The Young and the Restless

Whenever Peter Drucker talked about the biggest challenges that the world would face in the 21st century, he always seemed to come back to one thing: the rising number of older people and the diminishing number of those who are younger.

“This is going to create political and social conflict in every developed country,” he warned. “And nobody really sees it. People see it as an economic issue, and that’s the least of it.”

Drucker’s concerns rang in our ears the other day when we read this New York Times dispatch from Tokyo: “In Japan, Young Face Generational Roadblocks.” The story detailed how Japanese in their 20s and 30s are being forced into “low-paying, dead-end jobs—in effect, forcing them to shoulder the costs of preserving cushier jobs for older employees.” The result, the article suggested, is that Japan is seeing a “failure of entrepreneurship” and a malaise across an entire generation.

[EXPAND More]Drucker, for one, knew that generational conflict could cut both ways. For instance, he decried the practice of “older workers being pushed into early retirement to make room for younger people, who are believed to cost less or to have more up-to-date skills.” At the same time, he thought that employers needed to experiment with different work arrangements so that people 60 and older stepped out of most decision-making roles. “Why?” Drucker asked. “Partly to keep opportunities for younger people open.”

Indeed, Drucker had no illusions that young people who didn’t find opportunity and fulfillment in their jobs would simply move on—possibly even to stake their fortunes far from their home countries, as seems to be the case in Japan. And the consequences of that sort of talent drain can be dire.

“The first sign of decline of an industry is loss of appeal to qualified, able and ambitious people,” Drucker wrote. He pointed, for example, to the railroads, which after World War I “no longer appealed to young engineering graduates or to any educated young people. As a result, there was nobody in management capable and competent to cope with new problems when the railroads ran into heavy weather 20 years later.”

What about you? Have you run into any generational conflict in your work life?[/EXPAND]

What about you? Have you run into any generational conflict in your work life? (Photo source: