“The silver tsunami is coming.” This ominous refrain has echoed throughout the media and at industry conferences over the past few years. The term itself sounds overwhelming and unsurmountable;  a massive wave of experienced employees aging out of the workforce in the next 5 years.

We’re all bracing for impact; however, the reality is less terrifying. While it’s true that this year alone, 25% of the U.S. population will be 55 years and older, labor statistics tell us an unexpected story about the impact of this demographic shift. According to a  report released last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the participation rate for workers aged 65 to 74 will grow to 30.2% in 2026—a 73% increase since 1996 when only 17.5% percent of workers aged 65-74 participated in the labor force.

Another surprise? This aging workforce represents those most adaptable to new technology.

Baby Boomer Workforce Participation Rates and Projections by 2026

Into the silver tsunami

While we all take a collective breath, let’s examine the true implications of the so-called silver tsunami for title companies. In an industry dominated by industry veterans, the unpredictability surrounding retirement is daunting. While some baby boomers will work for another decade or more, others will inevitably retire, and with them take a wealth of knowledge and unparalleled industry insights.

With this in mind, the question moves from “how will we survive a mass exodus?” to “how can we cater to these valuable, experienced employees while also priming the next generation of title professionals?” It’s a complicated equation and one that requires a balanced understanding of what baby boomers need to stay in the workforce and what millennials need to enter an older industry.

The millennial hiring potion

According to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the title industry will see a 4.4% increase in job opportunities between 2016 and 2026. This growth is higher than the national average for positions of the same educational level and required on-the-job training. In order to fill the growing number of open positions, the title industry must understand the needs of the millennial workforce to attract and retain new talent.

A recent Deloitte survey indicates that just 43% of millennials plan to stay with their employer for more than two years. These respondents indicated that they were more likely to stay with an employer who offered higher degrees of flexibility as well as soft skill development.

For title companies, streamlining workflows and consolidating systems onto one cloud-based platform unchains employees from their desks and gives them greater freedom to complete certain tasks and functions remotely. This technology also enables millennials to ready themselves for “Industry 4.0” a term used to describe the next industrial revolution in which automation and advanced technology will enable and challenge employees to utilize uniquely human traits such as creativity, problem-solving, communication and leadership to work alongside and complement machine activities.

More than 43% of millennials believe they do not have the skills to thrive in “Industry 4.0” and are looking for companies that will help them deepen their soft skill toolkit through mentorship and training. This is where technology can play a key role — where once employees spent hours rekeying information, emailing documents, and working within a fragmented system to complete tasks, a single cloud-based, automated system frees up time for employees to focus on building relationships and think critically about new ways to engage clients.

Technology and baby boomers, an unlikely love story

It may be tempting to hold off on deploying new technology while the baby boomer generation still claims the majority of the desk space in the title industry; however, research indicates that baby boomers are more adaptable to technology changes than we think. A CIO survey of more than 4,000 information workers found that workers over the age of 55 are less likely than their millennial coworkers to find technology in the workplace stressful. In fact, just 25% of baby boomers found tech stressful compared to 36% of millennials. Additionally, only 13% of baby boomers said working with multiple devices was challenging compared to 37% of millennials.

Arley Nevar, an Industry Relations Representative for Qualia, says some of Qualia’s biggest cheerleaders are over the age of 60. “When I talk to people in the industry, there’s a common stereotype that the veteran employees will be resistant to technology and new workflows because it will require too much stress and a departure from the way they’ve been operating for decades,” she says, “in reality, many of these people have seen a number of changes from typewriters to computers and have adjusted from mail to fax to email to deliver files. They are much more adaptable to technology changes than we think.”

“When I talk to people in the industry, there’s a common stereotype that the veteran employees will be resistant to technology and new workflows because it will require too much stress and a departure from the way they’ve been operating for decades.” – Arley Nevar, Industry Relations Representative at Qualia

One such Qualia cheerleader spoke with Arley at a recent conference. At the age of 72, Patti Cooper of In-House Title Co. has been in the title industry for decades. “There is a bit of a learning curve with a different system, but we figured it out… I just remember the very first days when I signed in [to Qualia], and it was like the ease of this,” she said, “Before, there were just too many steps and too many places you had to jump around. It was hard, and there weren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, so you were at the office until 7 or 8 at night doing the same amount of work.”  

As baby boomers like Patti decide whether to remain in the workforce, lighter hours and greater flexibility may be a determining factor. According to recent surveys, many baby boomers would like their employers to help them ease into retirement with shorter work weeks. Technology facilitates this by lightening workloads through greater efficiency.

Additionally, many employees over the age of 50 are hoping to stay engaged at work and want to develop new skills. According to a Harvard Business Review study, almost 60% of people over the age of 45 said they were actively investing in learning new skills at work. As work becomes less manual through software advancements, employees will have more time to expand and advance their core competencies and learn new skills. Tenured employees like Patti can also help fill the soft skill gap millennials crave. Through decades of experience, more experienced employees can mentor and coach newer employees through the complicated aspects of title closings and the nuances of relationship building in the real estate industry.

Percent of baby boomers and millennials who find new technology in the workplace stressful

What now? Riding the silver wave

As the title industry enters a hybrid stage of millennials and baby boomers working side-by-side, it’s clear that skill development and flexibility are key to attracting and retaining happy employees from both generations. I sat down with Vanessa Lyall, Qualia’s Director of People, to discuss tangible ways title companies can revamp their workplace benefits to cater to all age demographics. Our discussion resulted in four key themes.

1. Establish mentorship and development programs

More formalized mentorship programs are a simple way to bridge the divide between more experienced employees and their less experienced colleagues while providing value to both. “People of the baby boomer generation enjoy the concept of passing the torch to people coming into the industry,” Vanessa said,  “these mentorship programs are also beneficial for people coming into the industry to feel more empowered through a direct example.”

2. Examine the needs of the entire demographic when revamping benefits

When exploring specialized benefits, Vanessa advises title & escrow companies to consider the needs of every employee. “For the baby boomer generation who may be retiring later, a company might explore the option of increasing life insurance benefits or offering more aggressive retirement plan benefits. While for the millennial workforce who may be starting families later, fertility benefits could be a draw,” she said.

Vanessa also encourages title & escrow companies to explore commonalities between baby boomers and millennials to discover benefits that cater to both. For example, a learning and development stipend would appeal to those coming into the industry as well as baby boomers who are looking to continue their skill development.

3. Create flexible work environments 

Technology allows people to create and foster relationships without being in the same physical location. “As we evolve as a workforce, we can leverage communication resources such as video conferencing to maintain a personal touch while still allowing employees to work from multiple locations,” Vanessa said.

With cloud-based technology, title & escrow professionals can also do work that previously chained them to their desks from the comfort of wherever they want to be. “Cloud-based software opens up a new world for both millennials and baby boomers and allows flexibility that generations before us didn’t have,” Vanessa noted.

4. Create opportunities for more informal knowledge sharing

In addition to formal mentorship programs, title & escrow companies should consider more casual avenues for knowledge sharing. For example, hosting monthly lunch-and-learn meetings for more tenured employees to share stories about the evolution of the title industry and novice employees to share their views and misperceptions of the title industry before they entered the industry.