UMN report examines how to keep Minnesota’s aging workforce employed

After holding public forums across Minnesota, the Courageous Conversations Project released recommendations this month.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

by Michael McGough

Minnesota’s aging workforce poses threats to employment in the state, according to a report published this month by Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The report focuses on the issues caused by the state’s aging workforce and provides recommendations for employers and local governments to keep older workers employed. The Courageous Conversations Project developed the report after holding public forums in five cities and towns across Minnesota over the course of 18 months. 

“Minnesota’s workforce is reaching a crisis point. Aging workers of the baby boomer generation are retiring in great numbers, and young people and new immigrants are not able to fill the workforce need,” the report says. 

To learn how to address the issue, members of the project spoke with employees, employers and community leaders across Minnesota. 

“What was new and different about what we were doing is we were traveling around the state, smashing the walls that had siloed conversations previously,” said Larry Jacobs, a professor in the Humphrey School and a project lead for Courageous Conversations.

These conversations informed the recommendations in the final report, Jacobs said.

The report includes several recommendations to support older workers, such as allowing them to engage with personal commitments, providing them with more training and updating human resources practices to recruit them more effectively. 

The project assembled a citizens commission of legislators, experts, business leaders and community advocates who traveled to the five project locations.

The recommendations were based on conversations the members of the citizens commission heard at the town hall meetings, feedback they received from their organizations and discussions they had, Jacobs said. 

Kate Cimino, the assistant director of the Humphrey School’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance and a project lead for Courageous Conversations, said the goal was to make systemic recommendations. 

“We decided to make this event series about the organizations, structures, systems,” Cimino said.

Rather than delivering the report to lawmakers after its completion, Courageous Conversations involved them in its process.

“The way this is usually done is you will have a study, and then it is brought to the Capitol and there’s a press conference. Frankly, few people listen to it. Our approach was to include the lawmakers in the studying, and I think it had an impact,” Jacobs said.

Distributing the report is an ongoing process, said Rajean Moone, citizens commission member and executive director of the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging.

“The citizens commission now has committed to meeting again to digest the report and figure out a lot of the next steps related to dissemination,” Moone said.

The team is condensing the full report into a one-page-long document that will serve as a “targeted version” of the report by making the recommendations and data more accessible to employers and lawmakers, Cimino said.

The project’s participants expressed optimism for its next phase.

“We think it’s important to think about the aging demographic shift as an opportunity to support Minnesota’s economic vitality and communities,” Moone said.