business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Unintended consequences usually come when we least want them. By solving one problem, we find that two or three others - sometimes worse - get created. Yet, every now and again, the solution to one problem brings benefits in an entirely different direction.

For instance, consider the idea for changing retirement that comes from a new book reviewed this past weekend by the New York Times. The book, called “Working Longer: The Solution to the Retirement Income Challenge,” poses the question of whether Baby Boomers will and should postpone retirement to accumulate the money necessary to fund life in a period of growing longevity. It’s not a small question and one that certainly deserves attention as Boomers face up to the implications of insufficient savings, falling housing prices and consumer debt of all forms.

Postponing retirement by just three years, the authors argue, could drastically impact the financial fortunes of many soon-to-be retirees. And just to show that the authors aren’t talking about wild changes, the suggestion they make is that Americans work to push the average age of retirement to 66 from 63 today.

But it also connects beautifully with the companion issue of the knowledge and labor drain likely to follow the massive retirement of the Boomers, which is expected to build to tidal wave strength over the next decade.

In fact, Mark Bartholomew of Profiles International, a consultant working with me on FMI’s new Future Connect conference (that’s the full disclosure there) highlights longer careers as the single best way companies can address the coming labor crisis. Trading off reduced hours and responsibilities with reduced salaries could be a win-win for workers looking to extend their careers, while reducing their daily pressures. As increasing numbers of companies become aware of the incredible impact Boomer retirements are going to have, an innovative approach to managing the end of careers might provide an immense amount of relief.

It’s not the only win-win. Terry Soto, a leading consultant on issues facing the Hispanic population (and a long-time friend of mine) talks about the increasing importance of that part of the population. At a time when qualified workers are harder than ever to find and retain, industries - particularly the supermarket industry - cannot afford to give this burgeoning population group anything but its best opportunities. But none of this will come easily. It’s more than learning Spanish, which many of us would be well served to do. It’s about understanding cultural differences and reaching out in neighborhoods and population groups that are currently as foreign to many of us as a message board.

Here again, the win-win is pretty compelling. As Hispanics continue to make up a growing part of the population, winning their shopping dollars will become more important than ever. Lou Dobbs might fulminate at the Presidential candidates’ overtures to Hispanic community groups, but the simple truth is that appealing to 14 percent of the population is something candidates and retailers must do. Attracting Hispanics into retail and manufacturing companies and moving them into management is a great way to better understand, better serve and better win over this market.

It won’t happen easily and it won’t happen without effort. But as the great sage wisdom reminds us, necessity is usually the mother of invention. When it comes to our work force, the necessity is clear and the inventions may be well within our grasp. If we grab them, that is.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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