The Value of Older Workers

Excerpted from

How to Find a Job After 50: From Part-Time to Full-Time, from Career Moves to New Careers


As millions of mature workers exit the labor market in the next two decades, the good news, of course, is that older workers will be in greater demand-and will be the point of focus of corporate recruitment and retention programs. "I'm expecting the worst labor shortage of our lifetime," says Jeff Taylor, founder and chairman of online job site "If you look at the actual numbers, you have about seventy million baby boomers who are going to retire between now and 2015 and only thirty million younger workers to take their place at the entry level."

At places like Deere & Company, for example, 50 percent of employees are expected to retire within a decade, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The company is currently taking a very proactive approach to becoming more appealing to older employees through recruitment and retention programs targeted specifically at mature workers.

It's hard to imagine such a drastic shortage now in a market that has seen companies shed millions of people in corporate downsizings while job creation has been lethargic at best. But a mass exodus of the boomers currently in the workforce could have such an effect. Experiencing a skill shortage, as companies did during the late - 1990s dot-com boom, was stressful for employers but not impossible to manage. A body shortage is another matter entirely.

According to Taylor, "Corporations know how to recruit around skills, such as nursing, but when they start having body shortages, corporations are not prepared to manage through that." The answer could largely lie with retaining or recruiting employees in their career twilight years. Finns that don't might sec disastrous results. "We're going to see a trend where companies go out of business because they don't know how to recruit and retain employees," Taylor predicts. Even with jobs moving offshore and overseas, companies will have a hard time filling positions. "The actual number of jobs offshore in places like India is only 1 to 2 percent" of U.S. employees, for instance-and with millions of positions potentially being vacated by retiring boomers, it's clear that outsourcing won't even begin to fill the gap. "We had 1.4 million information technology openings in 1999, and corporations were in a dead panic," Taylor says. Boost that number to ten million in the coming decade and some companies may be sent into a staffing tailspin.

The good news for older workers, then, is that they'll have more leverage to craft the career they envision later in life-whether that vision consists of full-time work, part-time employment on their terms, jobs with flexible hours, or other individually crafted work opportunities. We may not see the free cars and fifty-thousand-dollar signing bonuses of the dot-com era; nor does the looming labor shortage mean workers fifty and over can saunter into an employer's office any day soon, spew a litany of demands, and expect all of them to be met. But it does mean they don't have to feel as though they've been cast off for a younger generation.

Young workers will always be a highly sought-after employee population, but after working with older employees with more frequency through retiree recruitment programs, many companies are realizing how valuable a labor resource they are and are eager to hire more. Certain industries-including telecommunications and security services-are already seeking out older workers for their reliability and work ethic.

Cathy Fyock, an employment strategist in Crestwood, Kentucky, and an expert on older workers, notes the success of an initiative she helped create as a human resource executive for a national fast-food restaurant chain several years ago. Restaurant managers were complaining that they couldn't hold on to employees for long; their businesses were suffering under enormous staff turnover. But when HR professionals sent older applicants to apply for jobs at the restaurants, managers turned them away-"because they were old," Fyock says.

So company headquarters started pressuring managers to hire workers in that age group. The reaction, when managers finally did, was astounding. "They would call us and say, 'This person is working out so well, we have to get another one,'" Fyock notes. "Until that positive experience, managers were dead set against older workers. It's amazing that we can be so biased against something that with any luck we're all going to reach ourselves someday."

Managers in various other fields are coming to appreciate older workers, too. Temporary agency Veritude in Boston has noted an increasing number of corporate clients requesting older workers for jobs such as call center support. "Older workers are a very rich source of talent for our customers," says Linda Stewart, executive vice president at Veritude.

Joanne Fritz, an expert on mature workers and founder of the Web site, recalls a security company specifically requesting older workers when screening job applicants for security shifts at office buildings. No experience was needed-the company simply wanted a population that would consistently show up for work and be diligent about their duties. Security managers said they had noticed such desirable work traits-low turnover, responsible behavior, conscientious attitudes, and infrequent sick days-more consistently in older workers than among the younger security officers they hired.

And there are other indicators that opportunities for older workers are expanding. Just look at the explosion of Web sites over the past several years developed to help older job seekers tap a market that increasingly needs their talent and expertise., for example, connects older workers with recruiters for mid- to senior-level management positions. Bill Vick, the site's founder and owner, named his firm for the rising Phoenix of mythology, to represent the rising stock of older employees in the American workplace. Perhaps he's on to something: The site has three thousand registered users and averages fifteen million viewed pages a month. Such sites are important for older workers suffering under the mass layoffs occurring over the past few years. Other online job boards geared toward workers over fifty offer that audience a place to feel their specific employment issues are being addressed.

But do these job boards for seniors work better than general job-hunting sites, such as Monster, CareerBuilder, or HotJobs, which cast a wide net and list a varied array of postings for job seekers of all ages? Not necessarily. While the Senior Job Bank and its counterparts may offer more jobs targeted specifically to seniors, general sites also feature sections devoted entirely to older workers, covering topics from landing part-time jobs to fighting ageism and working abroad. Monster, for example, has an entire section dedicated to diversity and older workers. Plus a majority of recruiters spend more time perusing the better-known boards. And actual samples on Monster and similar sites of how resumes, for example, can be reworked are extremely useful in putting together materials for an effective job search.

Tags: Career & Money

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