Wavering on retirement? Friendly skies ahead.

The recent news on the mass retirement of air traffic controllers was stunning on many levels. For one, the sheer numbers and their potential impact on safety and on-time travel. Of nearly 13,000 fully certified controllers on the job in September, 2002, only some 11,000 remain today.

A Wall Street Journal piece deemed the exodus reasonably predictable, as many controllers hired in the wake of Reagan's 1981 mass firing of 12,000 striking controllers are now becoming eligible to retire. The problem: the FAA can't bring trainees into the system fast enough. And for me, the real kicker: bonuses as high as $24,000 are mostly failing to retain retiring controllers.

Talk about the next great example of brain drain, and of extraordinary opportunity for you if you're on the cusp of retirement. You don't need to go to flight school. It's across the board.


Even in proto-recessionary times like these, organizations are coming to grips with a simple, but powerful fact: there is no substitute for experience. The leverage has reversed course. Companies want folks with wear on their treads -- or in this case, miles under their wings. The days of replacing senior talent in droves with tech-savvy, pennies-on-the-dollar, 22 year-olds are gone. "Give me a grey-haired surgeon any day," I've heard it said.

Speaking of medicine, brain drain hit that sector first, and most famously. There remains a critical shortage of nurses, spawning retention schemes far more creative than a one-time payoff. And since a medical degree no longer carries with it a virtual country club membership, you find the talent influx problem here, too. You're a numbers-oriented, top grad from a good college. Which do choose: that options-laden offer from Google, or countless hours on rounds and on call, with no big payoff in sight.

If you're thinking about retirement, but completely letting go doesn't feel right, realize the power you may well possess to rewrite the script. Early boomers are doing just that, fashioning new deals with their employers that range from the same thing for fewer (or more flexible) hours, to transitioning to a mentoring role, to completely changing responsibilities.

The great Southern writer Flannery O' Connor nailed it: A Good Man [Woman] Is Hard to Find. The harder it gets, the better it is for retirees.

Randy Burnham is a Westport, CT-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of My Next Phase (www.mynextphase.com), a consulting firm expert in non-financial planning products and processes.


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