Millennial this, millennial that. Advertisements for products to hide gray hair or wrinkling skin. Slogans like “60 is the new 40.” Increasing charges of age discrimination. All these factors indicate that the U.S. is stuck in a youth oriented society. The problem is that perception drives employers to ignore older workers, often to the detriment of the company.
Older workers a rising force
The BLS, according to the Pew Research Center, projects that by 2022 67.5% of workers 55-64 years in age will remain in the workforce. A study found that “…the American workforce was graying — not just because the population as a whole was growing older, but because older adults were staying in the labor force longer and younger adults were staying out of it longer.” In the age category of 65-74 32% of that population will still be in the workforce, up from 18% currently.
This is causing a problem for employers. Positions go unfilled, either because there are not enough candidates or employers operate under the assumption that older workers cannot handle new technology, so they avoid hiring them.
This gets the company in trouble with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and also hamstrings companies in the area of numbers of people.
Older workers can do many jobs
Older workers can perform many jobs, including technology jobs. One thing that older workers bring to the table is people skills. Some may appear to be curmudgeons but the majority have years of honing communication and cooperation skills that many younger workers do not. This brings a value that many companies do not pay attention to. It is often easier to teach a technical skill than it is to teach a “people” skill. With lower workforce participation by workers in the 20-24 age range there are just fewer “new” employees, so taking advantage of older workers makes sense.
What can employers do to take advantage of the older workforce? There are several things:
- They can introduce more flexibility into work arrangements. Flexible hours and flexible locations not only help younger workers with families but also older workers with medical issues. However, the numbers of older workers with disabling conditions is far over blown according to Will You Really Be Able to Work Into Your 70s? Researchers have learned that greater control over schedules helps employees with disabilities do their work better, keep their doctor appointments and stay healthier.
- They can train hiring managers to be open to truly evaluating the ability of candidates rather than evaluating them on their age. If older workers were not capable then why do the majority of top CIOs in the Americas appear to be over the age of 50?
- Rather than pushing older workers out because of technology find ways for them to work alongside technology. Take advantage of the people skills that AI doesn’t yet have.
The solution to age discrimination and talent shortages will take some effort to find the right combination that works for workers and employers. It may involve variations of the gig economy. Or it may require some employers to radically alter the way they view the workforce and come to the realization that the future workforce may have more history than they thought.