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Symposium 2013

Proposal - Riding the wave of demographic change

The Challenge

In 2020 the majority of baby boomers (age group born between 1956 and 1965) retires. Together with the retirees, 50 years of working experience will disappear. Furthermore, work related values like jo ...

In 2020 the majority of baby boomers (age group born between 1956 and 1965) retires. Together with the retirees, 50 years of working experience will disappear. Furthermore, work related values like job guarantee, high income and power will disappear as well. Whereas the age group born between 1965 and 1981, known as Generation X, started to question these classic values and to bring up the term “Work-Life-Balance”,

If you wonder why your 55 years old co-worker is still having rhetoric lessons in his or her lunch break instead of reviewing retirement options, you can stop reading now.

Demographic change is for real, and it happens whether we like it or not. And it will affect each one of us sooner or later. The way we live, work, and learn, and indeed our life blueprints will change dramatically over the next decades. This is a trend, not a threat; and we have to work with it. That means, first of all, that we have to contest our outdated beliefs about age and youth, about young talent and old pen-pushers, and ultimately about our concepts of “working conditions”.

A common approach in recent HR-development strategy is to identify different clusters of generations, such as Baby Boomers, or “generation X, Y, and Z”, and to define their wants and needs with regard to their working conditions and habits. This approach is of no help when it comes to dealing with the effects of demographic change. Today, thinking in clusters of generations without considering the whole lifecycle, is obsolete. So forget about single pools of generations. Instead, think about an ocean of diverse swarms of individuals and start acting accordingly.

At Deutsche Telekom, we believe that our entrepreneurial success depends on the contribution of all generations. Talent and dedication are no matter of age. Everybody is a talent in something. We know that the collaboration of different generations makes for best results. It is not about experience versus new skills, it is about experience and new skills. Mature-age workers transfer their knowledge and experience onto younger workers, and the young help the older colleagues to keep their skills current, for example in IT competence. We think of our organization as a marketplace, where everybody can bring his or her specific talent / experience / knowledge into tasks as hand. Regardless of age, sex or education.

We want people who are determined to achieve something in the company, and to those people we are giving back. Therefore, we support a wide range of choices that our employees will make. Retirement is no longer compulsory at a set age, as a growing number of older workers choose to stay in the workforce for longer. Also, as concepts such as “Work-Life-Balance” and values such as flexibility with regard to working hours and places become more and more important to people, we strive to accommodate individual working habits and personal situations. Who says that the best time to work is from 9 to five? Also, we support our employees in staying physically and mentally healthy throughout the entire life cycle while encouraging personal responsibility and we provide a health-conducive working environment. So rather than thinking about ”working conditions”, we have to think about the “employee conditions” and about how we can support them.

Our single-most important tool for dealing with and making the most of demographic change in our company is our commitment to lifelong learning. We support our employees in the improvement and continuous update of skill levels and the qualifications they need to rise with the tide in a highly dynamic and complex industry. Technological advancement and innovation are constantly altering our industry’s ecosystem: mobile telephony, mobile Internet, cloud computing, Smartphone or tablet computers. Compare, if you will, the lifecycles of products: 20 years for a plane, 5 years for a car, a year for a mobile phone, and maybe a few days for an app. To reach one’s fullest potential in such a fast-paced industry, it is necessary to keep skills and knowledge current. Therefore it is wrong to establish separate, “generation-specific” training offers. We don’t need the “senior’s menu” of training options; instead, we need an “open buffet” of development options for all!

It is give-and-take: we provide ample training and development opportunities, and in return we expect our workforce to engage in lifelong learning so that they contribute with their skills and knowledge to our success and competitiveness.

This is irrespective of age: we invest in every single employee. As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young”.

So a commitment to demography as a chance is not merely a lip service. We are dealing with a diverse structure of people in different life-phases and training needs. Our task as an employer is to empower them in whatever stage they are, irrespective of age and education level. This is the real challenge of demographic change.

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