Is Phased Retirement the Answer to Mentoring Challenges?

By 2017, over one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible to collect end-of-career benefits. A new “phased retirement” plan is aimed at closing the looming skills gap—and it could be an option for associations facing similar challenges.

It’s not exactly breaking news that the federal government, like so many other employers, is facing a potential staffing crisis because of its aging workforce. But how the Obama administration is tackling that problem could offer some lessons for associations.

Over the summer, President Obama and the Office of Personnel Management introduced a new program that will allow federal workers who reach the eligible retirement age to go through a phased retirement. Under the plan, federal employees could continue to work part-time while receiving partial annuities and continuing to pay toward their benefits. The payoff for their employer agencies? Those workers would be required to spend at least 20 percent of their part-time employment mentoring their replacements.

The program is aimed at easing the burden of a potential skills gap caused by the coming wave of retirement-eligible federal employees. By 2017 more than one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible to call it quits, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

Similar phased retirement programs could have a place in the association space as well.

“Phased retirement programs can provide associations, and companies within their industry, with the resources to develop and execute educational programs for new workers, on-the-job training programs, and mentoring programs to ensure proper knowledge transfer,” said Christine Smith, president of career development firm Boxwood Technology, Inc. “In addition, they can help ensure that the industry has a pipeline of skilled workers to help close an existing or pending skills gap in an industry.”

Smith, coauthor of A+ Solution, How America’s Professional Societies and Trade Associations Can Solve the Nation’s Workforce Skills Crisis, acknowledged that the push for mentoring programs has been gaining urgency over the past couple of years. But associations struggle with managing these programs, she said.

“One element they struggle with is the mentor-mentee matching process,” Smith said. To help with that, associations can “consider automating the matching process to relieve staff from that time-consuming task. Then it goes beyond just matching the mentor and mentee—the association needs to do some work to help ensure it is going to be a meaningful experience.”

One way to make a mentoring program meaningful is to involve veteran members in the development of the content, Smith said. “These programs are highly valued by members, so initiating them could help drive member satisfaction and increase buy-in across the board. Then, once developed, place the best practices for your mentors online so that they can reference it and review it prior to engaging with a new mentee.”

Whether it’s through the phased retirement approach or another method, having a mentoring program in place will be critical in the coming years as baby boomers leave the workforce, said Smith.

“If associations don’t want to get left behind in their educational and professional development roles, they need to start being more aggressive inserting themselves into the national dialogue of how to close the skills gap,” she said.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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