Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New Career Choices

Today, I snuck up to Wintergreen to get a morning of skiing in. While there, I met a great guy named Mark. Mark is about 65 and a retired executive. We rode the lifts between runs and struck up a conversation about the economic changes.

If you were born in 1944 like Mark, then you would have been entered the job market in the mid-60's. At that time, the best place to work was likely GE and IBM. These companies offered defined pension plans for employees who worked there for their entire careers. This is where the retirement parties included a gold watch. The contract between employee and company was straightforward: work here for your entire career and we will take care of you until you die.

My generation is a little different. I was born in 1968 and entered the Marines in 1986. Had I gone straight to college, I would have entered the career mode in 1990 or so. My generation figured out that the defined pension plans were a thing of the past. Big companies made matching contributions to a 401K which I could roll over to another if I were to leave. The implied contract was not for life. My generation was the "free agent" employee. They moved from job to job after anywhere from 2 to 4 years on the job.

Of course, the current market is messing that up for a number of people. If you are sitting on a 401K then you likely have seen the value drop in half over the past year. Companies are now stopping their contributions to 401k plans and if enough time passes, they might not restart them.

My kids are going to have a tougher time putting together a career than I did. I hope to guide them to see the big picture and make choices based upon what works best for them. However, we can agree that the safe old days are over and risk is shifted to the workers away from the companies.

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