Expert: Labor Pool Wars Will Return

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NEW ORLEANS -- Feeling good about finding and keeping workers with the labor market firmly in favor of employers? Don't get comfortable, said James Reece, president of Atlanta-based employment firm Ranstad North America.

Reece, speaking here yesterday at the American Teleservices Association's 19th Annual Conference & Exhibition, warned that while labor markets will remain beneficial to employers in the short term, the good times will end within five years. The impending mass retirement of the baby boom generation will drive unemployment rates back below 4 percent to new 30-year lows, he predicted.

The job market for employees, particularly recent college graduates, is tight and will be for the near term, he said. Recent grads face competition not only from classmates but from laid-off professionals as well as retirees and stay-at-home parents seeking a return to the work force because of economic difficulties.

But with 75 million baby boomers preparing for retirement, the employment picture is set to change drastically, Reece said. Employers need to start thinking now about retaining workers.

"Can you imagine what it would be like with unemployment permanently below 4 percent?" he said. "It will again be a war for talent."

However, workers post-Sept. 11 are less concerned about pay and more focused on intangible benefits, such as time with family, Reece said. Pay remains important but is no longer an overriding concern.

In the call center industry, with its history of employee turnover, keeping workers happy will become even more crucial as the skills that agents require become more complex, Reece said. Losing agents who have been conditioned to work in the high-tech environment of the modern call center will be more painful because they will be tougher to replace.

Call centers need to invest more in training employees to give them the skills they need and do a better job of providing them with recognition when they provide good work, Reece said. They also must create clear career paths and opportunities for advancement to workers in order to retain top talent.

"Employees now look at loyalty as a two-way street," he said. "Employers are being asked to return loyalty."

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