Boomers or bust Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

I’ve always thought that we baby boomers get just a little too much attention, mainly by virtue of our sheer numbers. The Ford Mustang, Woodstock and bell bottoms became huge successes mostly because of us.

Later on, minivans, liposuction and mutual funds became rages because of the boomers. The makers and providers of just about every product or service have their sights trained on us, trying to figure out what we’re going to be wearing, eating, driving and watching.

Now, however, boomers are beginning to attract the kind of attention that I really like.

Because of important demographic shifts expected to emerge over the next few decades, employers are likely to be courting boomers for years to come. As a result, retirement for us probably will not be what it is has been for prior generations. We’re promising to be in big demand in the work force of the future, and that’s going to have an impact on how you, Mr. Entrepreneur, run your business in the next century.

When baby boomers begin to retire, it turns out, the baby bust generation that follows won’t be big enough to fill all of the jobs that will be available. Employers aren’t going to have the luxury of a huge pool of youthful boomers to fill slots vacated by retirees. A few of us boomers — about 13 percent, says the American Association of Retired Persons — will retire and never even consider working again.

Some of us will have to work, and others will find it rewarding to continue on the job. In fact, says the AARP, more than half of us will work at least part time after we leave our full-time jobs. That means there’s better than one chance in two that I’ll be behind a desk instead of the wheel of a golf cart when I hit 65. The AARP also says its research indicates that nearly one in five boomers wants to start a business after leaving his or her job.

What will this mean for business owners? The following are some things to consider:

  • Generation Xers, the segment of the population born between 1965 and 1977, are redefining the contract between worker and employer. They tend to be less loyal to a company and more likely to hop from one job to the next in search of opportunity.

  • Even in the Pittsburgh MSA, where the population is expected to drop 5 percent between 1995 and 2020, older workers will comprise a larger proportion of the labor pool. Your recruitment and retention strategies will have to change to meet your needs.

  • If your retiring boomer employee starts his or her own business, there’s an even chance that it’s going to be in the same field that you’re in. Offering an ownership stake in your company might be one way to satisfy that entrepreneurial urge while keeping a valuable worker in your camp.

  • Employers will have to develop strategies to hold onto their most talented workers. Flex time and alternative work schedules, as well as telecommuting, will become more common.

  • Current retirement plans often preclude a retiree from drawing benefits while remaining on a company payroll. The structure of your plan might determine who is permitted to stay on as an employee.

Obviously, the forecast that entrepreneurs would like to see is that they will have a huge supply of young, highly skilled people to draw from to keep their companies growing. Unfortunately, the reality is that you’re going to have to get more creative with your human resources policies. It’s going to get harder, not easier, to staff your offices and your factories.

But look at the bright side: You’ll save a lot of money on gold watches.

For more information on this topic, here are some Web sites that I found useful: www.watsonwyatt.com, www.shepard-assoc.com and www.aarp.org.

Ray Marano is associate editor of SBN, and, as the classic baby boomer, likely will keep working at it for years to come. Why? Because he doesn’t golf.