Good news (mostly) for workers and job hunters over 50

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Getting a job in your 50s or 60s certainly isn’t easy, but new and somewhat surprising employment data suggests that prospects and pay are improving, especially for older job switchers. One big reason? The tightest labor market in nearly two decades, causing some employers to more readily hire older job hunters. Some 6.7 million U.S. jobs went unfilled this spring.

“The tightening labor market is hitting employers and it’s one of the biggest challenges employers will face over the next couple of years,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, head of the ADP Research Institute, a division of the giant payroll processing company, ADP. “Ultimately, age will be less of a factor.”

A recent story on the Human Resource Executive site was called: “Why Older Workers Are Now In Demand.” Who would’ve expected to see that?

Jen Schramm, senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute is pleased about the good news for older workers, but tempers her view. “A tight labor market encourages employers and hiring managers to look at candidates they might normally overlook and this can include older applicants,” she said. But, she added, “Even in a strong job market, challenges remain for older job seekers. Government data continues to show that job seekers ages 55 and older face long periods of unemployment and our own research has found that age discrimination continues to be widespread.”

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She’s right. Below are the cheery numbers and hiring news followed by parts of the less-wonderful world facing older job hunters.

The positive data on older job hunters

Some recent uplifting statistics about older workers and older job hunters:

  • The unemployment rate for people 55 and older is now just 3.1%, less than the overall jobless rate of 3.9%.

  • Workers 55 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor force.

  • The average duration of unemployment for older job seekers has dropped sharply since 2012 (though still long); it’s down from roughly 50 weeks to 34 weeks for job hunters age 55 to 64 and down from about 62 weeks to 30 weeks for those 65+. In other words, it now typically takes about seven to eight months to find a job if you’re over 55.

  • About 29% of job seekers 55+ are considered long-term unemployed (looking for work for 27 weeks or more); while that’s still high, it’s down dramatically from roughly 45% in 2014.

  • Job growth for people 55 and older is up 4.5%, according to ADP. That’s more than twice as high as the 1.7% job growth for workers overall.

  • Wage growth for job switchers 55 and older is up 6.3%, according to ADP. That’s far higher than the 3% wage growth for workers of all ages. It’s especially strong for older job switchers who are skilled workers in construction and professional services (accountants, lawyers, architects and the like).

The tight labor market isn’t the only reason some employers are hiring older workers. They’re also finding, as research from the National Council on Aging has shown, that these employees have lower absentee and turnover rates than younger workers.

Employers who hire older applicants

Some employers have been especially willing to hire older job applicants.

As Chris Farrell wrote on Next Avenue last fall, packaging and delivery services like UPS UPS, -0.07%   and retailers such as Williams Sonoma WSM, +1.63%   and JC Penney JCP, -0.76%   have been increasingly tapping into their retiree base to meet the Christmas holiday rush. The accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies, a winner of the 2018 Age Smart Employer Award, makes a point of hiring accountants who’ve been forced to retire from their previous firms at around age 60. More than 250 of its 700 workers are over 50, as Reuters writer Mark Miller has noted.

Read: These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about

At CVS Health, CVS, +0.12%   according to HR Executive, roughly 19% of employees are over 50. That’s partly due to its Talent Is Ageless program to recruit and keep workers 50+ for full- and part-time jobs. “Hiring mature workers makes good business sense for our company. These colleagues are highly valued, both because of their skills and experience, but also because they are members of our fastest-growing customer base,” David Casey, vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer at CVS Health told HR Executive.

The downbeat numbers about older workers

And now, a few things that are less peachy for older job applicants and older workers, which likely won’t be too surprising if you’re in one of those camps:

  • Wage growth for all workers 55 and older is just 2.4%, according to ADP, less than the national 3.0% wage growth. In other words, if you’re 55+ and have a job, raises are still pretty puny.

  • Job seekers 55 and older still tend to be out of work substantially longer than younger job seekers — about 34 weeks on average for those 55 to 64 and 30 weeks for those 65+ compared with 15 weeks for job hunters age 20 to 24.

