June 23, 2008

Delayed Hand-Off

By Gardner, Dave

As scores of new graduates hang up their caps and gowns to look for gainful employment, a few surprises await them.

Among these workplace discoveries will be intergenerational issues resulting from baby boomers who have delayed their retirements. Financial concerns and personal reasons are the prime culprits for these retirement postponements.

Kimberly Hawk, past president of the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Chapter of The Society of Human Resource Management, explains that across the nation boomers are staying in or returning to the workplace. For many of these people, investments and Social Security have been huge disappointments, with health-care issues also forcing some boomers to continue working for insurance benefits.

"I love getting the boomers back into the work-force," comments Hawk. "As a group they have a strong work ethic, positive attitudes and the ability to learn new skills."

Hawk says that a big percentage of the boomer retirement incomes have been "socked away" in maxed-out 401(k) plans. These arrangements can result in financial losses from the volatile economy, upsetting many planned retirements.

"The good news for the boomers who have invested is that within NEPA, real estate losses have not been a factor," adds Hawk. "The real estate market here is still solid, with no booms or busts."

Don Ryan, president of the Ryan Group, a professional recruitment firm, says that he has been receiving calls from former professionals who had left the workforce but now desire part-time jobs. Many of these retirees sampled retirement and were unhappy for various reasons, with healthcare costs their biggest concern.

"In areas outside of NEPA, I have seen companies pursuing the mature worker because of a talent shortage," says Ryan. "But, I have not heard of this happening quite yet in our region."

Renee Garvey, guidance officer and career educational teacher with the Pocono Mountain School District, says that the delayed retirement phenomenon is more of a reality for professional white- collar workers than blue-collar and skilled trade employees. She believes that white-collar employees can "hang in" partly because of the lack of physical demands their jobs entail.

She also echoes a warning for all graduates who lack higher education.

"For students with no skills or a connection, the job market offers a bleak outlook even without the boomer factor," says Garvey. "This has been the case for many years. The current inflationary factor is part of this situation, and rising prices will affect workers the deepest who have lowest levels of discretionary income."

Case histories

Joan Condel retired as a case worker five years ago from Pennsylvania's Department of Welfare, and is now self-employed part- time as an independent consultant. She declares that she is financially comfortable after years of family investment, despite the recent drops in America's financial markets.

"I work to keep my mind active, and for the people interaction," says Condel. "I also like the cash flow. Medical, prescription, dental and eye-care costs are heavy and keep going up. Lately however, I've been reconsidering retirement due to increasing workplace stress."

Patricia Escobar retired after 21 years as a vendor quality specialist with a global pharmaceutical manufacturer in the Poconos. Initially she was very excited about retirement and, after leaving the workforce, she actually bicycled across the nation.

Escobar says she has absolutely no financial concerns. Her 401(k) plan was fully utilized and she also successfully saved and privately invested.

However, her retirement presented an unexpected turn.

"I was asked by my old employer group to come back as a consultant on a special project," says Escobar. "I like the people in my group, and one of the factors in my coming back was pride and to see how the group has grown. But, I'm not planning to stay after the special project finishes in 2009."

Generation gaps

Sandy Feather, associate director of enrollment management and admissions at Penn State University's Worthington Campus, explains that delayed retirements are causing big age gaps to surface in the workplace. The current graduates, known as millenials or millenniums, are very casual in regard to their clothing, time management and communications styles.

These behaviors are in stark contrast to the boomers and their promptness, professional dress and measured language.

"The millenniums are high-tech," says Feather. "They are multi- taskers with technology, and can walk, talk and text all at the same time. Studies show that their brain synapses are different, and they can therefore handle constant stimulation with a multiple focus. These generational differences can really show up with project management."

Feather also says that many millenniums are self-centered, and this tendency could inspire a lot of job hopping. This trend is very different from the consistency exhibited by the boomers.

"How the employers react to this job hopping will be interesting," says Feather. "There could be some big job-site tensions. The kids are also not afraid to state their opinions, and this could create problems with respect for traditional authority."

Christopher Sutzko, director of career planning at King's college, says that the majority of issues with older boomers and recent grads in the workplace involve upper level administrators and decision makers. These conflicts will require proactive management.

"In most cases, the boomers have not raised their children in the ways that they expect employees to function in the work environment," says Sutzko. "There's been a disconnect, and companies don't allow handholding and coddling in the workplace. Companies realize this disconnect, and must address it in their culture."

