"If demography is destiny then the British are roaring forward" starts a recent article in The Economist about changing demography in Europe. The article includes some very interesting facts, figures and trends about UK population, current and projected, but I think more importantly it points out some of the challenges of using demographic projections in anything, including in strategic workforce planning:

But demographic predictions are notoriously unreliable. In the 1940s one projection failed to predict the post-war baby boom and showed just 35m people living in Britain by 2000. As recently as 2001 British women were having an average of 1.6 children each, a record low. Today that has risen to 1.9, a number not seen for a quarter of a century, for reasons that are still unclear (although immigration plays a part). That much of Eurostat’s predicted boom comes from immigration makes it even wobblier, since migration flows depend heavily on economic circumstances, as well as on fickle changes in politics and migration law.

Sometimes people use reasons like this as excuses to not include the impacts of demography on their future workforce, but when you consider some of the significant changes forecast by the article (aging, immigration, environmental impact, economic benefits, increased outward migration, overcrowding, etc, etc), it is clear that to ignore these major social trends is perilous for a country, just as it is perilous for an employer. The lesson to be learned from the warning, is not that you should ignore foreast demographic change, but rather that you should monitor the forecasts regularly - as part of the environment scanning so critical to workforce planning!