Vol. 4, No. 1
Rich experience, right attitude can make second-career recruits great performers in your workplace.
While recruiters at other companies mull over the benefits of hiring older workers, human resource director Ingrid Provencher aggressively snaps them up. She says midlife recruits who are looking to change careers hold special appeal because of their strong work ethic, rich experience, valued judgment and positive attitude. It's no coincidence that nearly 60 percent of the 2,600 employees at the facilities where she works are older than 50.
"It's a group that we've really targeted, particularly in the last five to seven years," says Provencher, who oversees personnel at Leesburg Regional Medical Center and the Villages Regional Hospital in Florida.
"They're awesome employees because they're dedicated, loyal team players," she adds. "And they bring a wealth of knowledge and life experience, as well as work experience because it's their second career."
As the U.S. labor force ages, a growing number of companies around the nation are creating programs and policies designed to recruit and retain older workers. Retailers like CVS/ pharmacy, Home Depot, Walgreens, Borders bookstores and a host of medical facilities are reaching out to individuals who have moved on from their first careers and are now interested in new occupations.
"One thing mature workers are looking for when they switch careers is an opportunity to use their skills and experience in other settings--sometimes in similar industries but sometimes in different industries and sometimes in non-profits," says Diane Piktialis, an expert on mature-workforce issues for the Conference Board, a nonprofit business management research group in New York.
"They're looking for organizations with a culture that values experience and is fairly age-neutral. And they really want something that will give them flexibility in their schedules," she adds.
Offering a mix of benefits and incentives to attract seasoned workers is a key recruitment strategy for Provencher's facilities. She says the sister hospitals offer job sharing; flexible schedules, including split shifts for nurses; health and pension benefits for part-timers; ongoing educational opportunities; and a "snowbird" program for those who spend only the winter in Florida.
When it comes to staffing and scheduling needs, Provencher says, it's critical to "think outside the box" since both facilities operate 24 hours a day.
"Most nursing shifts are 12 hours, but some [older employees] might not want that, so we offer six-hour shifts," she adds. "We look at the individual to see where they fit, what kind of schedule they need, and we find a way to make it work rather than force them into what our schedule is. Being more accommodating and flexible with our schedule is our biggest draw" for mature workers.
Like Clients, Like Workers
Older workers do particularly well in businesses that have a considerable number of older clients, such as in health care settings, the financial services and planning industry, and retail establishments, says Piktialis.
She adds that former executives and midlevel workers who have taken lower-paying jobs in their second careers continue to make valuable contributions in their new line of work.
"They tend to be very patient, very empathetic, and they like to help people out," she says. They're very good in those roles." Recruiters at CVS know that firsthand. They make it a priority to hire workers whose ages reflect their customers' ages. In the last decade, CVS has more than doubled its recruitment of older workers by offering a bevy of enticements, including flexible work schedules, job sharing and benefits for part-timers.
A program for "snowbirds" was implemented about three years ago, and now about 1,000 workers take part in that, says Stephen Wing, director of government programs."We want our company to look like the neighborhoods where we do business," he says. "As customers walk into your store, they see people who look like them. Then you have your best business."
Some of CVS' older employees were educators or law enforcers in their first careers but are now delighted to work in less stressful jobs, Wing says. "They don't want the pressures of where they once worked."
But, he points out, that doesn't mean that all mature workers are retrieving shopping carts or greeting customers at CVS stores. They also work as pharmacy technicians, photo lab technicians and supervisors.
Targeting Second-Career Workers
So how do recruiters reach seasoned professionals who are stepping into new vocations? Consider putting the word out through professional networks, advertise in alumni and trade publications, and post job openings in newspapers and online, says Piktialis.
She also suggests contacting community networks that offer senior services, such as local area agencies on aging as well as AARP, an advocacy organization for older adults. An increasing number of web sites that target a graying workforce have also sprouted up, including www.encore.org, www.retiredbrains.com and www.workforce50.com.
But Piktialis cautions recruiters to be mindful about how their company's image is projected in ads. Describing the workplace with terms like "cutting-edge" or "fast-paced" could turn off mature professionals, as could photos of only younger workers in the work setting. Older workers "want a culture that wants them," Piktialis says.
Now that her facilities have snagged awards for expanding job opportunities for those age 50 and older--one from AARP and one from Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank on social issues--Provencher says more folks looking for a second career are knocking at her hospitals' doors inquiring about work. Brent Carter, 67, was one of them. He retired from a Los Angeles hospital as a computer programmer less than two years ago. He moved with his wife of 50 years to Lady Lake, Fla., and quickly discovered that a traditional, stay-at-home retirement was not for him. "I am not a person who sits around and watches TV and enjoys it," he says. "To me, that's a boring day."
So he applied for, and was offered, a job as a courier at Leesburg Regional Medical Center. He says he routinely puts in 60-hour workweeks transporting blood and urine samples from nurses' stations to laboratories, and delivering materials to various departments.
Now, after nearly a year on the job, Carter has his eye on another opening at Leesburg: manager of the department in which he's working. Though he'd likely take a cut in pay since there's no overtime, he says, he's hopeful nonetheless.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Carter says with a chuckle. "I'm hoping it'll be a steppingstone to better things in the future."
Carole Fleck is a senior editor for AARP Bulletin.