Finances & Advice Experience counts – but skills can’t lag

Experience counts – but skills can’t lag

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With the highest median age in the United States according to the 2010 census, there is no denying Maine has a strong contingent of baby boomers.

Retirement is around the corner for some, but many, out of want or necessity, are choosing to either re-enter the workforce or continue on in their careers.

According to an article published in May by CNBC, 9 million people between the ages of 44 and 70 are starting what is referred to as “encore careers” in the United States. The term was coined by the nonprofit think tank encore.org, which points out that jobs in health care, education, government and nonprofits are the top fields for these “encore” professions that combine personal interest with social purpose.

Meanwhile, the workforce has changed dramatically since most baby boomers started their professional careers, with some of the most notable advancements occurring in the field of technology. While Barbara Babkirk, a Portland career counselor and founder of Heart At Work Associates, said it is wrong to make sweeping assumptions about a lack of technological skills in older generations, it is true for some.

Babkirk said the first thing she tells her clients is to get fluent with Microsoft Office Suite and then, depending on the field of work they wish to enter, more technology programs may need to be learned.

“Most of the clients I see are 45 and older and they ask me what they need to learn in terms of technology, particularly women returning to the workforce in their 50s who have raised a family and done all kinds of community service and volunteer work, but they have not been producing income,” Babkirk said. “So many of them are not at all up to speed with technology.”

The debate over the value of experience versus that of technological skill is where the baby boomer generation comes face to face with generations X and Y.

David Cuilllo, president of Career Management Associates, located in Maine and New Hampshire, said baby boomers possess the one thing younger generations do not – experience. But experience alone is not sufficient in today’s job market.

Ciullo said he is seeing more and more occurrences where these opposing generations are teaming up to mentor each other to help bridge skill gaps.

“Generation Y mentoring with the baby boomer generation is one of the best combinations ever,” he said. “You are seeing the experience that is needed from the baby boomer generation being passed to the younger generations, and then they’re (Generation Y) helping with the tech part.”

A gap in technological knowledge for older generations and a lack of managerial experience, and overall understanding of human behavior, in younger generations is what Ciullo refers to as the “great divide.”

“It is critical for companies to understand this, because if you put the two together, you get a real success story.”

Ciullo said while generational differences exist, that does not mean everyone in these demographics falls into one of stereotypical age categories, and thus labels must be used with caution.

Ciullo said development and training can be ongoing at any age, and encourages everyone to do a personal assessment to see what skills and abilities they possess. The bottom line is that people of all ages have to be willing to grow to ensure employers they will remain a valuable asset.

“The workplace has changed over the last 10 to 20 years and you have to adapt,” Ciullo said. “There is no choice.”

Meagan Nichols, a summer resident of Casco, is a Current Publishing intern.

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