Age and the Economy: A Fresh Perspective on Management Training
~ Stephen Burnett, Associate Dean of Executive Education at the Kellogg School of Management where he is also a Professor of Strategic Management.
One of the most interesting trends in executive education lies at the intersection of the economy and the most relentless of demographics - age. Let’s start with a few simple statistics. The number of people aged 55 or older in the civilian labor force doubled between the end of 1990 and May 2010, from 15 million to 30 million, as the Baby Boomers continue their journey through the labor force. During this same period, the number of workers in the 35-39 age category (prime ages for upward career movement) actually declined from 17 to 16 million, while the total labor force increased by over 20 percent. Add to these numbers the facts that the Dow is currently 2% below its level of five years ago and that housing prices have been falling since 2007, crucial years for Boomers to accumulate retirement assets, and what becomes apparent is the average age of managers in the United States is likely to continue to increase for some years to come. There is an important message in these numbers about the ways in which managers are trained over the course of their careers.
The Baby Boom Generation - Clearly Not Done Yet
This point was driven home to a 61-year-old friend of mine, a senior manager, who told me that occasionally his first reaction in problem-solving sessions is to think about how similar situations were handled 10 or 15 years ago. He said he has realized that while the situations might have been similar, they took place when those sitting around the table were probably in high school or younger. So much has changed about strategy and the tools to implement it that my friend should not be surprised if his younger colleagues' eyes glaze over a bit when he says the equivalent of: 'Here’s how we handled it during the Spanish American War.'
In more ordinary times, my friend would be on a glide path to retirement. After all, he is 61 years old with about 30 years of progressively greater management responsibility and had been planning to retire at 63. Courtesy of the economy, he is now looking at extending his career by at least ten years. Clearly he should be thinking about continuing his management development. Ten years is too long a glide path for either the individual or the organization.
Based on our experience at Kellogg School Executive Education, my hypothesis is that most companies have not been thinking very much about the continued development of managers north of 60. While we do not ask age when people apply to our executive programs, we do collect data on years of experience and education. The vast majority of our participants are most likely in the 35 to 45 age category. A 60 year old participant would be rare and noticeable.
Generation X - Unmet Needs
There is clearly a need to provide management development for younger workers, primarily those in their 30s and early 40s. There is an emerging, but so far largely unrecognized need for such training for those approaching their 60s and finding that their careers will be much longer than they might have thought.
The turbulent economy has brought about many changes in the world of business. Add to the list the need to prepare Gen X for greater responsibility at a younger age and the Baby Boomers for an extended period in which they must provide not only wisdom but up-to-the-minute strategy as well.
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