New-look workforce looks really old

By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/05/2003

A new worldwide survey of people’s career expectations confirms a very different workforce is emerging and HR departments will be forced to change much of what they do as a result.

A lot of the old assumptions about workers have to go, said Shari Fryer, a director of research for Drake Beam Morin, the HR consulting firm that completed the study of more than 15,000 people in midst of career transition.

For example, with workers between the ages of 55 and 64 representing the fastest growing segment of the workforce for another five years, Canadian companies will be much more dependent on older workers.

It is going to take a different way of looking at the labour pool and employment relationships that are mutually beneficial, added Fryer.

People’s career preferences and priorities change as they get older and as the workforce ages HR departments have to respond with different selection, development, retention and transition strategies, said Fryer.

The impact of the imminent retiring of baby-boomers will be huge, “but the feeling I get is that not a lot of companies have recognized that,” she added.

Many older workers are often still very interested in making valuable contributions to an organization but they don’t want the same sorts of pressures they faced when they were younger and they aren’t as concerned about salary increases, for example.

Older workers will likely show a greater preference for part-time or consulting work. As well, they could act as mentors for younger workers, an invaluable asset for employers.

In the survey, just one per cent of mature workers said the desire for a good raise was their primary incentive at work compared to 11 per cent of Generation X respondents and seven per cent for baby boomers.

Almost two-thirds of mature workers and baby boomers said they view retirement as a time to continue work in one form or another, either part-time or as a participant in community or charity work.

The reality is that there is going to be a much greater mix of older workers in the workplace, said Fryer. That means there will need to be greater flexibility in what jobs look like; more job sharing, more consultants, more part-timers and more flexibility in structures and attitudes.

The study also provided insights into just how mobile the workforce has become and suggested HR best practices to cope.

With skill sets more transferable than in the past, about 50 per cent of all people that change jobs are also changing industry. Companies should develop programs to help industry-switching employees and career development opportunities will be more important than ever.

HR departments should also be more willing to look outside the areas they used to look for new workers. “They tend to blow off people that don’t have industry experience,” said Fryer.

When asked how they found their new job, 50 per cent of respondents said they relied on networking, 14 per cent cited ads, another 14 per cent said search firms and just three per cent used the Internet.

The lesson: people, especially as they get older, want to be able to network, and companies should help teach them how. They aren’t only going to use networking skills to find new work, said Fryer. It’s a good basic business skill and besides that, employees who can network are also more likely to find other people to work for their own company.

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