An Aging Workforce: Is 60 the New 40?
Employers across most industries—including glass and ceramic manufacturing—are seeking to attract and retain older workers.
As the overall economy continues to expand and improve, employers in virtually every industry are finding it increasingly difficult to hire employees. The number of baby boomers reaching retirement age (estimated to be almost 10,000 each day) makes the labor shortage even more acute. In addition to the loss of their services, baby boomers who leave take with them institutional knowledge, operational know-how, and informed best practices that may be difficult or even impossible to replace. Such losses are likely to continue for at least several more years, if not longer.
Despite spending on average of almost $4,000 to fill an open position, employers are finding that those tech-savvy millennials and Gen X, Y, and Z new hires often jump ship in a matter of months. Studies have confirmed that millennials change jobs on average every six months or so, usually seeking higher salaries or more responsibility. They rarely, if ever, take a job intending to make it a career. More often, they use one job as the jumping-off point for the next. They are always looking for that job with the perfect work/life balance.
In many cases, these job-hopping Gen Xers and millennials are not staying on the job for sufficient time to learn from the experienced older workers who depart. Having grown up with PCs, smartphones, email and texting, they are more focused on electronic communication and social media than acquiring the needed practical job experience. As a consequence, much of the unique knowledge and business awareness possessed by the retiring employees will be lost.
Given the difficulty in finding suitable applicants to fill open positions, it should be no surprise that employers across most industries are seeking to attract and retain older workers. If they have not already considered this potential pool of experienced workers, perhaps they should. There is no question that, in general, the nature of most work today permits workers to be productive much longer than in the past.
An Older Workforce
According to Inc. magazine, more than 76,000,000 Americans will soon reach the age of 60 or older, and many plan to continue working—in many cases, out of necessity. The relaxing retirement that so many dreamed of has become unaffordable on the limited income from today’s pensions or recession-impacted 401K plans.
Most workers are understandably concerned that they will outlive their retirement money. It is estimated that for an employee to be able to retire comfortably by the age of 67, they should have 10 times their annual earnings in retirement funds. Given the life expectancies into the 80s and beyond that have become the norm, outliving these funds is clearly a legitimate concern.
In light of these realities, the graying of the workforce should come as no surprise. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 25% of all workers will be age 55 or older by 2020. In fact, employment of persons aged 65 or older has more than doubled. Multiple generations are working alongside each other in most workplaces.
Getting Better with Age
Numerous studies and articles over the last several years have described the benefits that older workers bring to the workplace. All consistently agree on the virtues of employing “seasoned” employees. Many benefits relate to the experience and dedication these individuals bring to the job.
Most older employees have had a varied work history, utilizing a range of skills that the 20-somethings just do not have today. They obviously require less training for most jobs and can actually be mentors or trainers to less-
experienced employees. In addition, they are generally less concerned with the work/life balance and time off that most millennials seem to value most. They rarely take time off and almost always report to work on time. When some of the “seasoned” employees that are used as mentors are potential retirees, convincing them to stay longer has the added benefit of curtailing the loss of institutional knowledge.
One blogger on the issue, Lewis Lustman, provides an excellent summary of the advantages to employing “seasoned talent,” as he describes older workers.1 He specifically notes that, among other things, older employees:
- Are a steady and reliable source of skilled labor
- Bring years and often decades of experience
- Are more flexible in their work schedule
- Are not job-hoppers
- Are more focused on their tasks
- May have some computer skills and are eager to learn
- Are generally willing to mentor younger employees
He also suggests that, in terms of fringe benefit costs, older workers may have lesser health insurance requirements than younger employees with families. Many are on or eligible for Medicare.
Given the competitive labor market that we find ourselves in today, no company can afford to overlook potential employees who could help contribute to a successful operation, especially those who come ready to work. Perhaps your company can benefit from this development.
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1. Lustman, Lewis, “The Surprising Benefits of Hiring Older Talent,” May 2017, www.hireright.com/blog/2017/05/surprising-benefits-hiring-older-talent.