VIRTUAL WORKFORCE AND CAREER EXPERTS URGE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO FOCUS ON BOOMER CAREER RETIREMENT ISSUES
Warn of an "Avalanche of Need" that Could Sweep the U.S. For Financially Strapped Boomers
Burke, Va. - Jan. 24, 2008
With the U.S. and global economy gyrating, national experts in career transition and the virtual, home-based workplace are urging all presidential candidates to place the needs of retiring boomers among their top priorities, particularly in regard to career retraining, small-business development and management support where there is evidence of growing demand for assistance.
Don Wilson, president and CEO of the Association of Small Business Development Center Network (ASBDC), representing 1,000 service centers nationwide that provide no-cost consulting and low-cost training to half a million small businesses annually, says he is grateful for this year's $10 million increase to ASBDC's budget. However, he points out that the amount is a drop in the bucket compared to demand his centers are starting to experience from retiring boomers seeking help starting or growing small enterprises to augment their incomes during retirement.
"The candidates are talking about education and here we are offering education for businesses," said Wilson, adding that the ASBDC was level-funded from 2000 until 2007. Despite the recent budget increase, he said in today's dollars ASBDC needs at least $115 million "to have the same buying power as we did in 2001. We actually served fewer counseling clients at a national level in 2006 (no numbers were available for 2007), which was down from 2005," and this is despite the fact that the first wave of boomers hit retirement age in 2007.
"For the past five or six years, we've been seeing an increasing number of older Americans coming in. As they reach retirement age, they want part-time work, or they say they want to start a home-based virtual business, a small manufacturing, or retail brick and mortar business," explained Wilson. Many have broad experience or great skill sets, "but need business management knowledge," he said, adding that "this does not come automatically."
By virtual business, Wilson is referring to a small business that relies on advanced technology to operate, whether from a home, a rental office or elsewhere.
Georgianna Parkin, vice-chair of ASBDC's board of directors and state director for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (SBDC), is also witnessing "a continual increase each year among boomers who want to start a business. Some expand from hobbies, some for social reasons and others due to a perceived need in the market."
When asked if SBDC funding was adequate to meet projected boomer career or business counseling needs nationally, Parkin said "absolutely not." She pointed out that it was "critical to keep these boomers employed and active contributors to the economic base. Otherwise, we could have a population in debt, as well as ignoring the tremendous talent this population possesses."
Those serving boomers on websites and in private practices are equally concerned, particularly given the many boomers who are purported to be in debt. Amy Zuckerman, an award-winning author and consultant based in Amherst, Mass. who was recently profiled on CNN.com (12/17/07), warns candidates of an "avalanche of boomer need" that is about to sweep the country. Through the many blogs and groups she manages on boomer social networking sites such as EONS.com, Multiply, and TeeBeeDee.com, she is encountering many older boomers struggling to survive on Social Security and dwindling revenue.
"With boomers starting to retire in 2007 and many in debt, I am deeply concerned about the future. While the media and candidates are focusing a great deal on health care, which is positive, they are missing the enormous need for career retraining, as well assistance to the millions of boomers who are telling pollsters they intend to start their own businesses during retirement," said Zuckerman who also writes the blog: "Living a Virtual American Dream" (http//:www.virtualdream.amyz-blogspot.com).
She points to new data from a pilot Virtual Business and Careers survey currently housed on her EONS.com "Building a Virtual Company" group page (URL below). Preliminary findings, based on a sampling of EONS members, indicate that 77 percent of EONS respondents plan to operate a small, home-based business during their retirement years.
(The survey can be found at http://www.eons.com/survey/welcome/10.)
Although numbers from mid-December to the first week in January were based on a sample of only 170, they correlate with earlier polls by Yahoo.com and MassInc's Commonwealth Magazine, as well as anecdotal reporting from Newsweek's "Boomer Files." All of these regional and national sources have indicated that a majority of boomers - between 60 and 75 percent - plan to run home-based, virtual companies of various types when they are in retirement.
"The problem for many boomers, particularly those who have always worked for an employer, is that they don't have a clue about how to make money outside of a full-time job," said Zuckerman, who was the Small Business Administration's 2005 Home-Based Business Champion for New England and Massachusetts. "They don't know how to manage their time, manage technology, or market themselves. And many are falling prey to scam artists promising them a solid income from web-based schemes."
Zuckerman says she is pleased to see a new bill - The Parents' Tax Relief Act of 2007 - including tax incentives for those working at home. However, she points out that polls she has conducted with the members of Hidden-Tech (www.hidden-tech.net), an organization she founded in 2002, and from interviews nationwide, indicate that many boomers and others are operating virtual enterprises outside the home. "I'm concerned that that this bill will not assist many in the burgeoning virtual economy who do not operate strictly from their homes," she explained.
"The government," Zuckerman said, "needs to drastically beef up funding for boomer retraining through the ASBDC's small business development centers, as well as the SCORE program. And Congress needs to redraft the U.S. Census to gather data on the virtual economy, as a whole, and not focus solely on home-based companies."
Wendy Spiegel, founder of GENPLUS (tm) - Reinventing 50 Plus (www.genplususa.com) in the Los Angeles area, cautions that "over the past several years of receiving e-mails from mature workers desperate for employment, it is clear that we are still five years or more away from large numbers of employers being truly willing to hire-or recruit for-a 50 plusser." Spiegel, who authors the popular Gen Plus blog (http://genplus.blogspot.com) and, like Zuckerman, has been an expert blogger on EONS.com, collaborated with Zuckerman in developing the survey that appears on the EONS.com site.
She believes that "as a result of the employment challenges and lack of financial security facing the mature worker, more and more jobseekers are going to have to find alternative ways to make a living. Multi-channel careering is going to become the new boomer trend, and that includes a significant increase in virtual industry, flex jobs, telecommuting, and virtual contact center positions."
On the flip side of the job coin, businesses will be "facing a massive talent shortage as all these boomers move out of full-time employment," said Charlie Grantham, co-founder of Work Design Collaborative and the Future of Work program with bases in California and Prescott, Ariz. "Companies will have to turn to the boomers as a part-time labor force," he said, "but the boomers won't be willing to commute to central-city corporate offices. We're going to have to learn how to manage a widely distributed work force whose members have a very different set of values and expectations about how, when, and where they work."
"We need a ton of new public policies to deal with this massive transformation in the workforce," argued Jim Ware, co-founder with Grantham of the Work Design Collaborative and the Future of Work program. "Work force development programs will have to include post-65ers, and we should be rethinking Social Security, health care, and 401K programs to be sure they meet the needs of both employers and all these 'free-agent' seniors," he says.