ORLANDO -- Transfer agents are coping with an increasingly difficult recruiting environment these days, as evolving demographic trends have forced them to change the way they approach their service models.

Speaking at the annual Investment Company Institute Operations and Service Provider Exhibition here, a group of industry executives and human resources experts discussed this changing dynamic of the hiring process and what firms can do to build "the workforce of the future."

One trend that has received plenty of attention is the fact that many workers over the age of 50 are finding that they have to prolong their retirement dates due to fallout from the bear market or a miscalculation on their part. Some consider them the "sandwich generation" in that they are still caring for children born later in their lives as well as, perhaps, an elderly parent.

No matter what the reason for their decision to stay in the workforce, it is crucial that transfer agents address concerns of that portion of the population, according to Tom Hamblin, president of Capital Bank & Trust of Albany, N.Y. His firm conducts workshops on physical fitness and nutrition, retirement and estate planning in order to meet the needs of his company's aging employees. He noted that this demographic is typically the most loyal, with an average tenure of nine years.

Brad Cloverdyke, vice president of human resources at American Century Investments of Kansas City, Mo., noted that the recruiting process has certainly changed significantly in recent years, as firms increasingly turn to the Internet in lieu of print ads. There has also been more of a focus on corporate culture and strong benefits to attract new hires. At American Century, Cloverdyke noted that the firm targets high-school students as potential employees on the service side in an attempt to build long-term loyalty.

The median tenure for persons 25 to 30 years old is 2.9 years, according to Hamblin, so the strategy is a pre-emptive strike of sorts. Many younger workers are more flexible with their time than those who have already established themselves professionally and can accept part-time roles. It is important for employers to recognize the different characteristics of each age group so that companies can retain a happier, more productive staff, he said. It is also crucial to identify who the up-and-comers are within an organization so that a key departure would not leave a significant knowledge gap, according to Deb Andwood, division vice president of human resources at Boston Financial Data Services.

In breaking down the age demographics, Hamblin noted that the "silent generation," those born between 1925 and 1942, are the most loyal generation in the workforce because they adhere to an old-school philosophy in which job security is the highest priority. Baby Boomers, however, have more of a "fight or flight" mentality when it comes to employment decisions.

Those who fall into the Generation X category tend to be self-starters and are considered the most straightforward of the bunch. Hamblin believes that Gen X-ers make the best managers due to their directness, but sometimes lack tact in delivering their message. They are also the most likely to be a free agent, Hamblin noted. He believes that Generation X is the most likely to revert back to the ways of the silent generation because they are team players. They also happen to be the best at multi-tasking, given the technological age in which they were raised.

So what does this all mean? Well, in light of expansive regulatory changes in the works within the mutual fund industry, there is an overwhelming need for more people to handle customer interaction. In order to deliver high-quality service for investors, transfer agents must not only attract and retain talent but train newer workers as well. One way American Century is addressing the changing needs of its employees is offering paternity leaves for new fathers as part of its benefit arrangements, Cloverdyke said.

Hamblin noted that immigration has emerged as an influencing factor on the job market. Many young American workers don't want fast-food restaurant jobs, while immigrants are assuming these roles and prospering. In the fund business, it might serve transfer agents to tap the immigrant contingency as a resource.

Another emerging trend is the number of workers seeking flexible scheduling or telecommuting. This is a challenge for many firms because they must balance a head count and incentives for part-time employees. For example, a member of the panel had a situation in which a new mother and a new father each wanted a reduced role with the company in order to take care of their children. In an effort to ensure there would not be a drop-off in productivity or increased cost, the two employees worked out an arrangement in which they would share responsibilities and split the workweek while accepting reduced benefits. As for telecommuting, while it is a growing trend, Hamblin noted that the "water-cooler experience" is much more rewarding

When searching for part-timers, Cloverdyke suggested transfer agents set up shop in college towns where human capital is in abundance. Students and spouses in a two-income family often don't take advantage of healthcare benefits because they are already covered either by their parents, their school or their spouse. Cloverdyke has found this formula to be successful because college students have flexible schedules and are able to balance class, work and partying in return for some supplemental income and a good learning experience.

Overall, the panel agreed that managing different generations is all about understanding them and becoming familiar with what they're looking for. Generation X, for example, wants to know what they will take away from a particular project and how they will benefit from the experience. The panel urged attendees to engage in an ongoing dialogue with employees and instruct managers how to coach such a diverse group of talent. Hamblin emphasized one-on-one discussions in which managers ask, "How do you want to be treated?," a far departure from the old mantra of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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