Who can lead the U.S. economic recovery? Baby boomers! That's the opinion of Nicholas Hayes, a partner at FiveTwelve Group research and consulting in Milwaukee. I found Hayes' column on the Milwaukee Small Business Times Web site, but he also has a blog on his firm's site. Hayes believes baby boomers need to stay in the workforce to help renew it, share some of their wealth to re-educate the next generation of American workers, and embrace technology and resource limits to find manageable solutions to our problems. He notes that slowdowns in U.S. manufacturing have been "rippling through the U.S. economy unchecked for decades," but consumers haven't panicked until now.
Our confidence is shaken. Why? Two reasons: If there is a single defining attribute of an American product designed during the boomer years, it is that it is larger than it needs to be. Measured against any other culture, wealthier or poorer, boomer stuff is bigger. Our machines, our meals, our cities; all bigger per capita than anywhere in the world. What the rest of the world knows is that bigger isn't better. In fact, this recession has exposed the underlying truth that size costs, and if you finance those costs, you create risk. In fact, the truth is the opposite: smaller is almost always better. It provides flexibility, speed and assurance. LEAN teaches this, but we've never really gotten the message. There is one area where smaller is not better, and that is talent. Think back two short years to 2007 and the end of a decade of climbing commodities prices. During that period, we heard constant complaints from U.S. business leaders that there was a shortage of willing, skilled workers in the United States. What they were really saying is that they were caught in a talent shortage crisis, between checking out boomers, and a dearth of qualified replacements. U.S. Census data explains the issue. Consider that the number of people entering the most productive career years, the years between 35 and 50, has declined during the last 10 years by 15 percent, while the number of people entering what we might call the sunset career years has increased by 25 percent. From the perspective of the U.S. entrepreneur, this represents an enormous competitive disadvantage, and it feels as if they are running out of options. The good news is that the number of people who will enter the workforce in the next decade is on the rise. But they are not ready yet, and they may not be, if we don't lend them the educational support that they and we deserve.Interesting point of view. Is asking baby boomers to change now, at this point in their lives, the equivalent of teaching old dogs new tricks? Or are members of that generation already prepared for change, and resigned to a different lifestyle than their parents enjoyed?