At the confluence of two tributaries the waters mix and swell the river as it proceeds down stream. The tributaries are united in a common purpose, destined to reach the sea as a homogeneous and powerful body of water.
This is comparable to what we could see in our country going forward.
We have an economy that is in dire straits. Our leadership is wrestling with business stimulation, transformation and skills transfer.
At the same time we have an army of Baby Boomers that are approaching the end of their formal careers but in whom is still vested so much of the country’s collective wisdom, skill and experience.
These two streams (the economy and the future of Baby Boomers) at present are tributaries running in parallel. It is the purpose of this article to promote a confluence of these two streams. We will argue that there is enormous synergy between what the country needs and what Boomers have to offer. That together they could contribute to a common purpose of moving the country forward, particularly in the area of business development, transformation and skills upliftment.
Baby Boomers – a ready source of wisdom, skill and experience in the workplace
Searching the Web for Baby Boomer sites, one finds a focus either on the Boomer as a person or Baby Boomers as a collective, an attractive target market for products and services.
Web sites speak to Boomers about well-being involving health, lifestyle and finances. They speak about hobbies, and post retirement activities. About coaching processes that would assist Boomers deal with a new life direction, post retirement.
Where websites speak about Baby Boomers as an attractive target market, Boomers are seen as financially secure with lots of disposable income and considerable time for recreation and hobbies.
The reality is that not all Boomers are financially independent. Many still need to work and earn an income to varying degrees. Retirement age is also moving out.
In this Web overview we see little recognition of the potential to continue harnessing Baby Boomers in the workplace, abeit in a different role. There is little acknowledgement of Boomers as a defined group with significant potential still on offer.
Boomers are a social group that is mature, predominantly healthy, energetic and driven. A strong work ethic and an innate desire to make a difference is a common attribute of this group.
Having interviewed many Baby Boomers, we find that they don’t want to quit working, but they do want flexibility. Generally, they are no longer competitively building careers. They want to choose meaningful involvement, earn an income commensurate with their contribution, have fun, and find fulfilment and purpose in giving back to others. Especially they want to share their accumulated experience and skills with the next generation of younger people.
It is this enthusiasm, energy and sense of purpose of the Baby Boomer that we urge should be harnessed. Boomers by and large are not yet ready to exclusively play golf, fish, garden or knit (although time spent on these pursuits is welcomed!). We need to challenge society’s assumption (evident in the Baby Boomer web sites one visits) that this is the space where Boomers now find themselves.
The vision of transformation
The vision that we have for the role that Baby Boomers could play in Southern African is encapsulated by the view expressed by Julius Malema, speaking at the Daily Maverick’s “The Gathering” in Midrand on Friday 10 June 2016.
In his presentation, he encouraged white people to plough back their experience to black people who don’t have the necessary experience.
“If we can’t find the necessary skill, lets go and fetch the old man. ‘Old man, you are coming to mentor this young one to produce the best product’ to build a better South Africa”
“The defeating of white supremacy and dominance is not hatred for white people. When I say I hate white supremacy, I don’t say I hate white people. This is their own home [country]. They have a role to play but they must agree that there must be a deliberate programme to empower black people the same way there was a deliberate programme to empower white people” – Business Day Live 10 June 2016
A future of collaboration
From conversations we have had, there are many white Baby Boomers willing to play the role of the “Old Man”. It is not suggested here that wisdom and experience is the sole preserve of “old white males”, but our country’s history has resulted in this skewed reality in many skills sets. The dominant source of technical skill and experience is still (unfortunately) vested in these “old white males”.
Our vision is to harness this vast experience and use it to bring about the transformation, skills transfer and business development that the country needs.
If the view of Mr Malema on the role that white Baby Boomers should play in South Africa represents the view of business and political leadership generally, then there is potentially tremendous synergy and great scope for cooperation.
We agree with Mr Malema’s assertion that there should be a “deliberate programme to empower black people”. Companies may have transformation policies and vision, but often lack programmes, plans and time lines to achieve this.
Harnessing the Boomer experience
Boomers grew up in an era when the first modern wave of accelerated advancement happened. The fax machine, electronic calculators, the computer, wireless telephony, and later, the Internet. Those that birthed the technological age we are now living are Baby Boomer giants – examples such as Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.
Baby Boomers have mostly made the generational transition from “if you want to earn more, work harder” (which was the way of their parents in the early part of the 20th century) to “earn more by working smarter” (the maxim of the younger generation).
This is demonstrated by the fact that Baby Boomers largely retain their obsessive work ethic, but at the same time (at a functional level at least) embrace technology and are open to innovation and better ways of doing.
This ability to bridge the generation divide positions Boomers well to work and identify with the up and coming younger generation. Baby Boomerss also generally act younger than their chronological age. Hence their drive to still don Lycra, buy mountain bikes and break collar bones, when their “real” age would be suggesting they should slow down!
This youthful zest and energy, linked to their wisdom, experience and diverse skills set, makes Baby Boomers eminently suitable to work with younger people.
Mentors for change
This Baby Boomer group has probably 5 – 15 years of work relevance remaining, measured by the influence they can still exert in the world of work. This is a window of opportunity that should be siezed, where this group can substantially contribute to the country’s development through positively influencing the growth and advancement of younger employees.
Boomers are the perfect resource to contribute substance to the vision of a sustainably transformed South Africa.
They are experienced, knowledgable and skillful, with a natural disposition – brought on by life’s experiences – to be patient, encouraging, communicative, enthusiastic and willing to act in a supportive role.
Through working with Baby Boomers, like minded people, policy makers and business leaders, it is our intention to further explore the role that Baby Boomers can play in transformation, skills transfer and business development. How they can be mentors for change. This would include their contribution to realising the vision of the National Development Plan and other governmental and business development programmes.
As a Baby Boomer this is the essence of the journey I have embarked on. To find fulfillment for myself and fellow Boomers in the world of work. To explore our relevance and the nature and value of the contribution we can continue to make.