The Great Generational Shift – What To Expect From Workforce 2020

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The Numbers Problem: Workforce 2017 (and 2020 is just around the corner) and it has to do in part with a big generation gap difference. One must look at the key macro forces driving change

Based on our model, there are six different generations still working side by side in 2017, but just barely:

Note: Demographers differ about the exact parameters of each generation. The definitions are always somewhat in flux. Because both the Baby Boomers and the Millennials are such large generations, our model splits them both into “First Wave” and “Second Wave” cohorts.

In just the last year alone, millions of First Wave Boomers and pre-Boomers have left the North American workforce, while millions of Second Wave Millennials have joined:

Great Generational Shift Workforce 2020

The long dominant Boomers are on the wane, while the Second Wave Millennials are on the rise. The oldest of the First Wave Boomers are now in their 70s and every single day, in North America alone, another 10,000 First Wave Boomers turn 70. In terms of percentage, the trends are very similar throughout Europe and in Japan. By 2020, First Wave Boomers will be well under 6% of the workforce and those who do remain in the workforce will continue trending heavily toward “reinventing” retirement and late-career pre-retirement: Working less than full-time, often partially telecommuting, and often working nonexclusively for more than one employer. At the same time and for the foreseeable future, the Second Wave Millennials (and soon post-Millennials) will be the fastest growing segment of the workforce. By 2020, those born 1990 and later will be greater than 28% of the workforce altogether (including post-Millennials).

Great Generational Shift Workforce 2020

While the shift in numbers is swift and steady even in “older” North America, Europe, and Japan, the youth bubble is much, much larger in Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia. By 2020, in these younger parts of the world, those born 1990 and later will be more than 60% of the workforce. Considering the increasing globalization of the workforce, one important feature of the emerging young workforce is that it will be increasingly global, with a much greater percentage of the new young global workforce coming from outside of North America, Europe, and Japan.

Great Generational Shift Workforce 2020

The Forces Driving Change: No Ordinary Generation Gap.

Why is this generation gap different from most?

Throughout most of history, in most societies, every new generation has come along with new attitudes and expectations that differ – at least in part – from those of previous generations. That’s why every new generation prompts a “generation gap” of sorts.

Today’s generation gap, in contrast, is about much more than a clash of styles and preferences; much more than the creative energy of youth challenging the cautious wisdom of experience; more than the new butting up against the old. The “Generational Shift” unfolding today is of historic significance, defined by the confluence of macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace. The Second Wave Millennials coming of age today have been shaped by those same forces of change. As such, the current generation gap is not only an important diversity issue, but also coincides with a qualitative transformation in the norms of life and work and society – at every level. Everything is changing so much and so fast that the youngest, least experienced people bring to the table a unique wisdom that comes from being in sync – much more so than older, more experienced people – with the immediate and intermediate future, like so many “canaries in the coal mine.” That’s why generational differences evident in today’s youth can serve as a powerful lens through which to understand the trajectory of today’s changing world.

Our efforts remain focused on understanding today’s changing workforce, changing workplace, changing nature of employment, and even changes in the very nature of work itself. To that end, we continue tracking the same six profound historical forces of change we’ve watched unfolding in plain sight now for more than two decades:

  1. Globalization
  2. Technology
  3. Institutional insecurity
  4. The information environment
  5. Human diversity
  6. Virtual reality

Can there be any doubt that these same six macro forces driving change continue to accelerate and continue to define the transformations evident in every aspect of life and work? Does anyone remember a year prior to 2016-2017 with more object-lessons demonstrating the impact of each and every one of these forces of change?

Great Generational Shift Workforce 2020 Macro Forces Driving Change geenration gap generation gap

Article By Bruce Tulgan

About The Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website

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