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Prepare younger staff for baby boomer exodus

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The popular old saying, "why wait till Christmas?" is really a poke at someone who procrastinates in their decision making and/or is slow to act. While the comment might be directed to individuals, the same holds true for organizations, especially when it comes to adapting to changing business trends.

For instance, everyone knows that baby boomer employees are going to start leaving the workforce in droves, but how many organizations are truly preparing for this event? My experience suggests that many are simply "waiting for Christmas!"

In addition to providing leadership training programs, one of the best-practice HR strategies to prepare for an event such as a baby boomer exodus is to initiate an internal career development program. These programs help employees to understand their strengths and skills as well as developing a strong sense of personal self-esteem. This in turn assists with internal mobility because as employee confidence increases, they are more likely to take an interest in applying for and/or training for different jobs.

An internal career development program is also valuable for mature workers who are experiencing a bit of a lull in their career as well as for those baby boomers themselves. After all, many baby boomers might find the option of part-time work meets their career goals. But no matter what, when employees know and understand themselves better and feel valued and invigorated, everyone wins.

For instance, employees can envision different opportunities for career movement and/or semi-retirement while the employer benefits from higher levels of alignment between employee/employer objectives, resulting in employee job satisfaction, engagement, productivity and ultimately, employee retention.

What should an internal career development program look like? What topics and content would be beneficial? How should it be delivered and when?

First of all, an internal career development program should be part and parcel of your regular training programs rather than implementing something at the first sign of a crisis. At the same time, employers and their senior executives must dispel the old myth that many harbour that, if you train employees they'll leave. This simply isn't true. Instead, senior leaders need to see the program as providing overall value for both parties and be seen to support it.

A best-practice program begins with helping employees understand that career development is a partnership between the employee and employer but that ultimately, each person is responsible for their own career. As well, the program helps participants to understand how their work is related to the development of their personal identity. Every employee comes to the workplace with certain expectations and bonds with the employer through a so-called psychological contract. It is these expectations of work that set the tone for achieving job satisfaction and continues to affect the level of employee engagement.

Participants then take a journey through marketplace trends so that they understand how global factors affect industry sectors, job creation and job stability. Employees who understand the big picture are better able to deal with economic and job market instability and can plan their career journey so that their skills are always current and marketable.

An important part of any career development program is helping participants to better understand themselves. Employees need to know how personality and communication style affects career choice.

They need to reflect on their career path, acknowledge the ups and downs and recognize when and why they were most happy or most frustrated. Participants also need to know what motivates them and how these motivators direct them to certain occupations. They also need to prioritize their motivators because the rule of thumb is that if an individual's key motivators are not satisfied, they will not be happy in their job.

Additionally, program participants need to recognize that the only job security they will ever have is the security of current skill sets. Therefore, they need to project to what future potential skill requirements will be and how they will stay current. They need to learn how to assess their skills, and to determine if their skills are aligned to both their employer's business needs as well as their own interests. They then need to learn how to leverage their skills and attributes to meet proposed future needs.

In spite of the fact that someone's skills are current, I still often find that many individuals are often fearful of taking a risk to try something new. As a result, they will often stay in the same job until they are forced to change. As well, employees often are still saddled with the old fashioned myth that the only career path is upward. This is absolutely not true as there are many exciting opportunities in parallel career moves.

Participants should be asked to identify how they define their dream career and then identify the specific characteristics of that career. Typically, participants will identify elements such as making a contribution, solving problems, feeling a sense of satisfaction, and developing skills. Once this analysis is complete, many people realize that career satisfaction doesn't necessarily mean moving upward As a result, in some cases, individuals have chosen to move to lower jobs with less responsibility because they know it is a better fit for their personality and/or desired lifestyle.

A good career development training program will also assist individuals to identify their personal barriers and challenges to career path planning and to explore different means of overcoming these obstacles. From here, the program needs to assist individuals to build an action plan starting with the first 30 days, then 60 and 90 days.

At the conclusion of an internal career development program, participants will be able to identify the key elements that affect their personal engagement and job satisfaction at work. They will recognize that self-accountability and personal responsibility for their career is not something they do when they encounter challenges but instead, it is something they need to be cognizant of every day.

As a result, the employer will have an energized team of high productivity members who are not afraid to seek out alternative opportunities within the workplace rather than looking externally. Finally, if the baby boomer syndrome does strike the employer, the career development program will have prepared a backup group of employees with the skills, attitude and readiness to continue moving the company forward.

Source: Create your Career GPS, Career Partners International, 2012.


Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 H1

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