Boomers or bust

In the Weekend Australian of Dec. 9-10, Bernard Salt wrote a thought provoking article about Baby Boomers retiring and the major impacts that this trend will have on society. As Baby Boomers have moved through their life cycle, they have dramatically changed many of the industries that they have become customers of. Think of the changes over the last 40 years in industries like banking, travel, the law, consumer protection, housing, commercial construction, environmental services & healthcare to name a few.

This wave of change is now impacting on the retirement industry. We have seen retirement villages change over 20- 30 years from church run housing for the elderly to retirement resorts with luxurious facilities. Seachangers and treechangers are flocking to  some regional areas and changing the demographics and lifestyles of these towns and cities.

While Bernard Salt focussed on retiring Baby Boomers, the reality is that the changes following hard on the heels of the retiring Baby Boomers, will affect nearly everyone, especially those under the age of 50.

The big game changer is longevity. It will be common for children born in first world countries to live to 100. Under our current retirement norm of quitting work at around 65, people would be in education until their early – mid 20s and then work for about 40 – 45 years before retiring for another 30 – 35 years. It’s doubtful that our social security system can fund these people for that long.

Our society will have to adapt to fast and continuous change and we will have to be clever and flexible if we are to maintain our living standards. Given the appetite for reform in this country, this could be a big challenge.

Workers will have to adapt as new industries arise and others largely disappear. This means that skills learned at technical colleges and universities by students in their teens and twenties could be redundant by the time these people reached 40 or 50 and they will have to retrain for an industry which could be totally new.

We will obviously have to work longer if we are going to have to fund 20 – 30 years in retirement. The government has realised this and is pushing up the pension age to 70.

Workers in most industries will have to adapt to lifelong education as we continually adapt to new technology and new industries replacing older ones. It will become common for people to have 2-3 totally separate careers in the second half of this century.

Just to make life more challenging, society will have to adapt to a high degree of robotics and artificial intelligence in many industries and the impact that this will have on unemployment and social security budgets.

So while Bernard Salt made some very sensible comments on the impact of ageing Baby Boomers, the challenges he touched on are just the start of what society will have to manage during the 21st century. Maybe he’ll cover this issue in a future article.

Posted in Articles.