Older workers could be the key to coping with the looming labor shortage

By Bill Leonard
From SHRM Online

A survey released Tuesday by The New York Times Job Market, the printed job listing and online recruitment service of The New York Times, found that approximately 60 percent of workers 50 and older plan to stay on the job beyond 65—the traditional age for retirement. The survey also found that employers hoping to retain more workers approaching retirement age should consider offering a wider range of benefits and work options, such as flexible work hours, job-sharing and part-time employment.

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Beta Research Corp. conducted the survey on behalf of the New York Times Job Market by interviewing 200 full-time workers 50 and older and 250 human resource professionals. The survey found that approximately 45 percent of the HR professionals working for companies with 100 or more employees believe employers will be struggling with a severe labor shortage in the next five to 10 years. Research conducted by groups such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), AARP and the Committee for Economic Development (CED) also suggests that older workers could play a pivotal role in helping employers cope with a shortage of qualified workers.

“To ensure success over the next 20 years, U.S. businesses will need significant contributions from older workers,” said Charles E.M. Kolb, president of the CED. The CED report New Opportunities for Older Workers urges companies to prepare for a looming labor shortage by removing barriers for employees who wish to extend their careers.

When the new Job Market survey asked employees what type of work options would encourage them to delay their retirement, the top choice (42 percent of the respondents) was flexible work hours. The other options included the following:
• Part-time work (35 percent).
• Extended leave and sabbaticals (28 percent).
• Phased retirement plans (24 percent).
• Job sharing (16 percent).

While older workers clearly believe they will continue working well after retirement age, very few employers have implemented strategies to keep them on the payroll. Only 7 percent of employers responding to the Older Workers Survey conducted and released in June by SHRM, CED and the National Older Worker Career Center reported that they had defined a plan or proposed specific changes to prepare for the large number of workers who will reach retirement age over the next 10 years. According to the SHRM study, more than half of organizations are only now becoming aware of the issue or are beginning to examine their workplace policies, and most respondents said they neither actively recruit older workers nor do anything specific to retain them.

The AARP study Staying Ahead of the Curve 2003: The AARP Working in Retirement Study was released late September and shows that workers aged 50 to 70 could have a profound effect on any labor shortage. In the study, older workers expressed a willingness to work in service-related and retail positions, which employers traditionally have a tough time filling during labor shortages. AARP researchers interviewed more than 2,100 workers between 50 and 65 and found that they were most willing to take the following jobs:
• Customer service representative.
• Teaching assistant.
• Teacher.
• Retail salesperson.
• Landscaper or groundskeeper.
• Cashier.
• Computer support specialist.
• Real estate agent.
• Secretary or receptionist.
• Truck driver or courier.
• Bookkeeper or accounting clerk.
• Child care worker.

“Our research tells us that older workers will continue to have a prominent and increasing role in the labor force in the coming decades,” said John Rother, AARP’s director of policy and strategy. “And they will step up and fill the jobs that are most likely to need workers.”

The AARP survey results were similar to The New York Times Job Market research by revealing that nearly 60 percent of workers 50 and older plan to find a new job after retiring from their present position, with 45 percent saying they plan to work into their 70s or even later.

Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR News.