Baby boomers are retiring at the rate of over 10,000 per day. Baby boomers, who make up a full third of our workforce, will take with them highly honed skills, vast experience and seasoned leadership ability. And the loss of skill, experience and contacts won’t be confined to the workplace. Boards of directors for companies, charities, business organizations like chambers of commerce and public entities are still rife with baby boomers.
The U.S. has faced such transitions before, for example, when the baby boomers replaced the Silent Generation. But the sheer numbers of the current transition are overwhelming. There are other concerns.
First, Generation X and the millennial generation aren’t nearly as large as the baby-boom generation, which could leave many jobs unfilled. Second, Gen Xers are the “sandwich” generation caught between raising their children and taking care of their parents. Many are looking for flexible and even part-time work schedules to accommodate soccer games and Mom’s doctor appointments.
Third, Gen X and, to a greater extent, the millennial generation want concessions to their lifestyle and cultural preferences rather than fitting a corporate mold and are willing to make the financial trade-offs for time off and independence from their working life. More and more, they put family and friends and their recreation and personal interests ahead of work. In addition to earning a living, they want to work for companies that have a societally significant mission.
Fourth, millennials are taking longer to mature, living with parents longer, putting off marriage and children and not completing college as their parents and older siblings did. Consequently, they won’t have the skills and work experience to replace retiring baby boomers who are better educated and at the top of their professions.
Fifth, millennials often are notoriously short on soft skills like customer service and interpersonal relations. They communicate in nontraditional ways. Face-to-face communication can be a serious challenge for people who communicate by text. While these are generalizations, they are widely shared by employers.
One of our biggest challenges is getting the younger generations involved in charities, chambers of commerce, government and other institutions critical to creating community and common societal direction and leadership. Young entrepreneurs and workers in new industries don’t work on “Main Street” as they did 50 years ago. They’re in office parks and tech hubs like Lehi, Draper and Provo. They don’t naturally mix with baby-boomer leaders of legacy businesses. Identifying them and getting them involved is quite challenging.
Some visionary people are trying to find and grow new leadership for our institutions and our state. Navigators Academy was founded by Jim Wall, former publisher of the Deseret News, and successful businessman Rick Smith. The academy invites aspiring young leaders to an intense course of a half-day a week for several weeks. Influential business and community leaders teach classes on leadership, communications, decision-making, etc. Each student comes to know the teachers and is paired with an influential mentor during the months of the class and thereafter. Mentors meet with and coach their young colleagues about their careers and try to place them on charitable boards and develop other community service opportunities. Wall and Smith see the need to develop leaders in the next generations and are doing something very concrete about it.
A few years ago, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce took on the issue of gender equality in the workforce, social leadership and government and created the Women’s Leadership Institute. WLI has developed such initiatives as ElevateHer. Under the guidance of CEO Pat Jones and a terrific board of successful women, the WLI’s mission is to expand women’s opportunities to take leadership roles in both number and quality in Utah “by training women in leadership skills, and conveying the positive impact female leaders have on economic development, vitality and the overall health of the state.”
There are other exciting efforts within companies and other institutions to identify and promote great young leaders, including women and minorities. There are also many young entrepreneurs, women and men, who are becoming prominent by building and running successful companies.
The future is coming fast. We need to find new leaders to take us there.