The U.S. unemployment rate is at a historical low. Our businesses are seeking skilled workers, which our higher education system is unable to produce to meet their demand. Some employers are clamoring to increase importation of foreign workers through HB-1 and EB-5 visa programs, which the federal government is attempting to curb. However, the employers seem to be overlooking a huge available pool of talent and experience that exists in our midst right now. This is the pool of baby boomers.
According to Pew Research Center, there are reportedly 75 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, which represent a third of our population. The boomers are highly educated (more than 29 percent of boomers have a bachelor’s or higher degree), highly experienced and the wealthiest population group. They tend to be former mid-level and high-level managers and qualified in science, engineering, technology and precision manufacturing trades. They received formal training and possess a tremendous amount of intellectual capital such as know-how, which can be earned only through years of on-the-job experience. In short, the baby boomers are the muscle of our industry. The retirement of baby boomers will continue to create skill shortage and certain industries are going to be hit hard.
The boomers seek self-control over their lives. They cherish the freedom and ability to live independently, but want to remain social and have meaningful connections with the society. One of their needs is to be able to contribute their knowledge and skills to the next generation by either volunteering their services or continuing to productively work at their leisurely pace without the pressure or grind of work. Their desire to work is not so much based on the need to accumulate more wealth, but to genuinely mentor the next generation of workers.
The baby boomers are a source of tremendous talent. They gained professional skills and experience across the job spectrum starting from architects to zoologists. Harnessing their skills and experience and accommodating them to meet the critical shortage that our country is facing is something that our employers seem to have overlooked or deliberately ignored. As a result, a generation of valuable talent is not being captured. Some boomers are volunteering their services to established religious and educational organizations and to others such as SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives). In fact, it is reported that the boomers have the highest volunteer rate of any age group. Despite this high participation, the number of volunteer hours is not sufficiently high or sustained to fully capture their talent and experience. Often, there is a mismatch between the boomers’ skills and the volunteering tasks they are performing, which renders the skill transfer not fully satisfying to the boomer.
A better and pragmatic approach for capturing the boomers’ talent and experience is for businesses to seek them out and hire them as contract employees either part time or full time, depending on their mutual needs. By hiring as a contract employee, the boomers health care needs, vacation and retirement benefits do not take the center stage and they lessen the economic burden on the employer. Such an approach will be a win-win for both. The employer recruits a valuable and highly trained worker, who can immediately mentor and transfer experience to another hired rookie employee in the business without the fully loaded burden of hiring a regular employee. The boomer receives the satisfaction of enabling the next generation employee with professional development by imparting the knowledge and skills he earned over his lifetime.
The society at large receives a side benefit by this approach. First, the valuable talent and experience of the boomer is not let go to waste. Second, by continuing to be gainfully employed, the boomer can put off collecting the entitled social security benefits until mandated by the age requirement, which will be a reprieve for our already stressed Social Security system.
Professional recruiting agencies are ineffective to identify boomers having specific skill and talent set as these agencies are generally trained to develop a tunnel vision based solely on age and myopically focus on the younger millennials, despite the existence of age-discrimination laws, and seldom look at resume’ of older and experienced boomers. The best way to target boomer talent is to specifically seek in a job advertisements for experienced applicants having specified talent for hire on a contract-based and flexible position. Another source is to approach an organization, such as SCORE, which is known to have in their certified business mentor directory retired executives possessing many talents. SCORE operatesthroughout the U.S. and has thousands of retired executives to choose from. Additional sources include the Coming of Age and the Senior Job Bank.
The baby boomers are a highly prized intellectual asset of the U.S. We should take advantage of their invaluable skill and talent particularly at this juncture where there is a dire need for utilization of such an asset. We should not let this precious national asset go to waste.
T. Rao Coca, Ph.D., J.D. is a physicist, intellectual property attorney and patent licensing expert. He is a former senior corporate executive at IBM, NVIDIA and IGT. He is now volunteering as a certified business mentor at SCORE. He lives in Henderson.