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Alexis Phillips

The majority of baby boomers are on the verge of retirement. Here, MERJE consultant Emilia Thomas explains what the ramifications are for businesses and how they can fill the skills gap this generation leaves behind.

As baby boomers increasingly enter retirement, the UK marketplace is losing a post-war generation of hard workers, along with the skills and knowledge which they have honed over the years that can bring value to their employers.

They include having a strong work ethic as well as being goal-oriented, resourceful, competitive, disciplined and self-assured. Furthermore, they are not afraid of confrontation and will not hesitate to challenge established practices.

With the mass exodus of these workers and their strong characteristics, businesses need to have a plan in place to maintain productivity while replacing existing employees with worthwhile new candidates.

This is because there is little doubt that, as baby boomers leave their roles, some more traditional but still credible methods of working, which should be preserved, may well be lost forever.

Those generations who are required to step up to the plate moving forwards include gen X, millennials and gen Z. In fact, the prediction for this year is that the global workforce will be dominated by millennials (35%) and generation X (35%), with baby boomers only comprising a mere 6%, which is why it is vital to harness their skills while we still can.

However, this swathe of younger workers is likely to require further training, experience and upskilling to step into the more senior roles which were previously inhabited by their mature counterparts.

Where possible, companies need to retain their older employees long enough to create a system for them to transfer their knowledge to younger workers. Offering incentives such as flexible working and working from home as part of a phased retirement plan can help.

The simple fact is that when someone has done a job for many years, they acquire institutional knowledge which is often all in their heads and not written down anywhere.

Creating a formal cross-training program is an excellent way to facilitate the transfer of knowledge between your workers. This ensures that there is more than one person capable of performing a job’s essential functions.

If an older worker starts to work a more flexible schedule, the cross-trained employee can step in for them periodically to ensure they are fully capable in the position.

Pairing an older worker as a mentor to a younger worker has many advantages in the workplace. Mentorship helps younger workers witness soft skills in action and teaches them why those skills have been important in the growth and success of their mentor’s career.

If approached correctly, it is the younger generations of workers who will ultimately mature, grow and fill the skills gaps created by retiring baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), in turn allowing you to maintain a business as usual stance.

How gen X can help

Generation X spans those born between 1965 to 1980 and they tend at a stage in life which most likely includes having both children and parents who are ageing. For this group of workers, a good work/life balance and workplace flexibility are key drivers in creating an attractive job proposition for them.

In response, organisations should offer decent parental and annual leave and the chance to learn new skills by going on sabbatical. These benefits will appeal to gen x-ers who have to make critical decisions about where, when and how much they have to work while so many other responsibilities outside of their employment.

Companies have the best chance of recruiting gen z employees by allowing working from home, which is currently the new normal during this period, and offering benefits such as part-time hours, compressed work weeks, job sharing and project-based or temporary contracts.

In order for gen X to move into the roles once inhabited by baby boomers, the aforementioned mentoring schemes are an essential part of your succession plan. Make sure you and your team members capitalise on more senior and experienced workers by finding out more about their skill-sets and what motivates them.

This will provide advice and guidance which you can subsequently implement into the business before they leave and your team is no longer privy to their particular brand of expertise.

Millennials bridge the gap

The millennial generation, born between 1981 to 1997, offers a growing workforce but will not, as yet, make up for the growing skills gaps as baby boomers retire. This is why a focus on employee training and management programs will help them to acquire the skills they need to step into more senior roles.

This is also where reverse mentoring schemes can help and it is worth noting that they are of value to all generations of workers. These programs are where senior employees are mentored by and engage in regular discussions with younger staff members. Employees are then given the opportunity to provide honest feedback around a young person’s experience working for the firm and what they believe the business could be doing better.

Millennials tend to be drawn to transparent, collaborative organisations which have flat structures and an open door style of management. They grew up with technology so will be digitally savvy and attracted to businesses which invest in top level software and have a strong online and social media presence.

Millennials often have a flexible approach to working and value their work not on the basis of how often they are in the office or on how late they stay, but on how productive they are and how much they get done. This is especially prevalent in the current climate, where working from home has become the norm and this is likely to remain the case moving forwards.

Millennials may want to work from home more often and may be reluctant to commit to a role that necessitates being in the office from nine to five, five days a week. This does not mean that they will be less valuable or get less work done. For this generation, work doesn’t have to mean a typical office job with typical office hours.

A study conducted by PwC found that 41% of millennials would like to be rewarded for their work on a monthly basis and this stems from their desire to excel. Feedback does not need to be lengthy and a short email will suffice. However, this “little and often” approach to recognition will have a huge impact on employee satisfaction.

Introducing gen z

Much like millennials, gen z are digital natives and therefore often seduced by investment in good technology and an attractive social media presence. Companies can utilise gen Z employees to better their social media, online and digital strategies if they feel as though more senior workers do not have the expertise to optimise them.

Gen Z-ers are inherently analytical, calculating the risk, worth and potential consequences of decisions before making them. As decision making is a key responsibility for senior employees in most businesses, this analytical mind-set is an asset of gen Z employees which should not be ignored.

According to one survey of 1,000 gen Z-ers, the top career goal of this generation is stability and security. In fact, 69% of Gen Z would rather have a stable job than one that they were truly passionate about. This means that their priorities do not align with those of millennials, who tend to be motivated to work according to the causes which they believe in. When working with gen Z-ers, employers should highlight the ways that they provide job security to their employees, alongside their CSR and D&I policies.

Gen Z-ers do not look for “quick fixes” in terms of their employment.  In fact, 93% of gen Z stated that they would prefer a job which opens doors above one with a higher salary attached. They think in the long-term rather than of the short-term benefits. So, employers trying to appeal to gen Z should emphasise the opportunities for promotions and upskilling that their company provides.

Just like millennials, gen Z-ers often want regular feedback from employers, reassuring them that they are excelling in their role and suggesting ways in which they could improve their performance in order to advance their career pathway.

One trait gen z does have in common with baby boomers is that both are competitive. This is probably due to growing up in a recession where jobs and opportunities were scarce. This scarcity and subsequent hunger to succeed would have been reflected in the austere post-war years which baby boomers experienced while growing up.

To conclude, organisations can safe proof themselves against the loss of baby boomers by working collaboratively, offering a flexible and phased retirement plan and by acknowledging the value of their employees by asking them to transfer their knowledge to others.

If your organisation is feeling the effects of baby boomers leaving the workplace and is seeking to fill the skills gap, please get in touch with our experienced team of consultants: info@merje.com.