  • Hourly pay for full-time workers starts to decline after 60, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “Many employers are looking at what they’re paying a 60-year-old and they’re saying, ‘Wait, I can hire two hungry 30-year-olds’ for the same cost,” Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist at DataCore Partners, an economic research firm, recently told the Boston Globe.

  • And the 3.1% unemployment rate for people over 55 excludes the 1.1 million “long-term discouraged workers” who want a job but haven’t looked for one in the past year, says economist Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Jennifer Schramm of AARP Public Policy Institute just wrote that discouraged workers ages 65 and older are more likely to say the reason they’re not looking for work “is that employers think they are too old.”

What kinds of jobs are they?

Also, the jobs that older job seekers get aren’t necessarily the best-paying ones. Many workers over 55 “get funneled into lower-paying ‘older person jobs’ — from retail sales clerks to security or school crossing guards to taxi drivers” — according to a 2016 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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As San Diego Union-Tribune writers Lori Weisberg and Mike Freeman recently wrote in their “back story” on their piece on excellent report about older workers: “Many workers in their 50s and older told us they are having to take lower-paid jobs or gig work like driving for Uber or Lyft to make ends meet.” And, they noted, “several told us they took sizable cuts in pay, in part, because they found employment outside their field in a lower-paying position.”

Age discrimination: still a big problem

Age discrimination by employers remains a scourge.

When AARP recently surveyed 3,900 people age 45 and older, 61% said they’ve personally seen or experienced age discrimination. Among those who’ve applied for a job in the past two years, 44% were asked for potentially job-losing age-related information such as birth dates and graduation years. 2018 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging Peter Gosselin calls age discrimination “the acceptable bias.” Indeed, a 2018 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) starkly said that age discrimination “remains too common and too accepted.”

In certain fields, such as technology, older workers are often shunned or booted out. For evidence, read Gosselin’s superb ProPublica IBM IBM, -1.16%   exposé, “Cutting ‘Old Heads’ at IBM.” A class-action suit against IBM was just filed in federal court saying the company discriminated against former employees based on their age when they were fired.

Advice for older job hunters

Finding work after 50 can be critically important to help make your retirement financially secure, though. As a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found, the median retirement account balance for people age 55 to 64 with such accounts is just $88,000. AARP research found that nearly half of people 65+ who were working or looking for work did so for financial reasons.

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If you’re over 50 and looking for a job, Yildirmaz advises being realistic about what you can expect to earn. “Older employees need to change their expectations,” she said. In other words: don’t blithely assume you will earn as much or more in your next job than in your last one.

During her interview with Chris Farrell, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic offered two other smart tips for older job applicants: 1) Invest in your skills so that you won’t be denied a job because you aren’t up to speed. 2) Do what you can to show employers you’re still engaged and talented.

One final, if deflating thought: the heartening numbers for older job applicants may not last much longer. Today’s tight job market won’t last. “We’re at the end of a very long recovery,” David Neumark, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, recently told The San Diego Union Tribune, in its story on older workers.

Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of “How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis” and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. @richeis315

Why Are Companies Turning to Older Workers? Should You?

Senior business team going over financial data on tablet in the

Not so long ago, most people worked until the age of 62 or 65 before retiring to fill their days with family, travel and recreation. After decades of demanding work schedules, employees looked forward to a life of leisure. However, while no one was looking, the rules of retirement changed! About one-third of 45- to 65-year-olds now say they plan to work part-time in their golden years – and four percent hope to have a full-time job.

At the same time, employers are starting to shift their views. Some are actively working to keep their most experienced employees in the workplace or they’re recruiting older workers to fill skills gaps. What’s driving the change? When are employees from the 55+ demographic a good fit? What can you do to ensure that your workers have the skills they need to succeed?

Why Hire or Retain the Most Seasoned Employees?

