Why boomer careers will never be the same again (VIDEO)

By Neil Patrick

The threat to baby boomers' careers and financial outlook won't go away even if the economy improves. Here's why and and what we must all do about it.

Thanks to this blog, I keep on running into amazing people who help inform and shape my view of the way mature professionals can deal with the career crisis.

A few weeks ago I hooked up with John Tarnoff in California. He's spent most of his career in the entertainment and film industry. John first came to my attention when I watched his highly entertaining and thought provoking talk at So Cal TEDx.

John's had 18 jobs in his 38 year career. And he's been fired from 39% of them.

He's changed jobs therefore on average every 2.1 years. So among his many talents, he's also a master at career reinvention. And if you think with all your qualifications and accomplishments you don't need this skill, I beg to disagree.

John Tarnoff

As we chatted on Skype and emailed, it was clear that we'd reached the same conclusions about the critical career challenges the boomer generation faces.

Personal reinvention isn't an option - it's a critical 21st century survival skill

This is going to be possibly the most important career skill you'll need to survive and prosper in the 21st century. Did anyone ever teach you this at school or university? No, me neither.

The trouble is that the education system that the baby boomers went through was geared to a different century and a different set of global economics.

As I talked about here, we are at the end of the second industrial revolution and are entering the third. And in the third industrial revolution, the key technology is the internet and digital media. Just knowing how to send emails, set up your Linkedin profile and browse stuff online isn't enough.

It doesn't matter what sector you work in, if you are not savvy about the way digital technology is reshaping your profession, you need to be. And you need to be at the front, not behind the curve if you are to have any chance of continuing to practice your other hard won skills.

If you're behind, you can be sure that you are or will be at risk of losing your place to someone much younger even if they don't have all your years of experience.

A cozy retirement starting in your sixties is going to be a rarity

If we were all coasting comfortably towards retirement, this wouldn't be so much of an issue. But 2008 and it's aftermath has changed all that. The professional middle classes in the US and Europe were struck by a tsunami so  huge that it has devastated their personal assets.

Property asset values tumbled, investments had billions wiped off, pension plans shriveled, savings interest rarely even matched inflation. All the while, living costs and particularly food and energy bills rose and rose. Hardly anyone in the professional classes became wealthier between 2008 and today.

Few are currently able to look forward to a comfortable retirement when they reach 65 unless they drastically reevaluate what they are going to do to keep the money coming in..

The skills required to be employable in today's jobs, let alone those in 10 years time, have changed beyond recognition. Because technology, communications and media have changed beyond recognition.

An economic recovery can't rectify this damage

Whilst there are encouraging signs about economic recovery in the US and UK, don't be tempted into thinking all may be coming good again and the terrible threat to our future is receding. It isn't. Because the root of the current economic woes of the baby boomers, isn't the trashing of their balance sheets, it's something much harder to quantify. It's the dawn of a whole new industrial era. And that means a whole new set of survival skills are called for.

If you've not seen John's talk, I am happy to share the video below. If you wonder what your career future holds for you...then watch it. It's also probably the most fun you'll have today (with your clothes on anyway).

And more importantly, it might just get you thinking.

Here's John's introduction:

On July 14th, I was asked to give a TEDX Talk for TEDxSoCal in Long Beach, CA (home of the big TED event) on the theme of "The Alchemy of Transformation ... Our Selves, Our Work Places, Our Living Spaces." In looking at this question, it occurred to me that while my professional work is focused on helping the next generation of media content professionals adapt to the amazing and pervasive paradigm shifts introduced by digital technology, here was an opportunity to discuss some of these same paradigm shifts for an audience that I had never really addressed: my own Baby Boomer generation.

While the students that I work with (and the schools they go to) are trying to figure out how to prepare for entering the media industry and developing new careers, the Baby Boomers are on the other side of equation, looking at how to wrap up their careers and transition into what we commonly refer to as "retirement."

The well-known problem for the Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), is that, as a generation, we have not prepared for this transition. There are many statistics available here, but the most striking number to me is this one: 80 percent of us have saved less than $100,000 for our retirement. Given the economics of the last five years, and the prospects ahead of us, what this means is that the Boomers are going to have to keep working - and the problem there is that neither we nor society at large are prepared for us to remain in the work force.

My point in the TEDx talk is propose some ideas on how to reinvent ourselves in order to maintain our relevance in and relevance to the workforce. We need to start reframing who we are and what we think we're capable of doing, and to reject the idea that old dogs can't learn new tricks.

After all, we have some pretty amazing life experience to draw from. If our kids are actually listening to all of our music (my daughter is currently negotiating vociferously for access to my 600 hundred-album stack of vinyl...), then we can't be all that out of touch. If we were able to piss off our parents and master the art of talking on the phone, doing homework and listening to the radio, we should be able to figure out how to multi-task between Text, Email, Voicemail and Skype while sitting at Starbucks in between meetings.
As I know from working with my graduate students, there's a lot that they know, and there's a lot that they don't know. They and we want and need guidance from one other. It's one big ecology: our wisdom and experience + their digital awareness and limitless passion.

In the midst of so many paradigm shifts that I'm observing in the digital age, one emerges out of this situation that I'd like to share. In the 20th century, we thought of life in three broad stages: Education, Career and Retirement. In the 21st century however, I believe that these three need to be replaced by Self Awareness, Creation, and Service. While this is guidance for young people starting out, it is also an important concept for those of us on the other side of the curve.

I invite you to view the TEDx Talk to hear some specific suggestions on how the Boomers can take back some control of our careers as we press on into unexpected and uncharted territory. Hint: The kids can be alright!

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