A major demographic shift is almost upon us. Companies are facing a demand-supply impasse that is virtually locked-in for the next 40-50 years, and HR professionals must hold the key.

While it’s true that unemployment levels in many countries remain at historical highs, the issue facing HR is an increasingly critical talent shortage: a shortage of those individuals who bring specific knowledge and skills to an organization, and who make an immediate, lasting impact.

Population growth in many major, developed economies is well below replacement rates and has decreased significantly since the 1970s. This means there will be fewer people of traditional working age, relative to the total population. Unfortunately, many of the countries with fast- growing populations do not have the educational infrastructure to develop enough skilled labor to meet the shortfall in industrialized countries. This results in a paradox: high unemployment despite the global shortage of talent.

To be clear: we don’t have a people shortage, we have a talent shortage.

The trend is marked and becoming more acute. There is a limited global pool of skilled labor at a time when workplaces are demanding higher and more specific levels of skill and knowledge. The new operating reality for human resources professionals is that they will need to keep recruiting irrespective of short-term cycles. The best-educated and skilled technical and professional employees will be in greater demand, harder to find, and command a premium.