September is National Workforce Development Month, a perfect time to highlight an underutilized Colorado workforce – older adults. Valuable, experienced workers are there, if people look past age.

Workforce Development Month is the product of a bipartisan resolution that recognized skill gaps in our workforce. It was introduced with the understanding that a growing skilled labor force is needed to drive the local, state, national and global economy.

A critical element to consider is that the work force of the future will be diverse and comprised of at least five generations. Worldwide demographic changes will dictate a shift to utilizing older workers – especially in some legacy industries like manufacturing, trades like plumbing and electrical work, construction, retail, government, financial and business services. Additionally, these industries have struggled to draw younger generations.

Older workforce is the new reality

The graphs from the 2018 Census reflect the dramatic demographic shift we will see between 1960 to 2060.

In 2018, the US experienced the lowest birth rate in 32 years. The fertility rate is below the level needed to replace the existing population. This is a global trend and countries are exploring the impacts. Leading the list of concerns is how employers can find the workforce to keep economies plugging along.

Simultaneously, we are seeing significant increases in life span and health. With longer and healthier lives, people are seeking more opportunities to stay in the workplace. Older adults need to generate revenue to ensure a secure last quarter of life.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that the fastest growing age group seeking work is the 75+ population. And, the second fastest growing population is the 65-74 age group.

Talent doesn’t have age boundaries

The good news for employers is that older adults have extensive experience and resilience that comes from experience. Some employers recognize the need the engage an older workforce. The Honey Baked Ham Company, with six stores in Colorado, and has chosen to hire from every generation, including the 50+ population.

Francene Taylor said, “Our experiences with hiring older workers has been positive. We know that talent doesn’t have age boundaries, and it’s important for our brand to hire talent that’s dependable, has a focus on the details and truly enjoys connecting with our customers and creating relationships that help grow our business.”

The Honey Baked Ham Company even went so far as to become an Age Friendly Certified Employer. This certifies that a company is age-friendly, based on a confidential audit of its policies, procedures and hiring practices. Ms. Taylor said, “We welcome older adults who are looking for work – part or full-time at the Honey Baked Ham Company.”

Doing what’s best for the company

Steve Kempf, CEO of Lee Spring, a century-old manufacturing firm in Brooklyn, is also working to adapt to an older workforce at his company. He says, “I’m not trying to be some great saint. I’m just doing what’s best for the company.”

“We do everything to keep our older workers, because, A: they’re so skilled, and, B: we don’t have the people to fill in behind them. And we have invested 10, 15, 20, 30 years, some of them, in their skill set. And we want to keep those as long as we can.”

“Generally, the most common thing we will do is give them the ability to work a shorter workweek. And, usually, it also eases their way out, so that we learn to get the job done with them there only two or three days a week. Makes it easier when they take full leave a few years later.”

Employers need to adapt faster

Keeping experienced workers yields benefits to employers, the economy, and the individuals and their families. Some of the options, like flexible schedules, benefit people of all ages. Despite this and undeniable demographic changes, we are seeing a slow shift in the mindset of employers.

older worker in constructionIn 2018, in a survey of more than 3,900 older adults, AARP reported that “Nearly 2 out of 3 workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job … Among the 61 percent of respondents who reported age bias, 91 percent said they believe that such discrimination is common”.

The Urban Institute found that this recession has yielded high unemployment for older adults. In April, “the monthly unemployment rate at ages 65 and older reached 15.6 percent, the highest level since records began in 1948. It exceeded the unemployment rate for workers ages 25 to 54 by 3 percentage points, the biggest gap ever. It’s been more than 50 years since the monthly unemployment rate for workers ages 65 and older surpassed the rate for those younger workers by even 1 full percentage point.”

Here in Colorado, the numbers through August 8th show that 505,514 people have filed for unemployment. In the age category of 55+, 84,845 people have filed yielding 16.78% of all those who have filed.

Older workers are good news for Colorado

While our employment numbers in Colorado are high now, it won’t be long before our economy will be strained looking for a talented workforce. Our older workforce is good news for Colorado long-term!

Colorado has the third fastest growing 65+ population in the country. And already, approximately one in four people 65 and over are working. Colorado’s population, including Boomers, is the 8th highest educated in the country and considered the most healthy state in the US. Employers will have bountiful opportunities to connect with the 65+ population in the years to come.

We invite all employers to reevaluate their approach to older workers with an eye toward creating opportunities to keep them engaged. It is good for both employers and employees, and it prepares the economy for the coming workforce reality.

Karen Brown, Director of Changing the Narrative’s Age-Friendly Workplace Initiative

Want to engage more older workers? Please check out the Certified Age Friendly Employer (CAFE) program. This is an opportunity to have a confidential audit done of your programs and policies related to older workers. The CAFE certification indicates that your policies support and encourage older people to work for your company.