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Howard Tullman
There’s a lot to be said for youth and inexperience, but many companies today need wiser, more experienced workers to get them through the next business cycle. It’s time to go gray.

14-Mar-24 – As more and more businesses begin to feel confident about the stickiness of the post-pandemic economy, and their revenues crest or outstrip their pre-COVID levels, company owners and managers are beginning to slowly try to hire back people they have let go in the last three years. That’s not necessarily an easy task because a lot of their former team members have moved on, moved out, or aren’t interested in returning to their old jobs.

To allow this rebuilding to be done at scale is also going to require a sizeable amount of attitude adjustment on the part of all the parties. Millions of young people think the stock market only goes up and that the world is just waiting to make them rich. Millions of middle-aged people thought they had signed up for lifetime employment and now are learning that they need to be lifelong learners to stay relevant and employed. What keeps growing never grows old. And millions of aspiring entrepreneurs think that tech is going to solve all the world’s problems if the old guys will just get out of the way.

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It’s going to take a lot of patience, pain, and perseverance to pull off this process of re-upping and reloading the workforce.

Hiring the right number, desired skillsets, and demographic mix of new employees is clearly more challenging than before because rapid advances in various AI technologies, new and increasingly intelligent robotics, and the expanded automation of many traditional processes have changed the game. A significant number of the old positions have been eliminated – or compressed – and many others require new and different skills.

As a result, the job descriptions and search parameters for qualified candidates who are already trained and can smoothly step into the open slots have also been altered and updated. Experience and expertise are going to be highly valued, along with the ability to hit the ground running. The last thing that many of these companies desire is to spend a lot of scarce dollars for on-the-job training.

Another large group of theoretical prospects are the pools of recent college graduates, a great number of whom have never had a full-time job. Unfortunately, far too many of them have unrealistic compensation goals, work-life expectations, and other employment requirements, which make them less attractive and riskier hires. They don’t seem to have gotten the memo about what “work” actually means in the real world. They’ve also never lived through a real economic downturn or suffered through a recession and seen friends and families lose their jobs, savings, and sometimes far more than that.

So, they’re softer, less resilient, and aggressively impatient – but not in a good way. Since things have largely always gone their way, they haven’t really learned much about adversity or the bitter compromises everyone eventually makes in life. You don’t really learn from good experiences and success – you just keep doing things the same way that you always have done.

Energy, enthusiasm, and eagerness used to be critical considerations in hiring new employees. These are still important attributes, but we’re facing another year or two of market uncertainty, slow and careful growth rather than explosive leaps, and an overall interest in patience, prudence, and hunkering down to weather the next storm. Security, stability, and liquidity are going to be top of mind for senior management, stockholders, and stakeholders and no one wants to be seen hanging way out over their skis.

As a result, in the smartest and most competitive companies, we’re going to see another dramatic shift in their hiring perspectives: more focus on gray hair, prior, relevant work experience, and, maybe most importantly, men and women of a certain age who are now far more readily available in significant numbers. They’re grounded, serious, and realistic – and they’re much more about taking orders than taking risks, and that’s a good thing.

These are the mid-careerists who’ve seen the hard times and remember the troughs and valleys that always offset the peaks and moonshots that have been all the media rage for the last two decades.

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The pampered and hyper-parented Gen Zers have heard incessantly, their whole lives, about home runs, trees that grow to the sky, and the glory days. By contrast, the older folks have seen the bumps in the road as well. People who’ve maybe lost a serious job or two; who have serious financial, family, and other obligations; and, frankly, who are likely to be excited and grateful to be rejoining the working world at this point in their careers.

What they may lack in speed and reaction time is far less critical in the tortoise times to come when only the craziest rabbits are running amok. The fact that they appreciate the opportunity and what they can make out of it – instead of regarding a job as something they’re willing to settle for in the moment – tells a smart employer everything you need to know.

Resilience is a powerful muscle that grows stronger over time and through repeated exercise and testing. Our teams need it now more than ever.