NEWS

WorkWise: Late-blooming boomers step out

Mildred L. Culp

People in their 50s tend to want to capture the element of life that’s missing. Some will want to start their own businesses, work for a cause or simply earn more money. The overarching principles behind making a change or reinventing oneself are timeless and universal, with application to people of all ages. Will the new customers be ones you want to serve? How long will it will take to recoup the cost of training or education?

Contrary to popular belief, there is an entire group of underearning baby boomers, ages 42 to 60. The Census Bureau reports that 10.635 million households, with occupants age 40 to 60, earn a combined household income of less than $30,000. Clearly, for some boomers, the missing element is money.

Terry Jackson directs the part-time M.B.A. program with 550 students at Philadelphia’s La Salle University. He’s been observing the reinvention trend among “first-generation baby boomers … (who) do not seem to see their 50s as a time to wind down. This group seems to have much more willingness to try new things and to see this as a time of renewal in their lives (unlike their parents’ generation).” He says that they often need coaching on two fronts: technology and anxiety about re-entering the world of learning.

First-Line Customers

Take the case of the man considering an advanced degree to qualify him for teaching adults in the community college system. It’s important to research this possible change first. Lawrence Stuenkel, senior partner at Lawrence & Allen Inc., an outplacement consulting firm in Greenville, S.C., says that the first step is to identify the intended field. 

When you’re certain of your direction, “interview with the dean of the college to ask what he looks for when hiring new instructors,” Stuenkel suggests. “You may want to change majors.” He also suggests asking when the recruitment season begins and to identify if there is something in a person’s background that the institution particularly seeks.

Next, it’s time to soul-search. Most baby boomers don’t like internal politics, according to Chuck Underwood, president of The Generational Imperative Inc., in Cincinnati. Academic institutions are rife with them. “This person might need to acknowledge the existence of them,” Underwood states, “and try to survive within an environment he doesn’t naturally embrace.”

Student Customers

Underwood helps underscore the need to consider the impact of the new customer, who may come from a different generation, with different values and expectations. “A generation is basically an age cohort with unique core values and attitudes that are different from the core values of the other generations,” he explains. “In all likelihood, the American classroom has probably changed significantly since that person was a student. More importantly, the students have probably changed.” Underwood contends that Generation X students, who are 25 to 41 years old, and Millennials, who are 24 and younger, will present their own challenges to a baby boomer.

Xers, he points out, are oriented toward survival, “looking for no-nonsense training that will enhance their skill set and strengthen their resume so that when they change employers, they can take an upward step.” They are far less interested in theory than application and execution.  Anticipating a lifetime of up to 10 employers, they want to increase their options so they can rebound. Underwood observes that Millennials will want their instruction to be more technologically-driven than that of even Xers or boomers: “This might change the nature of classroom interactivity from the spoken word to the printed onscreen word. Only the very youngest of Xers had the Internet in the classroom.”

Stuenkel says that most job seekers underestimate the all-consuming nature of a job search. Once a full-time university instructor, he indicates that “people just have no idea how competitive the market is and the amount of effort it takes to market themselves. They need a clearer idea about what they are going to sell, to whom they are going to sell it."

Dr. Mildred Culp, an award-winning journalist, also writes two syndicated columns -- WorkWise Interactive, on youth employment, and the classic WorkWise, on emerging workplace trends. Contact her at 708-672-1300 or culp@workwise.net. Copyright 2007 Passage Media.