The baby busters

A new generation is making its mark on society

NORA UNDERWOOD November 14 1988

The baby busters

A new generation is making its mark on society

NORA UNDERWOOD November 14 1988

The baby busters


A new generation is making its mark on society

Joseph Deutscher’s family often tells him that he works too hard. But Deutscher has a reason. With an annual income of about $40,000, the 25-year-old science graduate from the University of Saskatchewan works as a production engineer at a Dow Chemical of Canada Inc. plant in Fort Saskatchewan, 25 km northeast of Edmonton. And if all goes according to his plan,

Deutscher says, the future is going to be bright. “I should be a senior production engineer in the next year or so,” he explained, “then a production specialist in two or three years and a production supervisor within five years.” Like many other members of the post-baby-boom generation,

Deutscher is confident that his skills are going to be in demand and that he is going to climb the corporate ladder quickly. But unlike members of the baby boom who preceded him—and who faced stiff competition for jobs—

Deutscher can afford to attach as much importance to his leisure time as to his career. Like others of his age group, Deutscher is a so-called baby buster— one of the generation of tough-minded, ambitious and choosy young adults who are beginning to make their mark on North American society.

As members of the generation born since the early 1960s—when the baby boom that followed the Second World War began to slow dramatically—the baby busters are also eager to climb the corporate ladder quickly, but on their own terms. And University of Toronto history professor John Ingham says that the busters have a great deal of individual influence with employers because of the demand for their skills.

Jodi Hosking is a typical buster. Last May, the 23-year-old political science graduate of Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que., joined Steelcase Canada Ltd., a multinational furniture manufacturing company, as a sales co-ordinator in the firm’s Markham, Ont., branch. Hosking says that she gave the matter careful thought before deciding to join the firm.

“The company has a great deal of growth potential,” said Hosking. “Because it is ranked in the top 100 companies in Canada, there had to be a lot of good things about it.” Initially, said Hosking, who earns about $25,000 a year

the luxury of being selective. Patricia Cooper, a human resources manager for Price Waterhouse in Toronto, an international firm of chartered accountants, says that the challenge for all industries now is to make long-term careers appealing. “You can’t assume they’re going to stay with you forever,” Cooper says. “Security at the expense of having an interesting and challenging position no longer exists.” Like many other companies, Price Waterhouse has developed new sets of working options—four-day workweeks and flexible hours that are designed particularly to appeal to their young employees. Other businesses have had to add new benefits. Indeed, three weeks ago, IBM Corp. began offering extended personal leaves of up to three years with paid benefits to its U.S. employees. Declared Coo-

including profit-sharing benefits, her goals were primarily monetary. But now, she says, she is more concerned about the rewards of being challenged. Declared Hosking: “I want a feeling of being involved.”

Karen Cramm, a partner in the chartered accountancy firm of Touche Ross & Co. in Halifax, says that the desire for quick upward mobility is common among busters. “They’re prepared to work hard and advance,” said Cramm. “There are so many opportunities that they’re not worried. They are ambitious and they’re eager to get to the top right away.” Those attitudes, in turn, mean that many companies must deal with the changing demands that their younger employees place on them. Some firms have started to offer higher salaries for entry-level jobs in an attempt to entice a new generation of workers who have

per: “I think everyone is accepting—reluctantly or not—the fact that society is evolving and that organizations have to adapt as well.”

Still, some busters, including Paul Kandel, a 27-year-old equity researcher at Bankers Trust Co. in New York City, say that some of their older co-workers resent members of his generation. “These people in their 30s say: ‘Look at this guy. He’s just out of business school and look what he’s getting paid,’ ” said Kandel. A 28-year-old stock analyst at a Wall Street firm, who asked not to be identified, also says that there is a different attitude among the newer recruits. “The people in their 30s all had to scrub some floors before they got where they are today,” she says. “With the younger set, I get the feeling that they don’t think anyone scrubs floors.”

