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Retirement: How Old Is Old?


“In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” I’d give you the name of the guy who said that (which I do know) because it is a great quote when applied to learning and development. But I’m not going to. It turns out the guy died at the age at 41 in incredibly tragic circumstances that won’t benefit anyone from attention here. Suffice to say that the guy had a problem, a fairly common one, that if addressed early on might have prevented the tragedy. Theoretically. However, in theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.

This might be irony. There’s a lot of confusion, if not on the dictionary definition, then certainly on some examples. I sold an ironing board on Trademe. The buyer kept calling it an ‘irony board,’ ironically without a shred of irony. I think we’d all like a functional ‘irony board’ where we can stand and place on it our ipad and share on social media that video where a guy recites a poem about how sad it is that everyone spends so much time on social media, while listening on iTunes to that song by Alannis Morrisette called ‘Ironic’ which at no point ever provides an example of anything that is genuinely ironic, and otherwise generally being contrary to expectations in a wryly amusing way. And it would need to have adjustable heights. Flexibility is very important in an ironing board, as it is for employers responding to demographic changes such as aging in their workforce and workforce marketplace.

The New Zealand workforce is greying, becoming more female, and will stop expanding by about 2030. Older workers will have a profound effect on the labour market as aging will affect the size, characteristics and possibly the productivity of the New Zealand workforce.

How old is old anyway? I heard a supposedly classic hits radio station the other day announcing a classic hit from 2005. 2005 isn’t a classic hit. 2005 is an overdue library book. Maybe that makes me old? The international survey folk looking at workforce demographics vary in their opinions. Some say 40+, some say 45+ but most of the OECD governments reckon 50+. I think being old is something we should opt into, like mailing lists. Don’t arbitrarily assign me to a category because my chronological odometer reaches a certain point. I’m old when I choose to be. That said, when I hit 45, my medical centre sent me an email offering free cholesterol and diabetes tests. There may be no such thing as a free lunch but I’ll take a free check-up any day. I wonder what they’ll give me on my 50th? My teenage son is getting me a free skydive. His heart is in the right place and hopefully my free check-up will conform that mine is too.

For every retired person in 2004, there were 5.5 workers supporting them. In 2050, that ratio will be 2.2:1. I’ll be one of the 1s (cholesterol and diabetes notwithstanding.) I’d like to get to know my 2.2 supporting workers personally. Rather than general tax money going into a general bucket and the Government doling it out as it sees fit, I’d like to personally connect with my providers of retirement income and services. Working-aged me has a picture on my fridge door of the African child I’m supporting for $1.20 a day. Letters arrive now and then advising how my $1.20 is helping build wells and provide school books. In 2050, working Madison and Troy can have a picture of non-working ninety-year-old Terry on their futuristic fridge and I’ll skype them once a month with updates on my hip replacement, an extensive list of wild opinions on a range of seemingly unconnected topics and a consistent complaint that skype and fridges were a lot better back in my day.

New Zealand currently has skill shortages. If that workforce growth slows from 2030, the skills shortages will only get worse. We can add people to the workforce by adding people – increasing the birthrate. That ain’t gonna happen. We can import people – that’s been happening forever and, to an extent, is part of the solution, although one with its own set of additional costs and problems. Or, we can upskill the people we have, including the less young ones.

I grew up on the TV show ‘The Young Ones.’ I was flatting in a student flat as Rik, Neil, Viv and Mike flatted in theirs. When actor and writer Rik Mayall died recently, it reminded me that the young ones, ironically, were in their mid 50s now.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I reckon people are people and people are different. Those with open minds and motivation and the right support, tools, feedback and practice can learn some new tricks, if not all tricks. I reckon that the old dogs who aren’t into learning new tricks probably weren’t so flash at the learning when they were younger dogs either.







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