It can be easy in a recession, when millions of people are out of work, to forget the need to recruit new talent. But research presented in “Winning the Global Talent Showdown” (Barrett-Koehler, 2009, $27.95) argues the the world is headed toward a workforce disaster that will outlive many economic cycles if progress is not made soon.

Global Workforce Needs a Tune-Up

By 2020, more than 70 million baby boomers will have retired, leaving 24 million jobs unfilled. Construction is not the only field that struggles; most every field in every country is competing against one another for workers. “We cannot outsource our way out of this shortage,” says author Edward E. Gordon. “Those days are over.”

Globalization is partly to blame. Money saved in the last decade by overseas outsourcing or hiring immigrants will dry up as developing nations lure their workers back home with higher wages, lower cost of living, technology and a better quality of life.

Ironically, those countries are thirstier than ever for talent, but schools in such places as China and India are not making the grade. Both countries graduate about 400,000 engineers a year, but studies show that only 25% in India and 10% in China are actually ready to work, Gordon explains.

The solution will not be easy, but it is achievable. Filling positions with skilled workers will take a multipronged approach, including tapping into workers that society traditionally ignores, such as retirees, former prisoners and disabled people, as well as developing flexible schedules for working parents. Public-private partnerships among corporations and institutions will be necessary to build tomorrow’s workforce. Gordon provides a compelling road map for the future, if anyone cares enough to listen.