Tag Archives: career progression

Is The Ageing Workforce Blocking Career Progression?

Younger workers are worried that an ageing workforce makes it more difficult for them to get a job – but just how much truth is there behind their concerns? 

By Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

The speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, now aged 78, was once asked by an NBC reporter whether her decision to stay in the job blocks a new generation of Democratic leaders. Offensive though it is, the question makes sense to a lot of younger workers.  If Pelosi keeps working, a younger person doesn’t get a go at the job. And there are many workplaces where that question is playing on the minds of workers.  But intuitive as it sounds, the evidence says it’s a load of bollocks.

More of us are working to an older age than ever before.  In Australia for example the chance that a 55 to 59 year old is still working has jumped from 60 to 75 per cent since the turn of the century.  The likelihood that a person aged 60 to 64 is still working has similarly leapt from 34 to 57 per cent.  And the story is repeated across the globe.  Eighty three per cent of 60 to 64 year olds in Iceland still work, as do 76% in New Zealand, 68 per cent in Sweden and 66 per cent in Japan. 

This is trend that is likely to continue to accelerate with the United Nations projecting that by 2050 the number of people aged over 60 will more than double, to approximately 2 billion, representing around a fifth of the world’s population.  Better healthcare have contributed to longer average lifespans. This combined with declining real spending power for employees has resulted in strong economic and social imperatives for people to stay at work longer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger workers are worried that the presence of older workers makes it more difficult for them to get a job and to progress if they do get one.  Surveys like the one carried out by Canada Life Insurance group reveal that two in five employees believe the ageing workforce will make it harder for younger employees to get a start. 

Employees under thirty are the most concerned with almost of half in agreement with the proposition that older members of staff should retire so that younger workers could have a genuine chance of promotion.  Just 29 per cent of workers aged over 50, agree.  There’s only so many jobs at any given level, young workers reason, and if people are staying in work longer then their chances of progressing are significantly decreased. Only one in five workers felt that older workers should be retained so that they could benefit from their experience.

And while that logic sounds intuitively correct, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.  The “lump of labour” theory, as it is known by economists has been around since 1851, when a British economist argued that cutting the number of hours employees worked would eliminate unemployment.  It has been used in policy debates to justify all manner of sexist, anti-immigrant or ageist employment or retirement legislation.  In essence it maintains that any big ‘lump of labour’ suddenly hitting the workforce, such as from immigrants, women, returning veterans or, in this case, older people, reduces the employment prospects of new entrants.

But when economists went looking for proof that this actually happens, they have consistently come up dry.  One recent example is a major review of US labor statistics covering the period 1977 to 2011.  It found that the increased number of older workers in that period had not reduced employment of younger workers, reduced the wages paid to younger workers or reduced the number of hours of work available for younger workers.  Indeed the data suggested that the greater employment of older people had lead to better outcomes for younger workers in that period.

Global analysis by the US National Bureau of Economic Research says that the macroeconomic reality is very different from what intuition tells us.  From an economy-wide perspective, the presence of older workers means more people working rather than collecting pensions and being otherwise dependent on the productivity of younger workers.  This in turn drives greater and faster economic growth which in turn spurs the creation of more jobs.  The pool of available jobs is not static say economists.  It is a rapidly expanding pool that is driven by economic activity and technological innovation. 

If your plan for career progression begins and ends with waiting for your boss to retire or die in harness, then yes, the ageing workforce is going to be a bit of a problem for you.  But if you are open to lateral movement, reskilling in new technologies and embracing the new opportunities that an expanding economy presents then older workers are no threat to you.  And more than that by the time you get to be part of that cohort, you will probably be very grateful for the healthcare and lifestyle benefits they have forced employers to adopt to support an older workforce.

Why You Need To Hyper-Specialise

The days of the generalist are over. Today, the most influential people in your organisation are those with the ability to hyper-specialise.

By StockEU / Shutterstock

When I first started working in the world of influence and influencers, it was possible to own a massive space; whether it was leadership, real estate, finance, money or health. There were very few “gurus” who had access to a platform from to talk about their wide area of expertise.

Today, however, everybody has a platform. The internet is crowded with blogs, podcasts, Youtube channels and social media influencers, with the result that there’s way too much noise to own a huge space anymore. Now, the future belongs to micro-influencers; micro-authorities who hyper-specialise.

When stakeholders need help from a procurement professional, they need to be able to find you fast. They want to know – straight away – whether the space that you own aligns exactly with their situation and needs. An IT professional, for example, doesn’t want advice from a procurement generalist. They want to talk to an IT purchasing specialist – someone who understands the challenges involved and is well-known as an expert in that space.

Do you own your space on Google?

When was the last time you Googled yourself? Take a minute to do so now. What did you find out – do the search results make it clear what space you own?

According to Harvard University, over 50% of decisions are now made before we ever making contact i.e via what I would call “Google stalking”. When you first make contact with a talent prospect, a supplier or a potential consultant, one of the first things they will do (I guarantee it) is Google stalk you. If what they find is irrelevant, not specific to their needs or if they can’t find it fast enough, then you’ve lost that race.

To become an influencer, you have to own your space – but you can’t own a space unless you are clear on what space it is that you want to own.

Influence Intersections

But how do you find out the niche that you want to own? How do you discover the hyper-specialisation that will set you apart from everybody else?

Let me introduce a concept that I call Influence Intersections. Picture a Venn diagram: the first of the two circles is a world in which you have mastery, insights or experience. Then you overlay this with another world where you have mastery, insights or experience. The intersecting space in the middle is the space that only you can own. The space where your expertise will stand out.

Two celebrity influencers who hyper-specialised

Take Jamie Oliver – when he first started out there were many celebrity chefs from six-star hotels and restaurants. Then Jamie came along, and what did he have? He had mastery, experience, and insights into the high-end world of cooking, but he also had personality. The personality he brought to the front was that he understood families and what it’s like to cook for your children on a budget quickly in a healthy way. The place in the middle between those two spaces was a place that only Jamie could own.

Steve Jobs is another famous example. He took the world of engineering and computers and overlayed this with another world he knew – the world of the creative innovator. That space in the middle then became the key Apple needed to dominate the marketplace.  

Why should a procurement professional hyper-specialise?

One word – influence. Procurement professionals are typically frustrated by their lack of influence (or “seat at the table”) within their organisations, but building up your profile and becoming known as the go-to expert in your space will lift your influence and cause others to seek out your advice. Imagine, then, a whole team of hyper-specialised procurement professionals, each one famous in the organisation for owning their space. How influential would that department become?

It’s also a great tool to keep in mind for your next career move. If you begin hyper-specialising today with the aim of becoming known as the guru in your particular space, you might just be in a job interview situation one day where the interviewer says, “I’ve heard of you – your expertise is a perfect fit for this opportunity”.

Remember, the days of the generalist are over. Generalists rarely become voices of authority. In addition to not being renumerated as well as perceived ‘experts’ they also receive less engagement and fewer opportunities. Specialists, on the other hand, receive more credibility, more respect, more opportunities and more influence. 

What are the two worlds you can overlay to find – and own – your space?