Bye-bye boomers

Mass re­tire­ments will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties, leave skills gap

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

FOR the past num­ber of years, we’ve heard whis­pers of the pend­ing re­tire­ment of the baby boom gen­er­a­tion. For some em­ploy­ers, th­ese re­tire­ments are no longer loom­ing, they are here, right now. For oth­ers, es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion, the baby boomer re­tire­ment trend can’t hap­pen soon enough. That’s be­cause many boomers are stay­ing in the work­force longer than past gen­er­a­tions and are there­fore per­ceived to be clog­ging up the avail­able ca­reer paths.

The younger gen­er­a­tion asks, “Where are the ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for those of us start­ing our ca­reers if the pro­fes­sional path­ways are blocked?” “How can a young pro­fes­sional climb the cor­po­rate lad­der when up­per-man­age­ment po­si­tions are still filled with baby boomers who refuse to re­tire?” Em­ploy­ers, on the other hand, are ask­ing how they can keep their baby boomers so cor­po­rate ex­per­tise doesn’t dis­ap­pear so quickly.

Another ques­tion that should be asked is whether or not baby boomers are re­fus­ing to re­tire and/or are they sim­ply un­able to re­tire be­cause of fi­nan­cial con­straints? Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est survey re­sults from the Cana­dian Pay­roll As­so­ci­a­tion’s (CPA) na­tional survey, baby boomers are post­pon­ing re­tire­ment as a re­sult of fi­nan­cial stress. I agree: liv­ing from pay­cheque to pay­cheque isn’t ex­actly an ex­cit­ing re­tire­ment prospect. As a re­sult, many newly re­tired pro­fes­sion­als are ea­gerly re-en­ter­ing the work world.

Still, it is not al­ways money that drives them re­turn to work. Some peo­ple have never de­vel­oped an in­ter­est­ing hobby that gives them a sense of achieve­ment in re­tire­ment. They soon find them­selves bored im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the end of golf sea­son. On the other hand, some new re­tirees are lit­er­ally hooked on the rush they achieved from their work and are soon back look­ing for more.

The re­sult is a mix of gen­er­a­tions in the work­force and the nat­u­ral hu­man-re­source-man­age­ment chal­lenges that arise. Th­ese in­clude try­ing to man­age staffing lev­els while re­duc­ing the loss of cor­po­rate knowl­edge re­tire­ment cre­ates. It means try­ing to keep young peo­ple en­thused and mo­ti­vated about their work and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Yet, we know many well-ed­u­cated po­ten­tial can­di­dates can’t find jobs in their cho­sen field. In­stead, they are of­ten found work­ing in un­der­paid, front-line ser­vice jobs and/or they are re­turn­ing to univer­sity to get a grad­u­ate de­gree think­ing ex­tra cre­den­tials will make them more com­pet­i­tive. In one sit­u­a­tion I am aware of, a master’s de­gree grad­u­ate is now en­gaged in their eighth non-paid in­tern­ship. Un­for­tu­nately, tech­nol­ogy has im­pacted their pre­ferred in­dus­try to such an ex­tent, I re­ally won­der if their ca­reer path will con­tinue to ex­ist at all.

So, what can an em­ployer do to re­solve and/or at least sur­vive the chal­leng­ing dilemma of mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions in the work­force, all with dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests, goals and ob­jec­tives, learn­ing styles and am­bi­tions? What can an em­ployer do when re­tain­ing baby-boomer ex­per­tise is crit­i­cal to cor­po­rate sur­vival?

The an­swer lies in first con­duct­ing a re­view of your hu­man-re­source de­mo­graph­ics: find out just what the range of ages is for all lev­els of staff. Iden­tify where you may be at risk of los­ing a baby boomer and there­fore im­por­tant cor­po­rate knowl­edge. De­velop a suc­ces­sion plan that in­cludes pre­par­ing in­cum­bents to move into that role. Th­ese plans can range from a few months to sev­eral years de­pend­ing on the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise in­volved. Con­duct an as­sess­ment of po­ten­tial can­di­dates for this job and put a plan in place to coach, men­tor and train the younger gen­er­a­tion to re­place your baby boomer in­cum­bent.

