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Impact of retirements on state agency rehabilitation personnel, 1987-1992.

Impact of Retirements on State Agency Rehabilitation Personnel 1987-1999

The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of retirements on. (a) professional and (b) support staff in the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services. Results indicate a large number of retirements in professional categories, particularly in leadership and senior level positions between 1987-1999. Attrition through retirement will not be as great in the support personnel category but is compounded by high incidence turnover in specific geographical areas where staff are typically more difficult to recruit.

The state/federal system of vocational rehabilitation grew dramatically during the period 1960-1975, both in program development and in the number of personnel employed by state rehabilitation agencies. This period, often referred to as the "Golden Era" of rehabilitation (Rubin & Roessler, 1987) was characterized by a tremendous increase in the number of professional and support staff employed in state agencies. As an example, data (Sonenshine, 1987) from the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services (GDRS) indicates that in 1963 there were 268 professional employees in the Georgia agency; by 1975 there were 1,139. Concurrently there were substantial increases in number of support staff needed. As a result of the rapid growth during a short time span there is growing concern regarding the numbers who will be retiring during an equally short time frame. Estimates of as much as 50% attrition through retirement are commonly heard. If these predictions are accurate it will have serious personnel implications for the Georgia agency, and for other rehabilitation agencies throughout the country since the expansion pattern occurred in all states in the same general time period. If normal organizational development patterns continue rehabilitation agencies can be expected to lose a great deal of the leadership that has been developed over the past 30 years. Since many of the professionals employed in expansion years have now moved into leadership positions in agencies, recruitment of qualified staff to fill the positions vacated by retirement may be difficult for four reasons. The first reason is that funding for the training of new personnel, specifically oriented toward rehabilitation, has decreased since 1975. Secondly, many human services programs, i.e., mental health, addiction program, and others, grew at the same time and will be experiencing a similar retirement phenomenon, thereby reducing the personnel pool for potential transfer to rehabilitation agencies. Thirdly, the private rehabilitation sector has also grown dramatically since 1975 and is competing for the rehabilitation personnel that is being produced by college and university programs. Lastly, since all rehabilitation agencies may be experiencing similar personnel problems and competing for rehabilitation staff to fill vacancies the supply probably will not meet the demand. If these factors prove valid the retirement issue will have profound implications for rehabilitation agencies in the areas of management, program development and administration, professional personnel, recruit ment, training, and future personnel needs which are congruent with the rapidly changing state/federal rehabilitation system.

The GDRS currently employs over 1700 persons in a variety of job classifications. Existing employee records do not include military services or other applicable experience that may be used as retirement credits. As a result, it was impossible to accurately predict the number of personnel that would be retiring over the next 10-12 years or to forecast specific staffing shortages due to anticipated retirements. While the GDRS anticipated an impact on personnel needs, there were no clear indicators of what position classifications are affected, where they are, the magnitude of the problem, and what implications this has for the future. For these reasons the Georgia agency, via contract with the University of Georgia Rehabilitation Counseling Program, instigated a study to collect data that would allow projection of personnel needs during the period 1987-1999. The purpose of this study was to determine: (a) the number of retirees between 1987-1999; (b) what position classifications would be impacted the most; (c) where the positions are geographically located; and (d) demographic patterns (education, race, sex) related to retirees.


A planning meeting was held with GDRS Administrative Services staff to plan the data collection process. After securing human subjects research permission from appropriate sources, basic data (1987 records) on all GDRS position classifications were obtained from personnel records. Since these records did not include data on military services and other employment experience which could be applied toward retirement a one-page survey instrument was developed and distributed to all GDRS staff via unit managers. The survey data and personnel records data were then merged for analysis purposes using a D-Base III + format. For management purposes the study was divided into two components: (a) Professional, which included all staff from rehabilitation counselor to top level management, pay grade 28 and above. and (b) Support, including clerical, training instructors, technicians, housekeeping, and all others. The results of the study will be presented by these categories, professional and support staff.

