Mass retirements will create opportunities, leave skills gap
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.