Older people are emerging as a major untapped labor source that could limit potential worker shortages, but employers might need to rethink traditional recruitment strategies to attract that talent, says a new government-sponsored study.
The challenge for employers “is to develop workforce polices that appeal to older workers without sacrificing productivity,” according to The Urban Institute’s 2008 paper, Current Strategies to Employ and Retain Older Workers, written on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Employers wanting to devise strategies to recruit older workers should bear in mind that, unlike most younger workers, many can afford to work part time, stop work completely, or be more selective for whom they work, the paper’s authors, Lauren Eyster, Richard W. Johnson and Eric Toder, point out.
Some employers are reluctant to use older workers, the paper acknowledges, because they don’t want to invest in them, don’t expect a labor shortage to materialize, prefer younger workers, or believe such workers cost more since wages and health care costs tend to rise with age.
There’s also the issue of the employability of older workers with limited skills. A disproportionate number of older workers with limited education are employed in jobs that are physically demanding, and they “experience more health problems than those with more education,” the paper notes.
The paper doesn’t appear to break any new ground, but it does reinforce recruitment strategies touted in other studies that are likely to appeal to older workers. Those strategies include:
Flexible workplace arrangements
This is an attractive recruitment tool that can take many forms—permanent or temporary job sharing; telework; flexible schedules, such as flextime or compressed schedules; “snowbird” programs allowing workers to shuttle between geographic locations; and internal job changes that allow for part-time shifts or a second career with the employer.
Not all arrangements are suited for all employers, the paper acknowledges. Teleworking is not appropriate for all industries or jobs, and snowbird programs are most “economically viable for large organizations in such sectors as retailing and health care services” whose customer bases migrate during the year, according to the paper.
Job sharing requires clear communication among the people sharing a job and their supervisor and a clear delineation of job responsibilities.
Formal and informal phased retirement arrangements
These allow experienced workers to reduce their schedules at their career employers. Some employers “have devised ways to allow older workers to reduce their work hours and receive some pension and health benefits” by terminating employees and rehiring them part time, sometimes as independent contractors, the paper notes.
Some public school districts that are up against teacher shortages have instituted Deferred Retirement Option Plans (DROPs), designed for workers in defined benefit pension plans.
When the employee reaches retirement age, the employer deposits into a DROP account the pension benefits it would have paid if the employee had retired. When the employee stops working, he or she receives the benefits with interest, according to the paper.
However, “legal complications have limited their use in the private sector,” according to the paper.
Working with the state
Arizona, Arkansas and Iowa are among states that are working to educate and develop partnerships with employers to encourage the hiring of older workers, such as Arizona’s Mature Workforce Initiative. Through it, a pilot program connects businesses with older workers.