War of the Generations: (Re) Entering the Under-Employed Workforce

Employed, under-employed, and unemployed workers of all generations are colliding in the marketplace.

By Jim Finkelstein, President and CEO, FutureSense, Inc.

As we move out of the first Great Recession of the 21st century and the job market begins to return slowly, we are faced with an increasingly new dynamic for job seekers—the war of the generations. Millennials are seeking to enter for the first time; GenXers are seeking to upgrade their positions; Boomers are seeking to, in many cases, re-enter the workplace having had their retirement nest eggs seriously whacked; and Seniors are seeking additional monetary resources and intellectual stimulation. In short, everyone is out there slugging it out for jobs that are still limited in existence.

Let’s examine a few of the dynamics in today’s human capital marketplace: underemployment and competition among the generations.


The jobs that have returned are, in many cases, a shadow of their former selves. We know employers are seeking to do more with less, so when jobs reappear, they are offering these juicy morsels to a hungry unemployed workforce at much less than previously. Compensation levels are less, perks are non-existent, and benefits are being taken away (or costs shared at a higher level). Those who survived the recession often were asked to take lower level jobs with lower pay. Often these jobs did not fully utilize their pracademic skills—acquired in school or through practical application on the job.

This in-place, under-employed worker is a force to be reckoned with as a competitive threat for those trying to enter or return to work. They are hungry for upward mobility and for resuming their career aspirations. Much like 401(k) plans became 201(k) plans, the under-employed workforce took major steps back and now wants to get back to where it was at.

A note to the under-employed: It is all about skill development. As the market for jobs improves, on-the-job training won’t get this development done fast enough. It is now about night school and online training and about exponentially increasing your marketability internally through the acquisition of critical competencies to rise above those trying to return to work.

Watch out, graduating Millennials, re-entering Boomers, or happy-to do-anything Seniors: These under-employed folks are going for the plum jobs from the inside!

War of the Generations

During the Great Recession, Mom and Dad were laid off, had their time at work reduced, or took time off to raise the kids and now want to get back in the money-making business. Meanwhile, the kids were finishing college and thinking about what they were going to do after their post-graduation vacation and travel, community service, or opting to go to graduate school right away. And, to boot, their grandparents realized their savings weren’t going to take them through the rest of their life and candidly not only needed the money but wanted the chance to trade in the golf clubs for some intellectual stimulation. The perfect storm. Generations colliding.

Millennials enter as the most technologically proficient generation in history; Boomers have the wisdom of their most recent leadership experiences…and candidly, Seniors just have the passion to be helpful to anyone. We are not ignoring the GenXers, but this generation is so small and seems to be a mash-up of both Millennials and Boomers.

So employers have a conundrum. Do they buy a future star or someone who has been a star in the past? Do they seek the customer service orientation of the Seniors? What skill set are they really seeking? Technological savvy or business experience? Intellectual maturity or emotional maturity?

At a minimum, Mom and Dad, you will need to get remedial help from your competitors (your kids) to “get” the bits and bytes necessary to use the tools of today. Kids, you will need to get emotional coaching from your competitors (the parental units) in order to understand how to survive and thrive in the game known as business. And Grandma and Grandpa, your enthusiasm to do anything may not be enough. Get computer coaching from the grandkids and get current on business trends from your kids.

So, a war of the generations is emerging. Employed, under-employed, and unemployed workers of all generations are colliding in the marketplace. And no one is going home soon. Everyone is seeking meaning, motivation, and above all, money. Be prepared to compete—and compete fiercely.

Jim Finkelstein is president and CEO of FutureSense, Inc., and author of “Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace” (Greenleaf Book Group), available October 2011 at http://amazon.com. It also will be available in eBook format. With 34-plus years of consulting and corporate experience, Finkelstein has specialized in business and people strategy, motivation and reward, and organizational assessment, development, communications, and transformation. He has worked for diverse industries, from health care to high tech, and has built programs and provided services to boards of directors, senior executives, management, and employees. For more information, visit www.fusethebook.com and http://www.futuresense.com.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.