Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not Your Father’s Career

My father had three careers, but with the same organization. He worked for the federal government, 20 years in the military, another ten as a civilian. In fact, one week after retiring from the Army, he went back to the same group at the same desk as a Department of Defense civilian employee. When he retired from that position, he worked another three years as a Defense contractor.

About a year ago, Dad and I had a conversation about what I do. I explained that I worked with clients, many of whom were looking for their next career and that many of these folks were in their mid 40s to early 60s.

“Shouldn’t these guys be thinking of retirement?” asked my father.

“Dad, you’re 86 years old; hopefully I’ll live at least as long as you, as will many of my clients. Most of them expect to work another 15 to 20 years. How long have you been retired?”

Dad replied, “Geez, about 20 years.”

“That’s a career in itself,” I noted. “How long was your father retired before he died?”

“Just 10 years.”

That conversation showed how, in three generations, the concept of careers and retirement has changed. Both my grandfather and my father worked for one employer their entire career. My grandfather worked for The Phone Company – there was only one then – and lived on his pension for ten years after retirement. My father has enjoyed two retirement pensions – with cost of living allowances – from the federal government. Moreover, he receives pretty good medical benefits (as does my mom) as a retired military officer. Now those benefits, the COLAs and medical, have been subject to changes throughout his retirement, but he and my mother enjoy a good life as senior citizens. They are not burdens to my sisters or me.

I don’t begrudge my father and mother their well being in retirement. I have memories of my dad, as an Army NCO stationed in the Washington, DC area, working a second job to support a growing family. He spent most of his Army career overseas, separated from his aging parents; and a year in Vietnam in the 1960s separated from us. In my mind, he’s definitely earned the benefits he enjoys now.

However, how many people currently working, regardless of their age, feel they can live on their retirements for over 20 years? Not many of us. How many of us can expect to work for one employer throughout our career, one who will provide the pension for us to live on? Again, not many of us. We will experience, if we haven’t already, more than one career with more than one employer throughout our lives. The model of our fathers’ and grandfathers’ careers (and retirements) doesn’t apply any longer.

We need a new model, one that doesn’t yet exist. Moreover, one model will not, most likely, fit everyone. So, in effect, we require new models that can work for people as they progress throughout their careers. In a report last fall, completed for the MetLife Mature Market Institute, entitled “Buddy Can You Spare a Job, researchers noted that Boomers “may both need and want to work longer than previous generations, or longer than they may have anticipated.” The average age workers between 55 and 70 expect to retire is about 70; workers between 66 and 70 expect to retire at 76. So as Boomers, we plan – or need – to work 10 to 15 years longer than our parents did. Our kids may even have to work longer.

How do we plan to remain productive in a rapidly changing economy? How can our past experience provide value to employers? How do we promote our value?

The MetLife report identifies five critical success factors for older job seekers. They are actually great factors for workers of all ages to keep in mind:

1. Realistically assess the changing local employment markets in your region;

2. Translate past experience into future value for a potential employer;

3. Update your technology skills;

4. Keep your network of contacts fresh and active;

5. Manage your ambivalence about work.

My father and grandfather basically did the same thing throughout their careers. They both had clearly defined career paths. They knew what to expect next. We don’t. We can’t rely on the loyalty to an organization or from an organization to support our careers.

The old model doesn’t apply any longer and we need a new one. Any new model will be developed for and by individuals for their particular careers.

What’s your new career model? How will you sustain productivity and value for employers? The five factors outlined above are a good start.

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