3 Ways to Keep Pace as Boomers Retire

Baby-boomer retirement has changed the face of the American workforce. And as aging employees retire -- more and more of them every day -- someone needs to fill their shoes. What is your organization doing to ensure the right people are being prepared to take their place?

Friday, August 5, 2016
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It's been called an exodus. A crisis, even. A departure en masse.

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 today. Another 10,000 celebrate their birthdays tomorrow. And still another 10,000 will do so the next day. Such is the case every day until 2030, resulting in a surge of retirees, paired with a dearth of successors to take their place.

Once the lifeblood of the American workforce, boomers are leaving a legacy of long tenures and true grit that has made a permanent mark on generations to come. But as thousands hit retirement age per day, are we making sure their successors are well trained and ready? Or are we letting our most seasoned talent walk out the door with the tribal knowledge only they know?

At Oncor, this is something we've been faced with very recently. We have a rising wave of long-term employees who will likely retire in the next five years. But we've been planning for this both from a leadership development and employee development standpoint. Nearly a decade ago, we established a series of leadership programs to identify high performing and high-potential employees and have been working to nurture new leaders in key areas where retirements will happen. In our case, that's senior leaders, project and technical managers as well as regional directors/managers.

In seven years, the programs have evolved and continue to thrive as highly active ones with substantial project management, leadership development and application opportunities and mentoring components.

Here's what we've learned and how we've adapted to ensure we have the talent to fill the shoes of retiring employees.

1. Identify your needs, and create specific programming to accommodate them.

During the genesis of our planning, we knew that certain areas of the company were deeply embedded with tenured folks who'd retire within the decade or sooner. These identified areas ranged from linemen and engineers with technical expertise to regional directors whose relationship-building acumen expands across Oncor's geographic footprint in the Lone Star State. Of course we don't want to lose those folks, but they will retire at some point and we will lose the knowledge they've acquired in their 20-plus years with us.

We knew that a one-size-fits-all development program would not successfully address the needs across the business, so we created five different programs to help nurture the skills needed for different career paths. And thus was born: Vantage Point (for leadership development, project management, critical thinking/problem solving and strategy), Leadership Development Program (leadership development and project management for senior managers), Apex (for employees considering or in their first-time supervisor roles), Horizons (for technical positions, like linemen and technicians interested in leadership roles), and the Area Manager Academy (for development of customer service managers).

Each of these different programs infuses leadership training paired with role-specific, real-world shadowing and practice to ensure our next generations of employees are well-rounded and amply equipped to compete for leadership roles in the future.

2. Go beyond on-the-job skills to develop an understanding of the company and how the business operates.

We recognize the importance for developing new employees joining Oncor for the first time. Cross-training our employees on the technical and other job-related skills needed in their roles only gets us so far. We're also greatly invested in making sure they understand the ins and outs of our company -- from the business to our culture and everything in between.

To help accelerate their understanding beyond the text on our company intranet page, we've developed Oncor 101, a brand new program we're piloting this year. Designed for employees who have been at Oncor for less than five years, Oncor 101 helps the newest crop of talent understand things that textbooks and training can't teach them -- like company culture, expectations, advancement opportunities and what drives the business.

So far, reception of Oncor 101 has been promising. People are excited to get to understand the nuances of our business -- things that might otherwise take years to learn -- in a fast and friendly format, delivered by people who were in their shoes just a few years ago.

What I believe is really unique about this program and all of our leadership development programs is that they each have executive sponsors who keep the programs funded, focused and moving forward. They are built on a "leaders developing leaders" model, putting current senior and mid-level leaders in roles to share their experiences and knowledge in an interactive training forum. An oversight committee that includes leaders from the HR team, including our director of training and development and senior director of employee relations and workforce development, helps structure the topics and speakers -- ensuring things flow and are paced against a timeline that's not too compressed or too stretched for our fresh and future talent.

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3. Provide a variety of learning and development opportunities, including soft skills and networking.

All too often, emotional intelligence fundamentals are sacrificed in training programs in favor of the more meaty stuff, like strategic thinking, problem solving and job-specific skillsets.

And that's a shame, because those overlooked soft skills can make great leaders -- in a study done on workplace talent published on, 90 percent of star performers had high emotional intelligence quotients.

Future managers need to be given the resources and opportunities to sharpen their people skills and lead by example. These are things their retiring superiors learned years ago, which is why some companies take for granted the soft skill talent of their older employees.

We're trying not to follow their lead. It's why our leadership development programs all include learning and development opportunities including relationship management, communication and accountability. In addition, many of our programs use a 360-degree assessment at the start of the program to identify development goals. The assessment is completed again at the end of the program to measure progress. By dedicating special attention to those skills, we can equip future leaders with the tools they need (soft and hard) to continue their predecessor's legacies.

Of course, all of this isn't easy. Our retiring employees are in so many ways irreplaceable, and it's hard to find fresh talent as more young people postpone their own employment to further post-graduate education. But this is our new normal, and we're working to evolve with it as best as we can. I'm confident -- and I know many of my peers are too -- that with supplemental training and a nurturing eye for the next generation, we can build a well-equipped, well-trained workforce to effectively serve our customers in our expansive market.

And we can fill the shoes we once thought were unfillable . . . and maybe buy a few new pairs to boot. 

Debbie Dennis is senior vice president of HR and corporate affairs at Oncor.


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