Forget the whippersnappers --
Go gray to fill your job needs
owners bemoaning the tight labor market should look at its silver-haired
lining -- a growing pool of older workers.
Owners could use the help. A recent survey
by the Small
Business Administration showed roughly half the small firms
in America want to hire someone -- and more than 60 percent of those
firms have difficulty finding qualified workers.
Older workers are the logical place to look
-- that's where the numbers are. From 1996 to 2006, the number of
people between the ages of 25 and 44 in the labor force is expected
to shrink by 4.1 million workers, while the 45-plus age group will
increase by more than 15 million.
Yet some business owners hesitate to hire older
Beverly Goldberg, author of Age Works: What Corporate America
Must Do To Survive the Graying of the Workforce, says that many
companies hold misconceptions about older workers.
One myth is that older workers cannot learn
new things. "The fastest-growing group of Internet users in this
country is people over 50," says Goldberg.
She notes that employers can increase the chances
that older workers will catch on to new things by being sensitive
to the fact that many older workers have not been in a classroom
setting in years.
"They will be more comfortable with on-site
training and being paired with younger employees who have taken
the classes and can show them the ropes," says Goldberg.
Another misconception, according to Goldberg, is that older
workers are absent or ill more often than younger workers.
"The opposite is true, says Goldberg, "People
confuse the fact that older workers may have more chronic conditions,
such as high blood pressure, with the whole idea of healthiness.
Such conditions are treatable by a pill once a day and do not affect
attendance. Older workers tend not to be as likely to stay out late
and then call in sick. Also, statistics on injuries on the job show
that older workers are not as prone to injury, whether as a result
of greater experience or more of a 'look before you leap' mentality."
Another area of concern for many employers is
turnover. Donald Davis , vice president for Workforce Development
at the National
Council on the Aging, says studies show that employees between
the ages of 19 and 30 have the greatest turnover.
He noted that with improvements in health care,
many older employees stay with companies long enough to have a positive
impact on the bottom line.
Along with experience, Goldberg says, older
workers can also bring valuable business expertise and contacts.
"Older employees can tap into their experience
and corporate networks and really help a company grow," says Goldberg.
the older piper
Will these skills create a higher price tag? No necessarily so,
says Goldberg. Older workers often seek intangibles such as social
contact and a feeling of usefulness, and are less concerned with
a paycheck than their younger counterparts.
Because many older workers seek connections
and have fewer financial pressures than young people who are acquiring
a home and building a family, they are also less inclined to be
lured away from a company by an attractive offer, according to Sharon
Miller, president of Immediate Temporary Help, a staffing agency
based in Midland, Mich.
"Younger people are more concerned with moving
up the job ladder and are more likely to leave for a better job,"
says Miller. Roughly one-fifth of her staff is 55 and older.
Linda Stiers, manager of Allwood Riverside Florist in Columbus,
Ohio, employs several older workers and is pleased with the results.
She already had a 64-year-old, a 70-year-old and a 73-year-old on
staff when she found out about the federally funded Senior
Community Service Employment Program for low-income workers
55 and older.
"We had gone through so many delivery people
that it had gotten to be a concern. I hired young drivers who would
speed, who didn't want to work Saturdays or overtime, and who wouldn't
sweep or take out the trash," says Stiers.
Through the program, Stiers found 55-year-old
Dave Jordan. The program paid for Jordan to receive two weeks of
on-the-job training, while Stiers could decide if he was the best
match for the job.
Stiers says Jordan caught on to the job quickly,
is concerned that people get their flowers on time and routinely
takes on additional chores.
"He is dependable, reliable and courteous. We
don't know what we would do without Dave," says Stiers.
Goldberg and Davis note that while older workers bring a sense of
work ethic and reliability, the thing they seek in return is flexibility.
To attract and retain older workers, businesses
will have to make some changes, according to Davis. His suggestions
- Providing more opportunities for temporary
and part-time work, including creative arrangements such as job
- Offering flextime for full- and part-time
employees so they can create their own schedules.
- Restructuring how jobs are done so older
workers can do the same job but spend less time standing or doing
other physically taxing tasks.
- Seeking opportunities to allow older employees
- Providing sabbaticals and extended vacations
that give seniors the chance to pursue other interests and retain
ties to the workplace.
- Implementing phased retirement. It could
begin at age 62, gradually ratcheting down the number of hours
an older employee works, but keeping them with the company past
Changing benefits packages is also a consideration for small businesses
looking to attract older workers. Todd McCracken, president of National
Small Business United, a small-business trade association, says
older workers are less concerned about full family coverage and
more interested in benefits such as long-term care insurance.
"Small businesses will be in a better position
to be flexible in terms of hours but less able to offer cafeteria-style
benefits plans," says McCracken.
Stiers says the investment in older workers
will pay off.
"Older workers have a strong work ethic and
just need someone to give them a chance. They give employers an
untapped resource that will be growing by the multitudes," says
Ellen Birkett Morris is a freelance
writer based in Kentucky
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-- Posted: April 21, 2000