With the unemployment rate (4.1%) at its lowest since 2000, employers are struggling to retain their best workers and attract qualified new ones. Although their efforts are often directed at Millennials, in places where people in their 20s and 30s are increasingly hard to find, employers are equally focused on people in their 50s and 60s.
For example, in May, more than 170 New England employers, policymakers and business leaders came together for an event notably titled, Gray is the New Green: Unleashing the Power of Older Workers and Volunteers to Build a Stronger Northern New England. And at a recent Manchester, N.H., workforce strategies event, AARP-N.H. State Director Todd Fahey urged HR professionals to talk with older employees about the possibility of continuing to work on a flexible basis after they hit the traditional retirement age of 65.
As a boomer and a career coach, I’m heartened by this turn of the events. Of course, I’m not so naïve as to think age discrimination is over. I agree with what Chris Farrell just said in a Next Avenue post: “Older workers still face a serious uphill climb in the job market in many respects.”
So how can employers do a better job of finding, retaining and supporting older job applicants and employees?
To find out, I interviewed Greg Voorheis, the mature worker program coordinator and Governor’s Award coordinator for the state of Vermont. I also watched a video he conducted with executives from the 2017 Governor's Award winner, Chroma Technology Group, a manufacturing firm in the biotech space, based in Bellows Fall, Vt. Incidentally, workers 55 and over currently make up nearly 30% of Vermont's workforce.
7 Tips for Supporting Older Workers and Job Seekers
Here are seven tips from Voorheis and Chroma:
1. Advertise job openings in newspapers in addition to online outlets. “One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that the mature population still really likes written material, like newspapers,” says Voorheis.
The Chroma Technology Group advertises its openings in print and welcomes hard copy applications to accommodate people who might not be comfortable applying online.
2. Display photos and videos of older people in recruitment marketing materials. That helps make it very clear that all ages are welcome to apply.
3. Cut down on ageism by using a group-interview model. HR departments are often staffed by younger workers, and that can result in unnecessary age bias — conscious or otherwise. This is why Chroma uses teams of four to eight people to do its hiring. “That way, no one person’s perspective carries too much weight. And if there are biases, they are minimized,” says the company's HR director, Angela Earle Gray.
4. Encourage mentoring. When older workers mentor younger workers, that helps the employees and it’s good for the company, too.
“Experience is an important thing to pass on,” says Chroma President Paul Millman. “Work habits, ways of doing things, and attitudes towards work all mature over time.”
Chroma uses peer work trainers to both help onboard employees and to continue mentoring them until they’re able to demonstrate competency in their new roles.
5. Provide ample training for older workers. Experienced employees are usually eager to get training that will keep their skills sharp and make them more employable. Yet sometimes employers hesitate to provide it because they worry about the return on investment for workers who might retire soon. Chroma takes a different tack by encouraging all workers to seek training opportunities.
“If you can show us how that is going to benefit you, we’ll find a way to get you that training, or something similar,” says Gray.
6. Offer flexible work arrangements. Voorheis says seasonal work, such as the snowbird programs offered at IBM, can be especially attractive to older workers.
Even though Chroma prefers employees to work full-time, it offers telecommuting and flextime to accommodate workers’ needs. And when staffers have needed to go part-time for a stretch, the company has tried to make that work. “We’re not fond of ridding ourselves of employees,” says Millman.
Sabbaticals are another popular option at Chroma. Long-term employees have the option to take an extended leave, for up to 11 weeks. The leave is unpaid, but the company continues to pay for medical and dental coverage.
7. Provide a wide range of benefits. Chroma also offers generous retirement benefits, company stock and a variety of wellness programs, including reimbursement for gym memberships and fitness programs. It runs monthly employee education programs, too, on topics like retirement planning, wellness and advance-care planning.
“We take very good care of mature workers at Chroma,” says Gray. “But it was never a conscious choice to do that. The conscious choice was to take very good care of all our employees.”
Voorheis echoes that sentiment, saying: “Good behaviors and programs that benefit mature workers benefit workers of all ages