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Friday, 29 October 2010

Senior Tsunami: a Workforce of Old People

by WFC Resources

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Employment Jobs

Here's a multiple choice question for you. How does your company feel about its older workers? Are you actively recruiting them? Getting rid of the ones you have? Trying to hang on to them while you pass their knowledge on?

Your answer probably depends on your industry and most certainly on whether or not your company is experiencing the pain of current or predicted skills shortages. But there’s no doubt about one thing. There will be more older workers than ever before and you may want to make a decision about that fairly soon.

In three years, 40 million people – 13% of the nearly 303 million U.S. citizens − will be over 65. In 2000 that number was 35 million and in 1990 it was 31.2 million. Many of those folks will want to work, at least part-time, because they prefer to stay active. And many will want to postpone retirement out of fear that they won’t be able to survive on Social Security. They may want to keep on working for much longer than you'd expect (in 2006, about 6-1/2% of Americans 75 or older worked, says the U.S. Department of Labor.) The Census Bureau says that beginning in just four years we can expect a “senior tsunami.”

The Brookings Institution says that about 19% of men 65 and older are currently working. And the BLS predicts that by 2012, more than 29% of men 65-74, almost 20% of women and more than 8% of men over 75 years old will be in the labor force.

For now, much of the hiring of older workers is coming from industries at risk for mass retirements − health care-related organizations, energy and electric utilities, oil companies, aerospace and defense contractors. But some of it is coming from manufacturers, colleges, financial services and insurance companies, and even consultants.

So here’s the question: what could (or should) your organization be doing about older workers?

AARP has found and honored 50 companies that are taking steps related to workers over 50. Some are working to bring older workers into their workforce and retain them. Many of the steps have to do with making retirement more attractive. Here are a few of them, and some of the steps they’re taking:

SC Johnson is one company that’s enriching life for their retirees. Their recreation and fitness facility is available to help them and their families to stay fit and connected. SC Johnson employees become honorary members of the fitness center as they retire and no longer have to pay dues, and their Retiree Activity Program sponsors a variety of activities. Many of the companies honored by AARP this year offer jobs to their retirees; this company offers temporary work, consulting/contract work, telecommuting and part-time work. And for current employees 50 and older, they allow them to make ‘catch-up’ contributions to their 401(k).

Mercy Health System also offers numerous flexible work options, including a “Weekender Program” that assigns work only on weekends, a “Traveler Option” (work short term assignments from six to 13 weeks), a “Nursing Float Option” (nurses are guaranteed benefits while floating departments), a “Registry Pool Option” (work 48-96 hrs/month with benefits), a variety of shift options, telecommuting and a “Work-To-Retire Program” (work reduced hours – seasonally). Mercy’s Senior Connection, a free program for those over 50, provides health insurance, financial counseling and a free prescription discount card, and sponsors senior activities like brown bag lunches and trips. They’re working to recruit seniors, attend job and product fairs that target them and work with area partner agencies to identify experienced candidates.

Busch Entertainment, the producer of SeaWorld/Busch Gardens, has teams of individuals 55 and over in each of their parks; their job is to provide quality employment and job satisfaction to the 55+ population. Called the Busch’s ‘Legends Ambassadors,’ they’re selected annually to help new seniors learn the ropes. They meet each month, offer suggestions, concerns, and ideas to Human Resources, and participate in training, job fairs and other recruiting efforts focused on older workers. The company also uses senior placement agencies to target mature workers and retirees for employment.

Volkswagen of America's 'Flexible Spending Accounts for Dependent Elder Care' program provides mature employees with the option to allocate $5,000 in pre-tax earnings to dependent elder care needs. Retirees with less than 20 years of service receive $500 upon retirement while those with 20 or more years of service receive $750. The company uses a nationwide resume data base of individuals who have been laid off from employers as a source for recruiting mature workers.

The over-50 population at Massachusetts Institute of Technology makes up 36% of its 11,000-person workforce. Employees can phase into retirement by going part-time in their current roles, or can apply for part-time positions as they become available.

First Horizon National Corporation offers special counseling to help pre-retirees begin the planning process. They use senior placement agencies to recruit mature workers and have a “phase-out” program that allows full-time employees with a year of service to move to a reduced prime-time schedule (20-32 hrs/week) and still receive all full-time benefits.

Stanley Consultants has had both formal and informal mentoring programs in place for more than forty years, allowing mature mentors to pass on their knowledge. A regularly held retirement training workshop is open to members 55+ and spouses, giving them a chance to hear from trained retirement counselors. Health benefits for retiree's pre-65 and 65+ include individual as well as spouse medical and drug coverage, vision and dental insurance, EAP services, individual life insurance or other death benefit coverage. Retirees 65+ also receive retiree and spouse life insurance or other death benefit coverage. New hires are eligible for all of the above benefits upon retirement.

Brevard Public Schools uses retired school principals and retired educator organizations as recruiters to help hire new teachers, and 40% of the school system’s employees are age 50+. The average tenure of employees age 50+ is 23 years.

Principal Financial Group offers retirees temporary work assignments, consulting/contract work, telecommuting and part-time work as well as the option to return to full-time work, and partners with Manpower on a program that allows retirees to work in a temporary position at the company while still receiving pension benefits. Principal also works with AARP on that organization’s project to match older workers returning to the job market or looking for career changes with companies looking for experienced hands.

Adecco recently re-launched their Renaissance program to recruit mature workers for temporary positions.

The Aerospace Corporation rehires retirees (the program is called Retiree Casual) on an as-needed basis and the retirees are allowed to work up to 999 hours a year. Currently there are 500 in this program; 250 may participate at any one time. Fifty-one percent of the company's employees are age 50+.

We found these tips for 50+ workers from AARP’s Deborah Russell in a CareerBuilder column by Kate Lorenz, and thought it might be helpful for companies to look them over and see what older workers are supposed to be looking for:

1. Examine the company's recruitment practices.
Russell says you can learn a lot about a company by how and where it recruits employees, as well as what its recruitment materials look like. Is the company recruiting at a variety of job fairs? Is it open to applications from all workers? Does it have a formal program to offer positions to retired workers? Can you see a variety of ages represented in company brochures and other branded materials?

2. Ask about advancement opportunities and training.
AARP found that many of the best companies for older workers have special programs in place to provide employees with advanced and ongoing training, help employees move positions within the company and offer career counseling. These programs help older workers keep important skills up-to-date. Some companies even offer online courses for employees, which enable older workers to take courses at their own pace.

3. Research the company's benefits.
While you might not be able to find out everything about a company's benefits in the early interview process, you can research the company's Web site and other materials to find out what benefits it offers. Many of the companies on the AARP's list have benefits that are particularly attractive to older workers, such as allowing 401(k) "catch-up" contributions and time off to care for dependents beyond what is required by law. Some also offer phased retirement programs, and several hospitals on the list offer healthcare services either at a discount or at no cost to employees covered under company health plans.

4. Examine the overall company image.
Take a look at all company collateral and its Web site. What is the image the company is portraying? Also, look around the company when you are interviewing. Do you see other older workers? Ask about the company's mission and goals. Russell says it is important to determine if the company "values its workforce, or just its bottom line."

AARP says many companies still have a long way to go when it comes to attracting and retaining older workers. But ,"many companies," they say, "are increasingly focusing on this segment of the American workforce, offering older workers more flexible work options and helping them better balance work and life."

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