Bouts of unemployment, lingering effects of the 2008 recession, the housing crash, huge student debt and/or providing aid to family members can explain a financial desire (or need) to work beyond a traditional retirement age. Add to that, the reputation of the current generation of older workers, Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – as a work-driven generation that worked long hours to establish self-worth, identity and fulfillment. It’s no wonder that this generation is interested in staying employed longer or pursuing an encore career.

But what’s in it for the employers? Quite a bit, it turns out. Retaining and hiring seasoned employees has a myriad of benefits:

  • Preserves institutional knowledge from a wave of experienced workers who are approaching retirement age. Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day.

  • Combats a skills shortage that, according to the Department of Labor, left employers unable to find enough talent in 2017 to fill approximately 6 million open jobs.

  • Provides flexibility for the company and workers, matching full-time, part-time and project work with employees most suited to each opportunity.

  • Keeps employers connected to the needs of a key customer base. As David Case, Vice President of Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Health explains on the company’s Talent is Ageless recruitment webpage, “We know that 90 percent of Americans aged 65 and older are using at least one prescription drug a month, and 40 percent use at least five. So as we see the Baby Boomer generation age, having colleagues across the company who can personally relate to these customers and patients is a differentiator for us.”

And for some companies like Starbucks, that recently opened its first café exclusively staffed by people ages 50 and older, hiring a mature workforce is a way to support a community and help boost the quality of life.

When Are Older Workers a Good Fit?

Baby Boomers are living longer and are healthier than previous generations at 65. Since an increasing number of workers are putting off retirement, companies have a ready labor pool. Yet age bias still gets in the way. “Older workers are often branded as burned out and not technically savvy,” says Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. In fact, he says, “they have lower rates of absenteeism, less turnover, better job performance and adapt well to new technology.

How do you overcome age bias to find mature workers that will fit with your workforce? The short answer … the same way that you find younger workers that fit:

  • Start with your company needs. What work needs to get done? What skills and competencies are required to do the job?

  • Be open about how the work gets done. Does it require a full-time person or is it better suited to two part-time workers? Does the work need to be done in the office or could someone at home provide the same support or service? Is there a permanent need or is this a transitional role?

  • Consider the talent pool you know. Are there current employees or recent retirees that could do the job well? Are they interested? Do they need any skill development to achieve success?

  • Stick to skills and competencies. Resist the urge (and technology) that assumes workers won’t fit because of their age alone. Eliminate recruitment questions that ask, for example, the year someone graduated from college. Instead, use competency management technology to assess candidates’ current skills.

Consider this: an older employee can learn needed skills from a younger counterpart. But a younger person can’t instantly gain life or work experience.

How to Ensure that Older Employees Have the Skills They Need?

Many companies have a reputation of pushing older employees out during layoffs only to hire younger workers to (re)acquire the skills they need. As the labor shortage continues and the pace of change accelerates, this model doesn’t work. It’s more important than ever for employers to ensure that all workers, in all jobs, at all ages are keeping up with the changing skills requirements. Companies need a learning and development plan that supports multiple generations in the workplace, upping the skills of all workers over time.

Be sure your learning plan supports older workers. A recent study found that, across all generations, learners prefer a range of tools and delivery methods. Coaching, mentoring and access to subject matter experts was most appealing to the oldest and youngest generations. They’re looking for guidance from experts who can help them continue to grow their knowledge and skill sets.

Companies committed to their most seasoned employees offer ongoing on-the-job training, including onsite and web-based instructor-led training. Older workers may not have a strong digital background, so check the user interface of your learning management system to make sure the screens are easy to navigate to get to the training they need. Certificates of completion and other recognition can serve to reinforce your learning culture.

Our blended workforce is here to stay, with over-65 workers in the mix for the foreseeable future. Done right, this is a win-win for employees and companies alike.

3 Reasons Your Company Needs a Mentoring Program

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Starting a mentoring program in your business allows you to capitalize on your greatest resource, your employees.

Doing business today requires having low-cost, yet high-quality, solutions. Starting a mentoring program in your business allows you to capitalize on your greatest resource, your employees. Strategically developing their talent contributes to the company's growth, innovation, and bottom line. It shows management's support, interest, and concern for an employee's potential with the company. It demonstrates to employees that management is willing to invest the time and resources necessary to help employees succeed in their careers. In return, employees are more likely to be more productive and loyal to the company.

