Are Older Workers a Solution to the Labor Shortage?
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During the ongoing labor shortage, businesses are offering hiring incentives, increased compensation and flexible schedules to attract workers. They may also want to consider whether they’re taking full advantage of an often-marginalized, but willing and able, segment of the U.S. labor force — older workers.
Older workers, classified as those age 40 and over by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, make up a significant portion of the U.S. labor force. Roughly 43% of the labor force in 2020 was above 44, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with over 23% older than 54.
While older worker participation in the labor force decreased significantly at the onset of the pandemic, it has rebounded to nearly pre-pandemic levels. In fact, participation of people over 54 in the labor force grew from 32% in 2000 to about 39% in 2020, according to the BLS.
Benefits of hiring older workers
Older workers span many different types of occupations and professions including sales, management, service, transportation, construction, maintenance and more. They can contribute to the success of a business in a variety of ways. Here are some of the key benefits of employing older workers.
Experience and knowledge
Generally, older workers have a level of experience and knowledge that can be gained only through time and exposure. In some industries, it can take years to master a craft. In others, where building a rapport with customers is important, the diverse experience and practiced communication skills of older workers are valuable. Experience can also be an asset in decision-making and problem-solving processes.
Edward Bolognini, executive director of ReServe, a New York City-based organization that specializes in work opportunities for older adults, says that older workers have an emotional quotient that younger workers haven’t had an opportunity to develop. He says, “You’ve worked with people, for people, around people for a long enough time that you have settled into how you interact with colleagues, supervisors, customers and clients.”
In addition to being inclusive of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics, hiring older workers can also help advance the diversity of your business. “When you have older workers in your workforce, without necessarily realizing it, you’ve created an intergenerational environment,” Bolognini says.
Employees of different generations bring a range of views, skills and approaches that can be helpful in solving problems and brainstorming, and may even increase productivity.
Older workers are often willing to share their expertise, according to Brenda Brown, director of the Second Careers Employment Program at Peninsula Family Service in San Mateo, California. While assisting older adults in their efforts to reenter the workforce, she says that “one of the things that we have been noticing is that they become mentors to some of the younger population.” Brown adds that “younger people can help the older people as well.”
Reverse mentoring, when a younger colleague mentors someone who is older, can help both individuals. Older workers can build new skills, connect with younger colleagues and explore different perspectives. And it can also benefit younger employees by helping them build confidence and leadership skills. In addition, a 2018 report from BNY Mellon/Pershing indicated that reverse mentoring programs may help increase retention rates for younger employees.
Remaining at a job longer
Older workers tend to remain with their employer longer than younger workers, according to the BLS. Only around 35% of workers from age 45 to 54 left their jobs before the two-year mark, while 57% of workers ages 25 to 34 left their employer within two years.
Employees who remain at a company for a number of years are able to increase their skill level, gain institutional knowledge and become more effective — all things that benefit their employer. In addition, employee retention can be especially important to small businesses that may have limited resources for recruiting, hiring and onboarding new employees.
How to attract older workers
Like their younger counterparts, older workers can be influenced by compensation, benefits, hybrid workplaces, job security and work that lets them use their strengths.
Brown says that “a lot of older adults look for good fringe benefits packages,” and she suggests that employers “look at flexibility as far as hours.” In addition to full-time employment, older adults are also interested in part-time and project-based work.
“When you hire older individuals or people who are of a diverse population, you have a better chance of recruiting other people in that category,” Brown says.