Words of Wisdom for the future

In the week just ending my readings took me to a comment from Carlos Slim – “Why 60 is the new 30.”

This is an intriguing thought isn’t it? Of course he is right – as someone no longer 30 I am still an eternal optimist. What he exposes is that the old 30 year old worker did physical labor and did it day in and day out for their whole lifetime. The new 30 in the job market works a 40 hour week, at least that is what they are paid for –  less and hour or so a day for lunch and a break or two. So in reality they work about 35 hours a week. The work they do is every changing and it is normally not physical labor. So it is no wonder that “60 is the new 30, is it?”

Then also this week there was an article which exposed the hourly wages by age groupings and it reported that between the ages of 60 and 70 the average wage, in America, is $25.12/hour. This is the highest wage reported for all the decade age breaks in the article. This is the first time that this has happened, where the older worker is paid more than the younger worker, and Slim makes the point that “what would you expect?” The individual has the most experience, still is vigorous and knows more about the process, the Company and the job than anyone else. Why wouldn’t you pay more money to these people?

This takes me to the retirement age. When Social Security was first established the retirement age was 65 years old and the life expectancy on average was somewhere around 62. The government was clever in that here comes this wonderful social program but it won’t really apply to that many people. In fact it will apply more normally to higher income earners than lower income earners due to the health and work conditions – but enough of my cynical pontificating.

My grandchildren are soon to be eight and twelve and the retirement age should be approaching 80 when they get there. This means that the retirement age needs to increase at a rate of about 1 year for each seven to eight years. This is simply arithmetic and common sense. This takes my mind to the concept of job sharing for older workers so that we don’t lose their skills and we don’t over burden their bodies.

My work entails a lot of travel, 200,000 miles a year or so, which is what I have averaged over the past thirty years. That can get to be tiring. Well for people like me technology allows me to travel less and still have face to face meetings and discussions with my clients. Through tools like gotomeeting and gotowebinar and skype and facetime etc. we can talk and see each other and share computer screens. For more normal jobs, although somewhat controversial for many people still, working from home will become quite common for part of the work week at least. Collaboration in the workplace is becoming much more prominent and cross functional and cross geographic teams are popping up all over the place – read the book “Midnight Lunch” – which is based on the work of Thomas Edison if you have any doubt about this. Then there is the more normal office worker who has a job which requires a physical presence in the workplace. Why can’t this job be split into two pieces. Take the job and make it a fifty hour week and have two people working twenty five hours rather than one person working forty hours. This isn’t locked in stone it is a concept I would like you to think about. With the demographics of the world, which are quite daunting in places like Western Europe and to a lesser but still significant degree the United States, we need to keep the old worker in the workplace longer. This will also allow us to return more to mentoring the younger worker. One of the missing elements, that are standing in the way of progress really, is the misguiding thinking that many Universities are embedding in the minds of their students that if you work hard and listen to me and get good grades you will start with a nice office making $60,000 to $70,000 and have a group of people working for you. And oh by the way you can leave each day at 4:30 PM or so. There is the old adage that those that can do things work at them and those that think they can do things teach people how to do them. As a result of this intellectual arrogance business needs to take on a much more prominent role in determining curriculum and get students graduating with job skills rather than intellectual skills alone. The prodigious thinker, teacher and author Peter Drucker put this forward in the late 20th century. It is slowly starting to happen.

My family and I took a wonderful extended vacation between our daughter’s junior and senior years at high school. We went to Europe. One evening we were sitting in a pub in Ireland doing a cross word puzzle with help from all the wait staff. They were mostly young smart personable people. Almost all of them had University degrees, yet they were working in a pub. As the evening progress I asked my daughter to ask them what their interests were and what they took at University as their majors or specific study discipline. Not one of them had what I would call a commercially viable degree. I asked my daughter to think about that. To consider something that would have commercial applicability. This is to some degree like story told about the parents of Robin Williams, the brilliant comedian, – upon hearing that he was going to go to Julliard – the world renowned school for talented artistic people -they asked him to learn a trade, like welding, so he would be able to eat. 

So now I come full circle and Carlos Slim got me going on this. We need to reexamine our thinking about the workplace. How do we develop the skilled workers of today and tomorrow? Where we do we find them? How can we hire them and get them to come to work for us? How can we keep them longer? How can we get the older workers to begin transferring their knowledge to the younger up and coming worker? Many questions – I think it is time we start answering some of them. What do you think?   

The time is now.