Results - Professional Staff

Of the 779 positions considered professional, surveys were received from 624 (80.1%). Surveys were not received from 142 persons (18.2%) and 13 positions (1.7%) were vacant at the time of the survey. The critical question on the survey was, "What is your anticipated retirement date?" For this question, 227 subjects did not provide a retirement date.

Number of Retirees

Of the 624 respondents, 190 plan to retire between 1987 and 1999. An additional 59 professionals indicated retirement between 2000 and 2005. Since a large number (n=227) did not specify a retirement date, this group was further analyzed using the variables of age and years of service. Using 62 to 65 as typical retirement ages and 34 years of service as standards for retirement, 42 of the 227 would be eligible for retirement between 1987-1999. Another 75 indicated that they did not plan on working with GDRS until retirement. Cumulatively (190 + 42 + 75) 49% of those responding are possible attritions between 1987-1999. Adding those who plan to retire between 2000-2005 raises the number to 366 (58%) of those responding. For those definitely retiring the data were sorted by increments of years to provide a sense of retirement flow with the following results: 1987-1999 (n=50); 1991-1994 (n=47); 1995-1997 (n=53); 1998-1999 (n=40).

Impact on Position Classifications

1. GDRS Field Services Section

Of the 190 projected retirements between 1987 to 1999, 108 will be in Field Services. Particularly hard hit will be the administrative staff of district rehabilitation offices. Between 1987 and 1999, seven of eight district directors, seven of eight assistant district directors, thirteen casework supervisors, and two services supervisors are retiring (one district director and one assistant district director did not provide retirement dates, however using age and years of service, it is probable that both will retire by 1999). Equally hard hit will be the senior rehabilitation counselor classification with 70 retirements at the following rates: 1987-1990 (n=24); 1991-1994 (n=25); and 1995-1999 (n=21). 2. State Office Personnel

Administrative and programmatic staff at the State office level will be impacted with 21 retirements, i.e., 1987-1990 (n=6); 1991-1994 (n=5); and 1995-1999 (n=10). Section directors (4 of 5) and program coordinators (n=5) will be the position classifications hardest hit by retirements. 3. Disability Adjudication Section (DAS)

DAS expects 21 retirements between 1987 and 1999. Senior disability adjudicators (n=11), quality assurance specialists (n=4) and physicians (n=4) will be the major positions impacted by retirements. 4. Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation (RWSIR) RWSIR anticipates 28 retirements between 1987-1999. Orthotists/prosthetists (n=4), nursing supervisors (n=4), and rehabilitation services supervisors (n=8) will be the major position categories impacted by retirements.

Geographical Location of Retirees

Locator codes were utilized to pinpoint specific geographical locations of retirements. No particular pattern (urban - rural) emerged for retirements. It is apparent that five of eight districts will be greatly impacted: north (n=19), central (n=19), west metro (n=18), west (n=17), and southeast (n=14). Personnel in the state office (n=21) and Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute (n=28) will also be hard hit.

Demographic Data


Of the retirees, 143 (75%) are male and 47 (25%) are female. These data are reflective of the tendency between 1963 and 1973 to hire males; however, this trend changed and it is estimated that since 1975, almost 65% of the new employees have been females.


Of the 190 retirees, 185 are white and five (5) are black data which, again, are indicative of hiring tendencies during 1963-1973.


The survey posed two questions about education level: "What was your education when you began work with GDRS?" and "What is your current education level?" Of the 183 retirees responding to these questions, 94 (51%) had earned a higher academic degree while employed by GDRS. Most degree changes were from a bachelors degree in a variety of fields to a masters in Rehabilitation Counseling; the other dominant degree changes were related to management, i.e., certified public manager.

Results - Support Staff

The support staff portion of this study was completed almost exactly one year after the professional portion even though the survey data were collected at the same time. Of the 883 positions in pay grades 27 or below which were designated as support staff, surveys were received from 536 (61%). Surveys were not received from 347 persons (39%). Of these surveys returned 13 were missing social security numbers and could not be matched with the personnel data and were not used. Another 35 persons returned surveys but were not on the current personnel list (1988). Evidently these 35 people had terminated employment between the survey conducted in 1987 and the 1988 personnel list.