"Company leadership should embrace, promote and value mentoring programs to realize a return on investment," according to Harvard Business Review writer Anthony K. TJan.

He says that business leaders develop a structured and staged approach to mentoring. For example, new employees should receive a 'buddy' to learn the ropes, but employees with a few years of experience should be matched with a career mentor to help them grow in their position.

1. Shows the Company Cares. The biggest benefit of providing business mentors is having someone the mentee can meet with to ask questions. The mentor can be a sounding board, helping sort out options and giving advice on business matters. The mentee has someone who can offer a sympathetic ear when there is a problem or the mentee just needs to vent.

2. More Engaged Workforce. Companies benefit from mentoring programs because they contribute to the development of a better-trained and engaged workforce. Mentors help mentees learn the ropes at a company, develop relationships across the organization, and identify skills that should be developed or improved upon.

3. High Job Satisfaction. "Mentoring programs play a key role in decreasing employee turnover. A 2013 study, "Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring for Mentors," published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, discovered people who have the opportunity to serve as mentors experience greater job satisfaction and a higher commitment to their employer." A mentor helps alleviate any job frustration the mentee has through one-on-one training or coaching and providing insights into the corporate culture.

Mentoring programs are a cost-efficient way to get employees engaged and empowered. These programs enable you to develop the talent you already have and increase productivity across the organization.

Please share on social media if you found this post helpful.

Published on March 5, 2015

Employers are getting smarter about hiring older workers

 James Reed and Robert Burn work in the supply department at Silvercup Studios, moving and loading lighting and equipment.

James Reed and Robert Burn work in the supply department at Silvercup Studios, moving and loading lighting and equipment.

Employers tend to get a bad rap —  often deservedly — for their attitudes about hiring, retaining and nurturing workers over 50. Frequently, older workers and older job applicants are perceived as lethargic, expensive and behind the times. So let me tell you about some employers who see things very differently: the winners and finalists of the 2017 Age Smart Employer Awards.

The Age Smart Employer Award program, now in its third year, is a project of Columbia University’s Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School of Public Health. The awards, given to New York City-based businesses and nonprofits of any size, are a “culture change initiative,” says director Ruth Finkelstein, who is also a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

“We do them to call attention to the concrete and specific policies and practices that employers can use, and are using, to recruit, engage and retrain workforces of all ages, including older workers,” Finkelstein said.

I was fortunate to be on the selection committee for this year’s honorees and attended yesterday’s inspiring ceremony in New York City’s fabled Rainbow Room where the awards were given out. (Next Avenue blogger and author Kerry Hannon gave the keynote speech.)

Significance of the Age Smart Employer awards

“We’ve increased our life expectancy by 50% in the last 100 years. That’s astounding and an immense achievement to be proud of. Now we have to design society for longer lives, and these awards, I think, are a linchpin of that,” said Dr. Linda Fried, dean of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

A hundred firms and nonprofits entered the 2017 competition, double the number in 2016, which was 2½ times the number of the year before. The breadth of applicants expanded, too.

The growth in the number and type of entrants is partly because more employers know about the awards and because more are adopting age-smart practices, Finkelstein said. “While the finalists and winners every year have been superlative, this year the overall quality of applicants was higher,” she noted. “It wasn’t just the biggest crop ever, it was the best.”

Gary Kesner, executive vice president for Silvercup Studios (one of this year’s Age Smart Employer Award winners) offered a terrific quote at the ceremony: “As a mature worker myself, I can only echo Ingrid Bergman, who said: ‘Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!’”

The seven 2017 Age Smart Employer Award finalists were The Bronx Zoo, Diller-Quaile School of Music, Educational Alliance (a social service agency), Sew Right, Steinway & Sons, Veselka (a Ukrainian diner) and WithumSmith + Brown (an accounting firm).

