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New report explores challenges of Minnesota’s aging workforce

The Courageous Conversations Project, sponsored by the U of M's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, makes recommendations for recruiting and retaining older workers.

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The Courageous Conversations Citizen Commission tours Digi-Key in Thief River Falls in 2018.
BRUCE SILCOX

A new report from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs offers recommendations on how communities and employers can address the state’s workforce needs in response to high retirement rates and fewer new workers.

The school's Courageous Conversations Project conducted public forums in communities across the state over the past two years, exploring the challenges of Minnesota's aging workforce. The resulting report from the citizens council overseeing the project recommends:

  • offering more flexible employment options for older workers (part time, job sharing, working from home);

  • providing more job training and retraining;

  • improving communication with older workers to respond to their priorities more effectively;

  • refining hiring practices to more effectively recruit older workers;

  • identifying jobs that are a good fit for their skills and lifestyles;

  • acknowledging regional differences in the workforce needs.

The final report and recommendations were discussed at a public forum Sept. 23 at the Humphrey School, featuring New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Friedman traveled to towns in Minnesota and around the country to explore why some are prospering, while others are losing population and jobs.
Many baby boomers are staying on the job longer and delaying retirement, but may also want to cut back from a full-time work schedule so they can help with family obligations or volunteer in their communities. “It’s time for a shift in the narrative around older adults,” the report says, “particularly related to paid employment and engagement in the workforce.”

The public forums in Austin, Chisholm, Marshall, Minneapolis and Thief River Falls featured business and community leaders in each location, and were moderated by Gary Eichten, retired MPR News host.

These conversations reinforced the economic diversity of Minnesota’s urban and rural areas, and made clear there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the challenges of the aging workforce. Businesses and communities must work together to develop flexible strategies attuned to each region’s economy and demographics, the report concludes.

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