Number of Retirees

Of the 488 usable responses, 129 persons (26%) plan retirement between 1987-1999. An additional 65 employees plan to retire between 2000-2005. Since a large number (n=347) did not respond, this group was analyzed using the variables "years of service" and "age." Using age 65 as typical retirement age and 34 years of service (includes other creditable service toward retirement) as retirement standards, only 13 additional persons would be eligible for retirement between 1987-1999 bring the total to 142. However, this statistic may be misleading. For example, of the 35 employees who submitted surveys but were not included on the current GDRS personnel list, 23 (66%) planned on working with GDRS until retirement. Retirees fell into the following projected time frames of retirement: 1987-1990 (n=27); 1991-1995 (n=53); and 1996-1999 (n=49).

Impact on Position Classifications

The position classifications impacted most by retirement are: secretarial (administrative, principal, senior), n=65; human service technician senior, n=13; housekeeper, n=11; clerk (senior, clerk/transcriber, accounting clerks and technicians), n=13; and training instructor, n=5. These position classes account for 83% of all projected retirees. The first three classifications alone account for 69% of the retirements.

Geographical Location of Projected Retirees

The Disability Adjudication Section (DAS) with 14 retirements, Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute with 54 retirements, and Field Services district offices with 57 retirements in the 1987-1999 time frame account for 125 of the 129 retirements (97%). Other sections of GDRS are minimally effected.

Demographic Data


Of the 129 definite retirees, 24 (18.6%) are male and 105 (81.4%) are female.


Of the 129 definite retirees, 109 (84.5%) are white and 20 (15.5%) are black.


Of the projected retirees, 103 (80%) have the same educational level as when they became employed with GDRS. The predominant educational level was high school with only 14 persons (1%) completing as much as an associate college degree since employment with GDRS. About 20% of the retirees had attended college, business schools, or certification workshops as a vehicle for upgrading their education level.


Professional Staff

The good news is that the retirements will be spread out over a number of years, thereby reducing potential for negative impact. There would also seem to be ample time for planned change, i.e., re-deployment of staff, identification of new position classifications and requirements needed, as well as new office, facility, and district configurations needed. Conversely, the results can be viewed negatively. When the retirements of experienced, well-trained staff in leadership positions occur, a gap in expertise will be certain to follow. Identifying, recruiting and developing replacements will tax the organization in time, person-hours, and fiscal resources.

In summary, the results may be viewed as an opportunity to refocus and redirect resources and energies and to implement changes. However, it is clear that enduring and meaningful change must be planned beginning now. This is critical because this same problem will likely exist in all state/federal programs and competition for experienced, trained staff (who will be in short supply) is anticipated to become increasingly fierce.

Support Staff

It is apparent that the turnover rates will be lower for support personnel than found among professional staff, based entirely on survey results. This should be viewed cautiously however. Traditionally the attrition rate is higher for lower classifications of employees. Of concern is the apparent clustering of employees who plan retirement around three primary position classes, secretarial, human service technicians, and housekeeping. These are some of the hardest position categories in which to recruit personnel. Another "clustering" is seen in the geographical locations impacted, i.e., Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute and the Field Services offices of GDRS. The opportunities will be available for more automation and technology utilization. However about 80% of the projected retirees have a high school education or less. This suggests that GDRS will have to (a) recruit better educated staff, or (b) provide a great deal of in-service training.

While this study reflects only on the retirement issues in one state rehabilitation agency, it is probable that similar results will be found in other state/federal programs for the reasons cited earlier. The preliminary results of this study were shared with state rehabilitation agency directors in mid-1988. Responses received validate that this phenomena is also a concern on a national scale.

JACK CRISLER is a professor in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at the University of Georgia where he has been on the faculty for 20 years. He has authored numerous publications in the area of rehabilitation. Currently he is assigned full time to a contractual agreement between the University of Georgia, the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services and the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Brabham, Robert E.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Delayed recovery: Taking another look.
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