Our Aging Workforce
What is the Aging Workforce Trend? How is Industry Impacted? Who is the Older Worker?

How is Industry Impacted?

Currently, 11.5% of King County’s total labor force is in the 55-64 age group. The graph below shows the industries in King County with the highest numbers of these workers. But another measure is important when gauging the impact of aging: the proportion of older workers within each industry.

When viewed with this lens, Education is most at risk of labor shortages. Twenty percent of workers in education—over 17,000 people as shown below—are in the 55-64 age range. And nearly half the workforce in education is over 45. That could mean a lot of jobs to fill within the next 20 years if people retire at the “traditional” retirement age.

When Education is added to Public Administration and Utilities—three industries that are dominated by government employment—the aging trend spells trouble for the public sector. (Although Public Administration and Utilities are far down the list in terms of numbers of older workers, these two industries have a high percentage of older workers: 17% and 18% respectively.) Large segments of the public sector’s workforce will reach retirement age—and many will be eligible for pensions, which will draw on government resources at a time when the number of people of workforce age is shrinking.

Manufacturing and Health Care—two industries critical to our local economy—are also facing age-related shortages. More than 15,000 workers in the manufacturing sector are between 55 and 64, making up 15% of the sector’s workforce. Health care, which is already coping with severe labor shortages, faces unique challenges: as our population ages, more health care services will be needed—but the health care workforce itself is aging and retiring. Almost 15,000 workers—14% of its workforce—are aged 55-64. That number will grow. For instance, in 2002, the average age of a registered nurse in Washington state was 47.

U.S. Census Bureau's Local Employment Dynamics data set, 2004-05 * The Utilities industry does not show up on the graph because only 922 of its employees are between 55 and 64 year olds a relatively low number compared to some other sectors.

If we look at older workers within occupations (regardless of industry sector), another pattern emerges: the potential loss of trained, educated and experienced “knowledge workers,” with few replacements.

Some jobs held by a high number of older workers (such as Office & Administrative Support and Sales) and some occupations in which a high percentage of jobs are held by older workers (such as Transportation and Building/Grounds/Cleaning/Maintenance) will probably not be as deeply affected by retiring workers. Because the educational and experience requirements are relatively low, the jobs may not be as difficult to fill.

However, Management, Education and Architecture/Engineering jobs present a real challenge. These occupations require experience and training, so the high concentration of older workers is no accident. These jobs have the lowest ratios of workers younger than 55 to workers older than 55 among skilled occupations and will be most affected by retiring workers in the next 10 years. For example, 18% of managers in King County are age 55-64. It is crucial that employers and other stakeholders recognize the importance of skill development and specialized training to prepare future managers, educators and other “knowledge workers.”

WA State Office of Financial Management, 2004 WA State Population Survey


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What is the Aging Workforce?
Who Is the Older Worker?
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