West Virginia state government could lose up to a third of its employees in the next five years as its work force reaches retirement age, according to a legislative audit report recently released. It's part of the overall graying of the work force, where people of the Baby Boom generation - people born between 1946 and 1964 - will be retiring in large numbers soon.
The wave of retirements could come as several state agencies have dozens of unfilled positions. According to The Associated Press, groups that advocate for public employees have cited vacancy figures for much of the year, while pushing for better pay and working conditions.
By coincidence, West Virginia's high schools, vocational schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities will graduate thousands of people in the next five years. The question is how aggressively state government will seek out the most promising graduates and whether it will be able to compete with private industry for them.
Last year, the state Department of Administration conducted job fairs in several locations to attract jobseekers. The state was particularly interested in people with training in fields experiencing shortages of workers, such as engineers, nurses, correctional officers and counselors, law enforcement, architects and accountants.
The common wisdom is that jobs do not exist in West Virginia. The truth is that jobs do exist. The question is whether people receive the training that is needed for those jobs and whether the pay for those jobs is equal to or better than the pay for similar jobs in neighboring states.
Certainly the state will need to ramp up its recruitment efforts in the coming years if it expects to replace the experienced workers it will lose to retirement. At the same time, it will have to ask if its salary structure is competitive with those in neighboring states. School systems in the Eastern Panhandle are losing teachers to Maryland and Virginia because school districts in those states can pay more than West Virginia districts can pay.
It's a two-pronged approach - gathering information about what jobs are likely to be available and finding people willing to take those jobs. Meanwhile, state officials have five years to encourage residents to obtain the training necessary for the engineering, nursing, architectural, corrections and other jobs that will be in demand.