Related: Jobs are everywhere, just not for people over 55

At WithumSmith + Brown, everyone has a mentor. “That’s near and dear to my heart,” said Theresa Richardson, chief talent officer and a partner at the firm. The coaches and mentees there are required to meet three times a year. “The more often you meet to revisit goals, the greater the chance of achieving the goals,” said Richardson.

Here are thumbnail sketches about the six Age Smart Employer Award winners:

The 2017 Age Smart Employer award winners

National Grid: This utility company likes recruiting experienced workers from its competitors and invites retirees to come back part-time — to train employees and to help out during emergencies. Said Ed Hayes, National Grid’s U.S. vice president for talent acquisition. “People talk about the aging workforce. We just call them our workforce.”

Urban Health Plan: A nonprofit health care provider, Urban Health Plan makes a point of bringing on, keeping and caring for its older employees. “You hire community members in their 50s, 60s and 70s, but you don’t just hire them,” said Finkelstein. “You set them up for success with intensive and ongoing training and mentoring.”

PKF O’Connor Davies: While large accounting firms frequently force partners to retire around age 60 (“the accounting industry is not world famous for age-smart practices,” joked Finkelstein) this one not only doesn’t — it hires them. “We bring people into our organization who may be ‘aged out’ in other organizations,” said Kevin Keane, managing partner at PKF O’Connor Davies, which has 742 employees. Those employees then mentor younger ones.

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“It’s not an age thing; we just want quality, talented people,” said Keane. “Yesterday, I was talking to a partner who is 82 and still working seven days a week. I keep telling him he should have a flexible schedule [working fewer hours and days], but that’s what he wants.” Keane added: “If I were at a Big Four accounting firm, I’d be aged out today. So I like the policy of not being aged out.”

Riverdale Country School: This Bronx-based private K-12 school is intentional about retaining teachers and staff. It offers faculty sabbaticals after 10 years, “passion grants” that let workers pursue their interests (from learning tango to writing fiction) and the ability to restructure jobs for less-strenuous ones (custodians have become security guards, for example). Said Dominic Randolph, head of the school: “I and our team have the amazing privilege of working with people ages 4 to 92.” He’s especially proud of the passion grant program: “It’s great to see our community engaged at all ages and continuing to keep on learning throughout their lifetime. You have to keep reinventing yourself. These people do that every day and the kids are inspired by that.”

Lee Spring: You might not think a spring manufacturer with 79 employees would be age smart, but then you don’t know Lee Spring, based in the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Half its workforce is over 50 (some execs started as factory laborers and its president began as a machinist 30 year ago). The Age Smart Employer Awards selection committee was also taken by the company’s “impressive culture and ethos of flexibility,” said Finkelstein. Some employees have been allowed to move to facilities in warmer climates or work fewer hours. Fun fact: the six Lee Spring employees who came to the awards ceremony had a total of 161 years of work experience.

Silvercup Studios: If the accounting profession isn’t known for being age smart, that’s doubly true for the entertainment industry. But Silvercup Studios, New York City’s largest full-service film and TV production facility and where Sopranos, Girls and Sex and the City have filmed, is an exception. At this family-owned company, the median age of its 49 employees is over 50. Two just celebrated their 30th anniversary with Silvercup.

“We don’t look at someone’s age when we hire them because it doesn’t matter. We’re looking for people who can do the job,” Kesner, 67, told me.

Also read: This is the state with the oldest workers

Being age smart is just being business smart, said Kesner: “We try to encourage loyalty to our company. It’s good for our business. It costs more to recruit and replace employees than to retain them.” Also, he added, older employees “are not necessarily looking to move up and out,” have low absenteeism rates and “have a maturity in handling problems; they don’t get as rattled.”

He closed the ceremony with these words: “I look forward to a day when awards of this kind are no longer necessary, when ageism in the workplace is a thing of the past and hiring mature workers is second nature to all employers.”

That’s an admirable wish. But I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more Age Smart Employer Awards for quite a few years ahead.

Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of “How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis” and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. @richeis315