With over two million baby boomers expected to retire from the Australian workforce in the coming decade, organisations need to prepare for a way to retain their expertise and knowledge.

In 2019 the Art of Mentoring conducted 6 focus groups and a follow-up survey with over 300 participants across three generations to understand possible approaches to this. The findings of the study recommended an Intergenerational Mentoring program, where baby boomers are paired with millennials and skills, knowledge and advice is shared.

As Rob Loader from the Bank of Queensland who took part in AIPM’s Project Management Mentoring Program in 2020, explains there are a number of elements to ensuring the knowledge and expertise of baby boomers is passed on.

“It comes down to respecting baby boomer’s knowledge and experience and being open to them as advisers, coaches and consultants. That way they can help the next generation of workers across the many fields that boomers will retire from, of course project management being one of them.”

Below are some factors that organisations need to consider while setting up an intergenerational mentoring program.

Forget the generational stereotypes

We are all probably familiar with the media hype around generational differences, which has led to a range of stereotypes.

A closer look at these stereotypes reveals that there’s little empirical data to support them. Differences exist but aren’t in accordance with popular press assumptions. Evidence backed differences that are worth noting are varying levels of soft skills and an affinity with technology.

Studies show that millennials lack soft skills like:

  • effective communication;
  • ​relationship building; and
  • critical thinking which traces back to their use of and comfort with technology.

This leads to the natural assumption and pretext that older generations aren’t as comfortable with technology. However, this assumption may not be true, as use of technology could be based on their attitude and affinity for it rather than their capability.

It’s also tempting to give into the Millennial stereotype that they expect everything fast, online, tech-enabled and informal. There’s no evidence to support this. Millennials are likely to prefer face to face interactions as much as other generations.

Embrace the generational similarities

Survey participants acknowledged that despite differences, all generations work together productively. They attributed this to the fact that there are greater generation similarities than differences and mentoring needs across generations don’t vary much.

However, when asked to describe each generation, the influence of stereotypes became clear. To address biases, mentoring program participants should understand the other person’s history and explore the similarities and differences instead of being influenced by stereotypes.

A mentoring relationship should be based on an understanding of the cohort’s attitudes, behaviours, experiences, what they’ve learned and how this learning can be used.

Expectations from mentoring

Individuals across generations have similar expectations of mentoring. All participants wanted:

  • a different perspective and an idea sounding board;
  • ​access to mentor’s experience, guidance and advice; and
  • networking.​

For Rob it was natural to be involved in supporting the AIPM mentoring program, as he has been a strong supporter of mentoring all his career.

“Supporting development of the profession, in a really personal way to help younger project managers in their career development is very rewarding. Establishing a mentoring relationship can be incredibly powerful and can greatly benefit both the mentor and mentee in their personal and professional development.”


The need for immediate intergenerational mentoring with baby boomers

55% of participants weren’t aware of any measures their organisations had to capture the knowledge of departing boomers. Setting up a mentoring program is imperative for boomers to meaningfully engage with younger colleagues.

The baby boomer mentor conversation should begin with identifying differences and similarities and agreeing upon:

  • communication media preferences like face to face, phone, text, email or a combination;
  • ​conversation etiquettes pertaining to planning, note taking, documentation and follow ups; and
  • expectation of mentee and mentor roles, where a mentor isn’t didactic but uses their experience to steer a mentee’s discovery towards solving their problems. ​

Generation X as the ‘bridging generation’

As the bridging generation, Gen X can deal with the technology gap and bridge the divide between Boomers and Gen Y. They are well placed to receive Boomer wisdom and provide better mentorship to Millennials and younger generations.

Generation X has been reported as feeling like the “missed generation”- overlooked after decades of adapting and juggling as their agile and driven younger colleagues advance quickly in their careers.


Participants reported boomers seeking advice of younger colleagues, especially about technology but didn’t see value in formal programs where boomers were mentees (“reverse mentoring”).

However, they were open to ‘reciprocal mentoring’. In reciprocal mentoring, two people work together through a mentoring process where they both take on the roles of Mentor and Mentee.

Participants take on both roles, or each person taking a primary role as mentor or mentee but being willing to exchange roles from time to time. To some extent, reciprocal mentoring often happens naturally in a strong mentoring alliance.

Keeping mentoring real

Myths of generational stereotypes have led to real mentoring being compromised in favour of “flash mentoring”, “speed mentoring” or “just–in–time mentoring” as suggested ways to engage Millennials.

In an increasingly fast paced world, human connection of mentoring has become more important than ever. A successful mentoring relationship needs to provide a Mentee with time and space to stop, reflect, see new perspectives and develop creative solutions – something that can’t happen in a ten–minute coffee catch–up.

Rob’s advice for mentees looking to partake in the AIPM Mentorship Program in 2021 would be to:

“Define with the mentor the clear goals you want to achieve and nature of what you want the gain from the mentorship and agree with mentor early on what is realistic and doable so you both have clear expectations.”

For mentors, Rob recommends creating a plan, taking ownership, and driving the mentorship:

“Check progress, ask for feedback regularly and be prepared to adjust your approach if needed. Enjoy it, it shouldn’t be hard work, it should be a mutually beneficial discussion, with information and ideas shared.”