Sutzko also says that, despite the growing generation gap, progressive companies are working to recruit younger and energetic workers. This now includes recruiting with parents for their kids, which represents a big shift in recruitment strategies.

Dave Jadick, human resources staff officer at Tobyhanna Army Depot, comments that the huge facility is beginning to experience anticipated boomer retirements. Fortunately for workforce stability, the depot's retirement rate has remained gradual.

Jadick says, to a large degree, the majority of depot employees eligible to retire at 55 choose to remain until age 62 or beyond. Most current retirements are at the higher end of the group's age range rather than the lower end.

"As an organization, we are aware of the potential for significant retirements occurring within this age group in the coming years, and we have been planning for that possibility," says Jadick. "We have identified skill areas that are most likely be impacted, and we are working with area work force investment boards, economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, high schools and colleges to promote Tobyhanna Army Depot as an employer and make interested applicants aware of the skills and training required for employment."

Jadick also says that the depot is increasing the capacity of the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), which is a partnership they have created with several NEPA colleges that offer degrees in electronics, engineering, business and skilled trades. This will help to ensure that the depot has a steady flow of qualified new employees.

Kevin Toolan, public affairs officer, says that new employees come to the depot for the same reasons as in years past. These factors include a genuine potential for advancement, quality training, job security and the option of a federal retirement pension.

"I'm eligible for retirement in one year, but I'm staying because I have three kids in college," explains Toolan.

Ron Lowe, an Air Force veteran, has served as an instrument mechanic at the depot for 32 years. He was eligible for retirement two years ago, and is looking forward to his possible departure after two more years of work.

"I've stayed for the war effort, and because of family responsibility" says Lowe. "It also depends on the upcoming changes to my government pension and its integration with Social Security."

Jeff Borosky, a youthful engineering lab technician at the depot, says that age gaps with the facility's older employees are not a problem for him. He comments that he respects the boomers' job experience and their time served, and learns from them.

"I don't personally believe that a newer employee should vault right to the top, says Borosky. "But, I have noticed this is the attitude of some of the youngest workers entering the depot."

Borosky has earned an associate degree, and is now attending Wilkes University while he works to earn a bachelor's degree. He has mixed feelings about an eventual retirement.

"Yes, I have retirement plans and high hopes to do this by age 607 adds Borosky. "However, with the economy being so volatile, nothing about retirement is certain. Tobyhanna does have an excellent matching program for my retirement."

Leigh Cortazzo, corporate human resources administrator at Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply, says that her department becomes surprised when they scan the ages of the company's employees. Quite a few are past traditional retirement age, with the need for health insurance and prescription drug coverage now the "big thing."

Cortazzo also explains that, based on the commentary of Dempsey's older employees, potential financial losses in their investments are not a factor in delaying retirements. The company offers a matching 401K, and Cortazzo says the program has generated healthy long-term gains.

She also says many employees stay on the job to "keep young."

"The other day I heard the story of a woman who wanted to come back to work to avoid offering extensive child care for her grandchildren," says Cortazzo. "The kids were driving her crazy after she had been with adults all day for so many years."

Rena Robacker, a garment inspector, still works at Dempsey a full decade past the age where many people retire. She is a cancer survivor, and comments that she stays in the in workforce to avoid boredom and to remain active.

Financial issues resulting from the ongoing inflationary spiral also are making work a favorable experience.

"The truth is that I never wanted to retire," says Robacker. "I never planned to quit, and will work as long as my health will let me."

Lindsey Rushworth, a youthful Dempsey production worker, says she experiences no problems with the company's older employees and learns from them. She speaks of a future retirement in hopeful terms, which stands in contrast to the entitlement beliefs of previous generations.

"I work and save as much money as I can," says Rushworth. "Hopefully, I will have enough to retire when the time comes."

While many NEPA residents have delayed retirement for various reasons, others have successfully disconnected from the workplace with no regrets. David Jobson, former associate professor of economics at Keystone College, successfully retired after more than 40 years of teaching at the collegiate level.

He credits his education to be the real investment that made a comfortable retirement possible, and he actually started saving for college with a boyhood paper route.

"My educational investment has paid dividends," says Jobson. "The economics field was interesting and practical, and I still keep up with it. We're very busy today, and we travel."

Copyright Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal Jun 2008

(c) 2008 Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.