Next, ex­am­ine your cur­rent hu­man re­source poli­cies and prac­tices. Take on the task of cre­at­ing more flex­i­bil­ity within your sys­tem such that all of your work­ers can ben­e­fit. Think about pro­vid­ing for flex­i­ble break times, flex­i­ble start and stop times on a yearly ba­sis and/or dur­ing sea­sonal re­quire­ments, com­pressed work weeks, part-time work, work­ing at home, job shar­ing and/or telecom­mut­ing. There are just so many al­ter­na­tives to con­sider. Also, ex­am­ine your re­tire­ment pro­vi­sions and re­move the re­stric­tions for re-em­ploy­ment that might ex­ist.

On the other hand, if you are a mem­ber of that younger gen­er­a­tion who is feel­ing trapped and stymied in your cho­sen ca­reer field, know there are some things you can do. But no mat­ter what, pa­tience is still a virtue.

Whether you are cur­rently in an un­re­lated job and/or stuck at the bot­tom of a ca­reer lad­der, know most jobs are still at­tained through the in­for­mal “who you know” net­work, so your first and most im­por­tant job is to get busy and get known. This means join­ing a pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion and get­ting in­volved. Vol­un­teer to write for the as­so­ci­a­tion news­let­ter and get your name in print. Vol­un­teer to as­sist at the an­nual con­fer­ence by do­ing the in­tro­duc­tions and thank-you du­ties for guest speak­ers. Once you are a mem­ber of an as­so­ci­a­tion, reach out to var­i­ous mem­bers and ask for ca­reer ad­vice. Ask how your con­tact got to where they are in their ca­reer? What sug­ges­tions can they give you?

Per­haps you can’t af­ford the fees for a pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion. If that’s the case, then look at vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where. Ev­ery not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion is seek­ing tech­ni­cal skills of some sort or other. Iden­tify a role where you can gain real-life ex­pe­ri­ence that can then be lever­aged to get the job you want. At the same time, you will be meet­ing sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als who can also help you build a net­work that will in turn lead to a job op­por­tu­nity.

If you are al­ready in your cho­sen field but not in the job you want, then ag­gres­sively build your net­work in­ter­nally. Vol­un­teer for spe­cial work projects, vol­un­teer for em­ployee-en­gage­ment ac­tiv­i­ties such as the an­nual bar­beque and make an ef­fort to de­lib­er­ately meet peo­ple from other de­part­ments. Learn as much about your or­ga­ni­za­tion as pos­si­ble. Ex­am­ine the ca­reer paths of suc­cess­ful peo­ple in your in­dus­try and de­ter­mine if th­ese are sim­i­lar steps you can take. De­velop a ca­reer plan for your­self.

Keep track of all your work-re­lated and vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ences. Iden­tify the skills you used and ask your­self what you liked, didn’t like and what they could mean for your ca­reer. Cre­ate a case study for each ac­com­plish­ment. Iden­tify the chal­lenge or prob­lem you tack­led, doc­u­ment what ac­tiv­i­ties you un­der­took and de­scribe the re­sults. This not only helps give you a sense of pride and a sense of ac­com­plish­ment, it cre­ates a sense of self-con­fi­dence and it demon­strates to a po­ten­tial em­ployer just what you can do.

What­ever you do, main­tain a strong pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. Com­plain­ing about your sit­u­a­tion will only make it worse. Find your­self a men­tor who can coach you as you go for­ward. Sign up for in­ter­nal ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and be­friend oth­ers who are at­tend­ing.

No mat­ter whether you agree or dis­agree the younger gen­er­a­tion is be­ing “crowded out” by lin­ger­ing baby boomers, the best route to find­ing the job you re­ally want is to get out there, build your own pro­fes­sional net­work and get known for what you can do.

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