As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.
Today, it is not unusual to see employees in their late sixties or older being kept on by companies in some capacity or called back for short-term contracts. This may work in the short-term, but none of us are immortal, and older workers will eventually need replacement by younger employees, leaving many businesses with the challenge of finding younger talent.
Ten thousand men and women retire every day across America. Although staff retiring is not a new phenomenon, the issue has reached a crisis in recent years for many reasons, mainly because generations of younger people were steered toward white-collar careers, leaving professions like carpentry, plumbing, welding, and electrical contracting with too few younger people trained to take on jobs in construction, repair, or manufacturing.
This has been the subject of numerous reports. One of the earliest was from the Boston College Center for Work and Family and titled The Aging Workforce: Exploring the Impact on Business Strategy. When the report was published in 2004, the oldest members of the baby boom generation were 58 and the youngest just 40, with many working years ahead of them. Fast-forward to 2019, and the oldest boomers are now 73 and long retired, while the youngest are 55, with the end of their working lives on the horizon.
Millennials are now the biggest generation in American history but are burdened by debt, have less money to spend, and consequently may not own a home, marry young, or own a car like previous generations, instead, travelling and enjoying life experiences when possible. And to this generation, a work-life balance is not a suggestion, but a necessity.
While stereotypes suggest this group has an entitlement complex and expect higher wages and special privileges, many members of this group are hard-working but view employment differently than previous generations. Jobs are important to them, but not at the expense of working at a place they hate, and as a result, they often move freely from one workplace to another.
For the first time in history, we are at a point where workplaces are multi-generational, with workers in their mid-seventies staying on as advisors or mentors of four generations of younger workers. Much can be said for older and younger staff working together and learning from one another. Older workers who were raised not to show emotion can learn from millennials whose worldview and opinions are very different from any other age group.
The abilities and emotional intelligence skills of millennials can benefit older employees. As bigger risk-takers than previous generations, millennials have broader perspectives on humanity, including diversity, and tend to be less judgemental of others. And when it comes to technical abilities, this group has a distinct advantage and can teach older workers to be less afraid of technology. People with ages in this range grew up with video games, computers, cell phones, and other digital devices, making them much more willing to accept and embrace technology.
On the other hand, younger workers can learn many skills and values from long-time staff. Some reports predict half of the workforce will be comprised of employees fifty and older in the coming years, but many workplaces already have a mix of employees separated by an entire generation. Rather than viewing this as a problem, employers must see it as an opportunity, and use tools like mentorship to pass on knowledge.
Formal mentorship to share skills and experience is structured and is much more than ‘sharing work experiences’ or ‘giving advice.’ Great mentors are informative and uplifting, inspiring their younger counterparts to identify obstacles, focus on goals, foster positive working relationships, and in turn, become mentors themselves, sharing what they have learned with others.
For mentorship to be successful, mentors must also learn and adapt their methods to a younger audience. Gone are the days of using a slide projector or making instructional photocopies. Mentoring to those raised on screen-time via computers, tablets, iPads, and smartphones necessitates adapting to their needs through their technology, not the other way around.
E-mentoring or online mentoring is growing in popularity. This tool not only ‘speaks’ to the target audience of younger workers but is tremendous for reaching men and women in other cities. E-mentoring can be done through online programs with specialized software, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, and many other platforms.
While the methods of passing down skills from one generation to the next are changing, one thing is certain: businesses that value both older and younger workers and accept what one generation can offer the others are destined to be much more successful than those adopting an adversarial ‘us versus them’ mindset.