My mother is 79 years old and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. She is part of that generation of Baby Boomer women who defined the “working woman”. She raised four children basically on her own while working full time as a civilian contracts specialist for the Navy. She finally retired after 40 years of public service. At 79, she still believes, and others including me will attest, that she has a lot to share with the world. She shares her expertise with her local city government office, reviewing city contracts that are put up for bid. Her years of expertise gives her the keen eye and steady mind to read through contracts for accuracy and applicability. I feature my mother because many like her, those 60 and above, have years of institutional and industry knowledge that any company (start-up or established) would be foolish to overlook.
Recently, CNBC Online had a story called “The Suddenly Hot Job Market for Workers Over 50”. This article speaks of the ways companies are beginning to create spaces for a multigenerational workforce. In addition to modular work spaces and adult “play areas”, companies are providing “Fit Over 60” exercise classes and reentry programs focused the mature worker. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that as of February 2018, the unemployment rate of those 55 and over is just 3.2%. Compare that number to 4.1% for the nation, and 14.4% for millennials. The annual rate of growth for the number of people entering the workforce who are 75 and older is a staggering 6.4%. Consequently most of these new workers re-entering the workforce are hired in upper level (and high-paying) management and professional jobs.
Companies are attracted to the over-60 worker because they bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Their approach to work is that of perseverance, reliability, and stability. They will typically have experienced downsizing as well as significant successes – their experience allows them to tackle business problems with insight and calm resolve. They also provide a natural cohort of mentors and role-models for the younger workers just starting out.
While they typically have these soft skills in abundance, what they typically do not have in abundance are the hard skills – how to work on the road with a laptop, what the latest statistical analyses are, and how to handle modern equipment, tools and software. But this shouldn’t be too much of a hurdle either. Those are skills that can be re-learned, and because of their maturity, they can typically learn these faster than younger employees who are starting families, working their way up the corporate ladder, and still finding their “ideal” job.
One option that provides a way for mature workers to reenter the workforce are what I call “Emeritus” programs. A term taken from academia – emeriti are mature and retired faculty who continue to contribute to the intellectual life at a college or university. In looking at the private sector, I see such programs emerging and growing as well.
One such program is part of Goldman Sachs’s active recruitment efforts. Their “Returnship” program is for those who have been out of the workforce for two or more years. It is a paid 10-week training and mentoring program. The training programs also include technology coaching to update the skills of employees coming back to work.
Another program is called “Encore”, like the one that is offered by the Workplace Group. It provides fellowships for those 50 and older to consider work in the non-profit sector. Many over 50 consider themselves mid-career, so programs like “Encore” allow them to pursue a new interest or talent.
Emeritus programs like “Returnship” and “Encore” are some of the best ways that companies can take advantage of the vast talent pool of mature workers. Hiring those over 60 creates a multigenerational staff. Managing such a staff will take skill and an awareness of how such workplace dynamics can be focused to benefit companies. However, not being mindful of such dynamics as a director or CEO can result in negative outcomes, like age discrimination litigation. Therefore, it behooves MBA programs to ramp up classes in these new workforce dynamics in order to train the next generation of leaders to take advantage of this trend. Old habits and thinking die hard. Biases against older workers persist, but they ultimately bring to light the missed opportunities for greatness on both sides.
Thankfully, a shift in thinking is slowly taking place and this must continue. People are living longer and want to continue being contributing members of society. My mother will continue to find ways to contribute her vast skills and knowledge to her community, but it is up to the rest of us to incorporate the talents of more mature employees into our companies, our organizations, and our teams. Failing to do so would be one more missed opportunity to compete at a higher level against the competition.
This blog post is part of a newsletter I publish weekly called The Gigster 'Zine. It is a production of the Colégas Group, an organization that seeks to offer new opportunities for anyone with a college degree. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at colegasgroup.com.