Last year, officials at the London, Ont.-based


London Life Insurance Co. conducted a training program for 215 managers to help them understand the changing aspirations of their younger colleagues. “It’s entirely different now,” said James Etherington, the firm’s 50year-old vice-president of corporate affairs. “When I came out of university in 1961, my life was fairly well set—get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, and, if you worked hard, you’d advance.” But Etherington, whose sons are 21 and 26, added that many busters seem less concerned about those things. “They’re willing to take chances, be more flexible,” said Etherington. “We knew that if we kept our noses to the grindstone, things would work out for us. They’re not so sure.”

For his part, John Kettle, author of a 1980 book on the baby boom generation entitled The Big Generation, maintains that what is occurring now is only a hint of what will happen when those born during the early 1970s— when Canada’s birthrate was sharply declining from the baby boom years—enter the workforce. In Canada, only 350,650 babies were born in 1974 compared with 479,275 in 1959, at the height of the baby boom. Similarly, in the United States, only 3.1 million children were born in 1973 compared with 4.3 million in 1957, at the peak of the boom in that country. “The message here is, You ain’t seen anything yet,” said Kettle. “There will be at least five more years in which the number of labor-force entrants is going to be lower year by year.” And the shortage, he added, means that wages for young workers will inevitably increase.

But many company officials note that salaries now appear to be less important for young adults who are in the early stages of their careers. Said Price Waterhouse’s Cooper: “Early on, they’re very career-oriented but they come to a point where they say, ‘Gee, I don’t want to be that way.’ That’s happening sooner, and they’re planning for it.” Peter Frost, who teaches organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says that students now want to have choices and that they put emphasis on both work and leisure. “They want a sense of challenge, of satisfaction and interest in both their working lives and in the nonwork areas of their lives,” said Frost. “They want to make money, but it doesn’t come first on their list of priorities. They want the money to be able to do things they want to do.”

For Deutscher, a good salary is a way to reduce his debts quickly—including a $50,000 mortgage on a three-bedroom bungalow in

northwest Edmonton—before starting a family. And after putting money into retirement savings and company stock each month, Deutscher says that he has enough left over for “the toys”—including a brand-new $22,000 Mazda MX Turbo GT sports car and a video cassette recorder, microwave oven, stereo

affected by important events of historic significance, including the Vietnam War or the political unrest of the 1960s. Catherine Vertesi, assistant dean of commerce at the University of British Columbia, says that some students get involved in such campus activities as student councils.

But Vertesi added that many participate not only out of personal interest but from a desire to make their professional résumé look better. Said Judy Kwong, 23, an assistant to a media planner at Baker Lovick Advertising in Vancouver: “My career will always be important to me, but there are other things that are important as well,” including skiing, playing tennis and eventually having a family. Politics, however, is not among them. By taking part in such activities as the commerce student council, Kwong says that while she was pursuing her interests, she was also conscious of the need to make useful personal contacts and improve her résumé.

Partly as a result of that attitude, observers including Ingham, who teaches a course in popular culture, say s that baby busters may be less o likely to have as great an ^ impact on society as their ~ predecessors. Said Ingham: “From the late 1970s, there has been no real clear cultural stamp— rather, a whole series of subcultures that individuals have focused on. It’s all very segmented.” The lack of a unifying culture, says Ingham, may weaken the group culturally, politically and socially. As a result, he added, more young people may be “oriented toward material possessions rather than thinking in broader terms.”

Still, some observers say that the busters’ priorities are basically not much different from those of their elders. Said Barry Doyle, an employment counsellor at the Canada Employment Centre at Halifax’s Dalhousie University: “They’re all looking for employment relating to their studies, with a decent starting salary and opportunity for advancement. There are no changes in what students are looking for now versus the early 1970s, when I was finishing university.” But in one respect, at least, the two groups clearly differ. Where those born later in the peak of the boom have had tough competition for spaces in good universities and decent jobs, many baby busters share Deutscher’s confidence that—for the time being, anyway—the sky is the limit.

system and digital piano.

Unlike their predecessors, busters show a notable lack of interest in politics. Many observers attribute that indifference to the fact that the busters have never been personally