Automotive Buyouts Force Baby Boomer Second Career Transitions

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"Over the hill" in Corporate America is getting a lot younger. Employee buyouts in the automotive industry are forcing later-in-life transitions to second careers. Many Baby Boomers are asking the question, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

Baby Boomers, the cohort of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, have confronted turbulent social and political change while setting significant new trends in every phase of their lives. Becoming members of a burgeoning species of the involuntary retired is just one more bump on the road of life for this powerful generation.

“Over the hill” in Corporate America is getting a lot younger. An expert estimates that 3.5 million people between the ages of 40 and 58 vanished from the American workforce from 2001 to 2004. That's about 5 percent of all Baby Boomers. And now the automotive industry’s restructuring buyouts of 2005 and 2006 are forcing second careers to sprout out of the pain of a pink slip for boomers. Many of the 78 million boomers in the United States are asking the question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

These later-in-life career changers don't care about taking it easier and often will work as hard or harder than they did in the jobs they left behind. A Merrill Lynch & Co. retirement survey of more than 3,000 Baby Boomers reported that 83 percent intend to keep working and 56 percent of them hope to do so in a new profession.

Second careers are like second marriages--you are prepared to make better choices on what you want to do and who you want to do it with.

Many people are planning on working into their 70s or even later and 16 percent plan to work for themselves or start their own business. A 2004 AARP study shows that the proportion of self-employed workers rises with typical working age, peaking at 24 percent of working women at age 66 and 38 percent of working men at age 65. The numbers reflect that people are "doing this as a transition to retirement, or they tend to be working longer than those who are in wage-and-salary jobs," said Lynn Karoly, a senior economist with Rand and co-author of the AARP study.

“With children gone, corporate jobs eliminated, little retirement savings and the best years of their life beginning, Baby Boomers are ready to move on to a second career and downsized home more suited to their current and future needs,” says John G. Agno, career coach and Baby Boomer Tips blogger at

Agno says, “We are all knowledgeable workers today and many boomers are walking away from employers with tacit knowledge intact. The experience gained in career number one will be selectively applied in a second career---allowing boomers to do what they do best, where and when they want to do it.”

A majority of boomers say they want to work in a phased retirement, but companies are only just beginning to try to figure out how to accommodate that. The Merrill Lynch survey found that 71 percent of adults hope to work in retirement, with many looking for part-time jobs or an opportunity to move in and out of the work force---perhaps, during a period as a long as ten years.

"Employers simply can't afford to see this Baby Boomer generation retire en masse," says Roselyn Feinsod, principal at Towers Perrin HR Services in Stamford, CT, "without witnessing significant effects on productivity, the ability to serve customers and, ultimately, the bottom line." According to a survey conducted by Towers Perrin, employees 55 and older were found to be more engaged and committed to their work than their younger colleagues. Yet, few companies have figured out how to share knowledge among employees or to pass it on when workers retire or change assignments.

Agno cautions the mature adult to take stock of yourself and your life during this mid-course career correction before jumping into a new job. A financial planner can help you to map out your retirement needs and a career coach can help you inventory your signature talents and discover how to apply your knowledge and experience in a way that works best for you and your family. Managing money well is important. But for many people, the most important investment they can make during their working years is in gathering the skills, education and contacts they need for the work they want to do in retirement.

As Bernard Baruch once said, "Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it. Experience achieves more with less energy and time."

Knowing who you are and what you want to achieve in your second career matters.


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John Agno
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