Skip to Content
Phil Jarvis

The Perfect Storm: 4 workforce megatrends you need to know about


Like Hurricane Sandy that recently devastated the east coast, massive weather systems occasionally converge in extraordinary ways to create a "perfect storm".


Four labor force megatrends are now converging to create a perfect storm that will impact employment prospects for years to come. These megatrends are:

The Great Recession:

The global economy and communities across the country are weathering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression nearly a century ago. All levels of government are in record debt and trying to find a balance between budget reductions, program and service cutbacks, and economic stimulus. Recovery is slow and faltering, companies are reluctant to invest in new people and productive capacity, individuals, families and communities are vulnerable.

Shifting Demographics:

The first baby boomers turned 65 in 2012. Many have already retired and an annual tsunami of boomers will retire over the next 20 years. This mass exodus of knowledge, talent and experience across the full spectrum of industry sectors will create new opportunities for young people and new challenges for employers seeking to fill the talent voids created by the boomers’ departure. Birth rates have declined over the past 4 decades among whites who are having fewer children later. Fortunately, birth rates in African and Hispanic American communities have not declined proportionately. Unlike some other OECD countries, America will have a steady supply of young talent for the foreseeable future. However, these groups do not enjoy the same educational and employment success rates as whites. This must change if American businesses are to have the skilled talent they need.

Upskilling of Jobs:

Accelerating technological advances have rendered many jobs obsolete, enabled robots to replace people in others, raised skill requirements in all sectors, and produce new jobs every month. More formal education, technical training, and "soft skills" are now demanded of workers in all jobs, especially in new and emerging fields fuelled by technological innovation. Employers need people who can problem-solve and innovate, communicate and collaborate effectively with others of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, have a thirst for learning, and are responsible and dependable, and are committed to their employer’s success. It is estimated that close to 80% of all jobs in two decades will require postsecondary education or training for entry level positions, often with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Despite high unemployment and underemployment, particularly among youth, employers in all industry sectors are reporting challenges finding the talent they need to fill “mission-critical” positions. We are entering an era in which increasing numbers of people without jobs will co-exist with an even larger and growing number of jobs without people. This should create a “buyers market” for job seekers. Unfortunately, most of the jobs without people don’t want the people without jobs. Employers need 21st century skills most unemployed people don’t possess. Many job-seekers will have to “upskill” to qualify for the jobs looking for people.

The economic consequences of unemployment and underemployment are staggering. Lost productivity and reduced competitiveness impact employers. Lost tax revenues, social assistance, corrections, stress-induced health costs alone run into $billions annually for all levels of government. The human consequences are higher. With the coming perfect storm, helping as many citizens as possible connect with fulfilling, family-sustaining 21st century careers has become an economic imperative. The most effective way for governments to reduce deficits and debt, and for companies to increase productivity and grow, is by getting the right people in the right jobs, fully engaged in creating economic prosperity for their companies and communities.

On the upside, this may be the best period in history to be imagining and preparing for a career, or a career transition. In our increasingly “flat world,” more career options are available than ever. Moreover, one can now work for any organization in the world, and vice versa. Young people and adults who know themselves and understand their assets, are aware of emerging career opportunities, have a sense of direction and purpose, and have the education, skills and attitudes the 21st century workforce demands will have employers competing for their talents lifelong.

Unprepared Workforce:

In raw numbers, the biggest workforce challenge is upgrading the skills of current workers and adult job seekers. Few employers invest adequately in employee career management, training, and development. Few workers proactively invest in upgrading their skills. Unless their employer provides for skills upgrading, few workers can afford to quit work to upgrade their skills.

The majority of today’s youth exit the educational system into unemployment, underemployment, or mal-employment, often mired in student loan debt and confusion about their immediate career prospects. Too many students, even those with university degrees, begin their careers in minimum wage jobs unrelated to their studies, with little prospect of paying off their student loans let alone buying a car and home and beginning a fulfilling adult life.

Given the coming exodus of high-end talent boomers will take with them into retirement, and the increasingly inadequate supply of young talent, ensuring youth exit the educational pipeline into early career success has become an economic and social imperative.

Today’s students need higher skill levels than any cohort before them. Yet, key 21st century “essential” skills employers now insist upon are not in core curriculum in most secondary and postsecondary programs. Many students fail to see personal relevance in traditional academic curricula, thus they are not fully engaged in their learning and are underachieving. All job sectors experiencing growth require at least some level of postsecondary education, yet of 100 students in the 9th grade today, fewer than 25 will graduate on schedule with a post-secondary degree, diploma or certificate.

The portends are clear. Many current and future workers are at risk of becoming casualties of the looming perfect storm. A new paradigm of career navigation and workforce preparation is required. Basic building blocks of this new paradigm, exemplary career and workforce development resources exist but are largely underutilized.

Consensus on "promising practices" suggests a core of 5 "foundational resources" should be in place at all levels of education. They include:

  1. Experiential career learning programs in kindergarten, primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary schools;
  2. Comprehensive cloud-based career exploration and planning systems;
  3. Electronic portfolio systems that are developed and managed by students, with support from teachers and parents, through all education levels, with portfolio completion standards set for all grade levels by school districts, and/or departments of education;
  4. Online course planning systems linked to student information systems that enable students, teachers and parents to collaborate in selecting individual learning pathway plans for all students based on their career goals and plans; and
  5. Online networking systems that safely and strategically connect students and adult job seekers to employers seeking immediate and future talent. These connections can result in immediate hires, as well as mentoring, coaching, work experience, job shadowing, co-op placements, volunteerism and community service, and part-time job opportunities that allow both employers and students to "test the fit" over time before committing to each other.

Career Cruising’s ccEngage suite includes all 5 of these career and workforce development resources. To learn more click on ccEngage in the menu at the top of the screen.

Entire communities need to mobilize in support of these foundational career and workforce development resources, including:

  • all teachers, counselors and administrators in all primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary schools, including public and private universities, colleges, vocational, technical and trade schools
  • parents and family members
  • employer and industry organizations
  • community agencies, like United Way and Junior Achievement, that support workforce and human capital development

Without “whole-community” buy-in, use of even the best resources is fragmented and their benefits less than optimal. Career Cruising is committed to partnering with educational, business, and community leaders to implement a whole-community approach to career and workforce development to assure prosperity for individuals, families, businesses, and communities despite the perfect storm.

Phil Jarvis
Director of Global Partnerships

A Perfect Storm PowerPoint can be downloaded here: Perfect Storm PDF
The Perfect Storm – ccEngage Rationale can be downloaded here: Perfect Storm Rationale

Skip to Top