Baby Boomers Get Your Mentor Hat On

January 21, 2015 by Margaret Townsend
Talent Management Mentoring

Knowledge is like money; to be of value it must circulate. Baby boomers can provide the best career advice and assist in career development of their colleagues. Here’s how..

The first thing a job seeker will check when reviewing a job vacancy is: how much experience are they looking for me to have?  And with good reason.  This is the measure of whether a person has the required ‘real-world’ skills to perform the duties of the job in question in the most effective way possible. In fact, in many cases there is a minimum amount of experience required to even do the job at all.  In all cases the recruiter needs to get that right so that they know they have a perfect fit for the job.

There is not much a recruiter or HR Manager can do about pre-existing experience of a new candidate.  However there is a lot that can be done once that candidate is an employee.  Continuous training is extremely valuable but textbooks alone won’t do it – it won’t turn these younger people into management material overnight.  It’s got to be mixture of books and real world experience. 

The life and times of an American author is the perfect example of how knowledge and experience brings professional and personal success like no other things can.  He wrote a book about his own life which he called “Education of a wandering man”, describing a life full of reading, travelling and learning about the world and people in it.  He left school at age 15 because he wasn’t getting enough from the textbooks but was himself an avid reader and considered himself a life-long learner from books and people.  In fact he amassed a collection of over 10,000 books in his time. His name is Louis L’Amour.

Many of his stories were made into movies. L’Amour’s books remain popular and most have gone through multiple printings.

He may not sound immediately familiar but when I say that he was the author behind these famous Western stories which were made into films such as “Hondo”, “Catlow”, “The Sacketts”, “The Shadow Riders” and “The Quick and the Dead”, which starred such actors as John Wayne, James Arness, Sophie Loren, Anthony Quinn, Tom Selleck, Glenn Ford, Tom Conti, Sam Elliott, Yul Brynner, Leonard Nimoy to name but a few, you get the picture.

The picture is that he was hugely successful.  He learned about everything he possibly could during his time on earth, either by listening carefully to people who were there during interesting times, or by reading about them.  He also was the recipient of several notable awards.

The important thing to take away from his story is he didn’t get all his information from reading. Wherever he went, he talked to people – or mainly listened to them. 

Not long before his death in 1988 at the age of 80, L’Amour amazingly said;

“The worst of it is that I’m no longer a kid and I’m just now getting to be a good writer. Just now.” 

So we need to acquire knowledge and experience from somewhere to be good at things.

Right now Millennials represent approximately a third of the workforce and in another 5 years or so that will rise to 50%. The Pew Research group define Millennials as being born between 1981 and 1999 thereby making them currently between 16 and 34 yrs approximately. 

A logical deduction might be that right now a good proportion of college educated Millennials are in the workforce with up to 10 years of work experience under their belts.  But wait.  Ten years of exactly what kind of work experience? The media has been constantly reminding us over the last number of years about how underemployment and unemployment has affected so many young people and they are now in jobs that they never wanted and only took to pay the bills…the ones lucky enough to have a job during the Great Recession, that is.

Whether you are the current employer of a Millennial employee or the recruiter of a new Millennial candidate you should be concerned about this.  Some may still not be much further advanced than what they learned from their textbooks and school projects and while skills from jobs are sometimes transferrable these people may need a lot more help in readjusting back into their careers than you – or they – realize.

Some may need to recap by doing a refresher course.  Others may require additional studies to build on what they already know, while at the same time acquiring knowledge around newer technologies or innovations within their area of expertise.

These Millennials are changing jobs now in an effort to get their career back on track as they know there are better jobs out there since the economy has picked up somewhat.

An important thing for you to do is support their professional development because you may not be able to attract or retain them otherwise as they pursue a fulfilling career in a position where they are happy and engaged.  If they don’t find that with you then they may need to change jobs a couple of times to get to that level of satisfaction in their working lives where they feel they have enough knowledge and experience to contribute and get more out of their chosen career.

Getting the younger workforce in the door, ensuring they can do their job well and retaining them after that initial investment is one thing. Unfortunately it is a smaller part of the big problem employers are now facing. 

Many of these young workers will need to fill middle management positions more and more in the coming years and the only thing that will make that possible is experience.  They may know a lot about technology but most Millennials know very little about business and their soft skills are extremely limited.  That includes communication, even though they do enjoy collaboration and sharing.

In 5 years’ time all of the Baby Boomers will be 55+yrs: that is to say that they will represent the pre, early retirement and retired working population (US Bureau of the Census).  They possess an abundance of experience, having worked through several economic phases and changing business landscapes.   They have all tried, failed, succeeded and learned.  They have managed their own careers and figured out a thing or two about how to deal with all kinds of professional situations in different areas of the business they are in.    I think they call that experience. 

Tons of experience!  Are you tapping into that wonderful resource in your firm?  It is obvious that we should be having our Baby Boomers mentor our Millennials.  Not just in an informal way either.  Informal just means one or two of the luckier ones get mentored because they happen to click with an older employee or they know them outside of the work environment.  But this is just too happenstance to help your business in any real way and is not proper talent management.

Make a plan today to match experienced members of staff with younger members of the team.  Have them learn by collaborating with these older generations and like Louis L’Amour, listening to their stories and advice.  Have them receive training on any soft skills they may be lacking from those experienced individuals.  Put goals in place so the project can be measured, adjusted and made as effective as possible.  Ensure those mentors get all the training and support they may need too. 

It is worth noting that this is National Mentoring Month with the annual National Mentoring Summit being held from the 28th to 30th January.  Their aim is to make mentoring an integral component of youth and workforce development efforts and getting involved in this could be a resourceful way to learn about mentoring and its benefits.

To quote the famous Louis L’Amour;

“Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”

About the Author

Margaret Townsend
An experienced recruiter and job seeker, now co-founder of a private job search website. Blogs are full of practical tips and advice on career development, work-life balance, the job search and the job interview. Also writes in-depth unique articles about workplace issues such as gender diversity, HR practices, culture fit, employee engagement and gainful employment.


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