University of North Texas, USA) and Tara D. Zimmerman (College of Information Science, University of North Texas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2277-6.ch007
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An aging workforce brings unique challenges and opportunities, requiring an understanding of how different age groups approach the workplace and employ thoughtful strategies to bridge generation gaps. It is crucial to identify wisdom held by experienced workers and develop strategies for passing knowledge on to less experienced employees. Training mature workers for the 21st century workplace is important; however, helping all employees to unlearn outdated processes or beliefs is equally vital to ensure growth and innovation. Organizations need to foster a climate of acceptance and appreciation for all workers and their contributions regardless of age. Workplace policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated to ensure no bias against mature workers is present. Community and public resources can be accessed to train and support mature workers as well. Recognizing the element of wisdom in the workforce and learning how to leverage that wisdom is key to success in the knowledge economy.
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The objective of this chapter is to introduce wisdom as an important aspect of a growing, global knowledge economy and recommend strategies for how to support organizational efforts to foster a climate of acceptance and appreciation for all workers regardless of age. This chapter explores our organizational and societal capacity to support a growing mature workforce while at the same time exploring avenues to foster wisdom in the exponentially expanding knowledge economy. Allen and Hart (1999) warned two decades ago that “human resource development and human performance (HRD/HPT) professionals have assumed that the workforce of the future will be similar to the current workforce predominantly made up of 35-50-year olds” (p. 91). The 76 million Baby Boomers (born 1944 –1964) are currently between 55-75 years of age, while the 82 million GenXers (born 1965 – 1979) are currently 40-54 years old. Twenty years ago the needs of mature workers were a minority concern; today human resources (HR) professionals are facing a mature workforce bubble with little indication of how to best leverage and retain workers who have garnered a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom.

According to a 2017 publication by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or were actively looking for work in 2014. This trend is expected to increase for those 65 and older through the year 2024, but participation rates for the other age groups in the labor force are not projected to change much over that same time period. By 2024, BLS projects that the labor force will grow to approximately 164 million people comprised of about 41 million people who will be ages 55 and older, and about 13 million who are expected to be age 65 and older. These changes in workplace demographics necessitate a different approach toward solving organizational challenges by better understanding our workplace composition and devoting attention to the mature workforce as a driving force of wisdom. The following charts from the BLS (2019) highlight these workforce strains (Figures 1 and 2). In the US and around the world, healthcare standards have expanded and longevity is increasing. Employees have an increased ability to participate in the workforce much longer than it was expected even two decades ago. Additionally, increases in general communication connectivity, flexible work time, and virtual workplaces provide additional incentives for employees to work across many different conditions of health, lifestyle and location.

Figure 1.

Labor force participation by age

Figure 2.

Projected growth in labor force by age


These incentives are not only a benefit to the employee, but also to employers as they are able to retain their mature workers longer and not risk losing their collective knowledge and wisdom. Mature employees also remain in the workforce longer due to their need to continue financially supporting their adult children and/or offset financial losses from the economic crash of 2008. Sewdas et al. (2017) conducted a qualitative study to explore the motives retirees at the age of 65 or above returned to work and/or were self-employed. Jiri (2016) summarized these reasons in several domains: purpose in life, financial benefit, health, social influence, skills and knowledge (such as learning new skills or passing down their abilities), and work characteristics (such as working from home or working part-time). All of these reasons combined lead to more generations being required to work together in a single workforce.

This chapter delves into the ever changing dynamics of the 21st century workforce and provides avenues and suggestions for managing unique workforce dynamics. Five interlinked topics are covered to provide insight toward an overall goal of facilitating workforce wisdom in a global workforce:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Labor Force: The collective population of individuals who currently work or are able to work.

21st Century Skills: Core competencies including skills such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that educational and corporate advocates believe schools should teach to help students thrive in today's technologically advanced world.

Wisdom: A uniquely human quality demonstrated through an ability to apply introspection, experience, and sound judgment in conjunction with available data, information, and knowledge to create a course of action leading to beneficial and productive decisions for both individuals and society.

Workforce Development: An economic development strategy that focuses on the collaborative efforts of corporate, community, government, and educational entities to help effectively train and prepare current and future skillful employees through practical approaches.

Unlearning: The process of confronting contradiction to understanding previously accepted data, information, and knowledge to objectively assess and utilize alternative mental models or paradigms.

Knowledge Economy: Uses knowledge-centered business models and practices to create products and services for consumers.

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