Responding to Today's Work Force: Attracting, Retaining and Developing the New Generation of Workers

By McVey, Catherine C.; McVey, Randolph T. | Corrections Today, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Responding to Today's Work Force: Attracting, Retaining and Developing the New Generation of Workers


McVey, Catherine C., McVey, Randolph T., Corrections Today


Just like the "graying" of the nation's inmate population, the criminal justice work force is also "graying." This phenomenon spans the entire country; it is the product of the baby-boomer generation reaching the age of retirement. (1) The issue of how to replace a large portion of the correctional work force during the next several years has become a common concern for many agencies. The loss of many of the most experienced, seasoned employees in a relatively short period of time not only has resulted in agencies scrambling for replacements, it has caused executives to acknowledge that the current workforce has not been adequately developed to assume roles of increased responsibility and leadership within the agencies. (2)

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As reported by Marcus Glasper, (3) organizations will respond to this situation by: "scurrying to establish aggressive recruiting and succession planning programs to develop their leaders. Rather than relying upon the natural and self-sustaining growth cycle of an organization, we must now compensate for the years of recession, crisis management and reduced hiring rates."

National statistics related to the aging and the anticipated retirements of the current work force show that the labor force will continue to age during the next several years. In fact, by 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the baby-boom cohort will be 48 to 66 years old.

Additionally, the average retirement age of today's work force has steadily declined and can be attributed largely to a rise in the labor force participation rate of older men and women between the mid-1980s and 2000, according to Murray Gendell in the October 2001 issue of Monthly Labor Review. In other words, many workers leave the labor force, but continue to work at another job while collecting retirement benefits. So while the work force continues to age, the age of retirement continues to decline. The impact of these trends is especially significant for the criminal justice work force. According to the U.S. Department of Labor report titled Protective Service Occupations: Correctional Officers, employee retirement is one factor contributing to the need for replacing police officers, correctional officers, and probation and parole officers. In fact, job opportunities are expected to be excellent for these occupations, although the report also notes that "in the past, some local and state corrections agencies have experienced difficulty in attracting and keeping qualified applicants, largely due to relatively low salaries and the concentration of jobs in rural locations." The aging work force and the declining retirement age are exacerbated by these other factors.

Awareness of the significant number of pending retirements in many correctional agencies resulted in Corrections Today dedicating its August 2004 edition to the topic of the correctional work force and the issues surrounding it. Some states have initiated work force surveys to assess the magnitude of the anticipated retirements and the impact these retirements will have on the agencies. Some agencies are taking steps proactively to address the estimated work force losses. (4) Other states are using this form of "reduction in force" as an opportunity to re-examine their organizational structures and to develop streamlined operations that are leaner on staff, but more efficient in workflow, more automation dependent and more systems oriented.

For agencies that are experiencing significant work force retirements, now may be the time to consider new ways of doing business, through intra- and interagency reorganization that will streamline various business practices, create economies of scale and eliminate intra- and interagency duplication of work.

A Company's Most Valuable Resource

As both the public and private employment sectors are faced with unprecedented retirements, staff must be recognized as the valued resource that they are. …

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