What will the future workforce look like and what challenges will the changing workforce present? Below, we share our predictions about the implications of changing demographics for employers.

Our (somewhat informed) crystal ball says the future workforce will be:

A Majority-Minority Workforce

According to the U.S. Census Bureau National Population Projections, the U.S. population will be “majority-minority” by 2044, meaning non-whites will outnumber whites. By 2060, the population is projected to be 26% Hispanic and 18% Black. Even if these numbers are off by several percentage points, or the transition point is off by 2 or 3 years, the impact of birth rates and other trends will eventually make this transition a reality. If you need proof, consider that the population of U.S. children under 5 years old is majority-minority today. That may prove true for the under 18 population by 2020.

The translation of the general population trends to the workforce will not be exact, given historical differences in unemployment rates, education, and other factors, but the Bureau Of Labor Statistics (BLS) has it tracking fairly close. In its estimation, the workplace will be close to 50% minority by 2050.

The logical result of this seemingly inevitable trend is this: today, many companies pursue racial and ethnic diversity as an important means for improving decision-making, attracting customers, and promoting the social good. In the future, recruiting and retaining people of color may be the only way to stay in business.

A Multigenerational Workforce

Much has been made of the departure from the workforce of the massive “baby boomer” generation in the coming decade. Right now, the workforce seems to be getting younger, which generates understandable angst about how to employ Millennials, the Gen-Y, and (yes) the Gen-Z workers. However, the median age of the U.S. population will actually increase over time, fueled both by lower birth rates since the baby boom and the longer lifespan of the average American worker. Assuming modest growth in the number of jobs between now and 2050, there will be an increasing shortfall in the conventional working age population (20-64).

There will also be millions of highly skilled and experienced workers who will continue to work well into their 70s. In fact, this is not a distant reality. By 2020, workers age 55 and older will account for 25% of the labor force (up from 12% in 1990). And, although people between 20 and 64 will still be the largest pool of workers even in the more distant future, the percentage over 65 will likely be greater than ever. Employers who embrace this future dichotomy will have the edge over those who worry only about the newbies.

A Workforce That Requires More Accommodations

With an aging population comes the reality that the workplace will also likely include more people with disabilities. It’s no secret that the incidence of disability increases with age — that fact alone will drive up the number of people with disabilities (PWD) among current employees.

But several other factors may have just as much of an effect on the number of PWD in the workplace . The first is that with an increasing shortfall in the conventional working age population, employers will be competing for a relatively larger pool of qualified candidates who happen to have disabilities. The unemployment rate for PWD is currently estimated at 10%, more than twice that of non-disabled persons. The percentage of PWD working part-time is nearly double that of non-disabled persons.

Even assuming that some percentage of this unemployed or underemployed population of PWD cannot work in a certain range of positions (an often erroneous assumption), there will still be a large, untapped pool of qualified candidates on the sidelines. Studies tell us that PWD are more loyal and perform at least as well as their non-disabled colleagues, so higher unemployment rates for PWD likely will not last.

The second factor is the increased incidence (and/or diagnosis) of autism-related conditions, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and various learning disabilities among children and young adults. How many families do you know without a child with one or more of these conditions? The data suggest that 1 in 68 children is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Roughly 12% of children ages 12 5 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.

In turn, public awareness of the impact of these conditions on children and their education has skyrocketed. School systems around the country are struggling to keep up with developing and implementing the Individualized Education Plans required for the educational development of this large and growing population. If we fast forward just a few years, employers should expect to see a new generation of high potential, well-educated candidates who will expect accommodations in the workplace, just as they have experienced in the classroom, in the college testing process, and elsewhere.

Employers skilled at seeing through disabilities to seize upon the remarkable abilities of PWD will be at a huge competitive advantage.

WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ABOUT THE BEST FUTURE EMPLOYERS?

If the Census Bureau and BLS have the numbers anywhere close to right, companies striving to succeed in the future need to start an intelligent redesign of the workplace now. The diversity and inclusion programs of today are a great start, but only a start. In the future, companies will be in a furious battle to win over a talent pool that looks very different than the one we have today. The winners in the competition for talent will be companies whose leaders constantly ask:

  1. What have we done lately to make our company a better place to work for people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities?
  2. What training and retraining programs will make us the employer of choice for people who may have had lesser access to higher education or who need accommodations to stay productive?
  3. How can we be flexible to accommodate talented people who need or want to work differently, whether due to age, disability, or personal preference?
  4. Are we identifying and promoting employees who have the qualities to lead the diverse workforce of the future?