It’s been an interesting week in labor news. First, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics detailed that there’s a chronic shortage of skilled labor to fill data and computer jobs here domestically. CNBC reported, “By 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available in the U.S. but only 400,000 graduates with the skills necessary to fill them.”
Second, the Economist noted that teens having a summer job for spending cash, saving up for a car or school, or other purposes peaked in 1978 – with 72 percent of U.S. teens holding such employment. In 2016, the figure had fallen to a paltry 43 percent, primarily for two reasons: First, “parents tell their children to study, take courses, volunteer or practise for sports that might help them compete for college places.” Second is a changing job market — namely higher minimum wages force employers to look for more permanent employment and a safer (proven) worker, often not a youngster.
And third, and perhaps the most profound of all, the 21st Century in America is introducing an entirely new “life” stage, “the new old” or “pre-tirees”– who are beginning to change and challenge the 20th Century pattern of education, work, retirement. Last century’s three-stage pattern for work made sense when life expectancies were not much extended after useful employment. Today, forcibly retiring folks at 65 is unsustainable and breeds resentment. Why should older able workers have to retire, when such people still want to contribute professionally — and increasingly need to do so — from 65 to say, 70, 80, 85 and onward? Stressing here, should they want to do so.
Everything needs to change in society to meet this pattern … pensions, of course. But also management. We should reset labor workforce expectations — “peak earning years” do not need to presage full-blown work stoppage. Many over 65 would willingly choose to work at least part-time, because they either have to financially (many retirees are ill-prepared with savings) or simply don’t want to be idle — and they can’t seem to switch gears from professional work to volunteering or hobbies and being alone and isolated.
So all those Baby Boomers working in summer jobs in the 1960s and 70s, well perhaps it’s time to have this generation in sunset jobs in their fields in the 2010s and 20s. With Generation X and Millennials doing so behind them.
Instead of kicking higher-salaried mature folks out the door whole scale, why not offer them, or incentivize them to “pre-retirement” jobs — instead of “early retirement” and no job. Unleash a consulting economy. Enterprises benefit from multi-generational decision-making, institutional history and business experience — innovation is hardly the domain of only the young and less experienced. Innovation belongs to everyone, and work in one’s profession is for the most part enjoyable.
Look, we have a huge shortage of computer science and data professionals in the U.S. economy — and probably other fields, too. We can either find ways to fill the education gap so that these jobs and skills — and well-paying jobs — stay at home. We can allow undocumented and foreign students graduating with these skills to stay in America– and ensure they are welcomed here. And, we can lessen the haste to show older workers the door. Reverse that mindset entirely: it’s time to keep near-retirees in growth fields — perhaps all fields — engaged and working for the health of the bottom line.
And for the health of a whole lot else.