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Older Workers – Aging Workforce Issues for Job Search
John O’Connor, President – Career Pro Inc.

By John M. O'Connor, BA, MFA, CRW, CPRW, CCM, CECC
President - Career Pro Resumes and Career Pro Inc.
John O' Connor
Guest Columnist Special Feature

After a major computer company sold a division to an international rival, the buyout left Alina Crouse wondering about her future. Ms. Crouse found herself on the outside of the corporate world looking in. No longer the young, college graduate on the fast track with the company she had worked for since graduating with honors in engineering, Alina watched as the restructuring left her without the high paying job she started working toward in the mid-80s. At 46, this concerned her and she questioned whether her age had anything to do with her being let go. “They hired my body double from the same university and another kid,” she says. “Two new hires were willing to work and they basically replaced me. I really don’t blame the company. You pay them less and you have to pay me more. Yes, I have the experience but I understand business decisions when you can hire two at 80 hours a week and you have to pay me more at 40 or more hours a week.”

Attitudes Toward Older Workers Are Changing:

The Center for Retirement Research recently studied older workers and the employer attitudes toward them. The study illuminates many key points including the fact that attitudes may be changing toward older workers. In the past, some evidence and many personal experiences and stories suggested that employers tend to shy away from the older worker. Evidence in the courts indicates that discrimination does still exist, unfortunate reality of a competitive marketplace. Privately, human resources professionals and other hiring decision makers point to not wanting to hire individuals with engrained bad habits, the potential for higher health care costs and the “I’ll do it my way” attitudes that some older workers have demonstrated at their companies. You won’t get these professionals to put such sentiments in writing but if you talk to as many of these hiring professionals as I do you will quickly get these types of stories and truthful anecdotes.

Statistics from a number of companies demonstrate that workers over 50 sometimes have a hard time finding work. But, the reality is that today’s 50-year old is not the same as a 50 year old of yesteryear. The argument can and should be made that older workers today are much different that older workers of the past. For example, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research suggest that today's workers are better educated that even those of 10 years ago. They are more physically fit. Physical demands of jobs are lessening as most manufacturing goes overseas. Labor-intensive positions have been and will continue to be lessened by machines and technology advances.

In a survey of 400 private sector employers, they were asked to evaluate the relative productivity and cost of white-collar and rank-and-file workers age 55 and over and whether, on balance, older employees were more or less attractive.

Good News from the Survey:

* Very few employers had the view that ‘older workers’ as less productive. In fact, age seems to be a significant advantage in many white-collar jobs. A clear majority said older managers and professionals were "more productive". Despite the concerns of many this is heartening news.

* Only 20% of older workers were seen as less productive. An interesting point in the survey is that the less experience the employer has with older workers the more likely to view workers in a negative light. Two areas in which employers see value of the older worker is in a) having excellent knowledge of procedures and understanding of job aspects and b) older workers have an ability to interact will with all customers.

Tim Driver, CEO of Wellesley, Massachusetts-based RetirementJobs.com, a job service for mature workers, says he's optimistic that employers facing skills shortages will eagerly welcome experienced workers. While age can be a liability, he says, it can also be an advantage. "If you are an employer and your customer base is getting old, you're much better off having older employees relate and sell to that customer," Driver says. "Historically, you'd never use retirement and jobs in the same sentence. Now, it's an everyday expression." In addition, boomers are more educated than previous generations and more likely to hold white-collar jobs. "For them, the odds of having to retire early because of health problems are less than for somebody who has been doing physical work," says John Rother, policy director for AARP.

Concern about the Older Worker: Is it Valid?

Employers worry that their older employees will have a hard time are a) learning new tasks quickly, b) that their physical health and stamina will be a problem and there is a significant concern about c) how much longer the older worker will stay on the job. In fact, the last point carries the most negative weight with hiring an older worker: it is the fear that if an employer hires a fantastic older worker, that worker will not stay on the job for long.

It is the cost of the older worker that is most concerning to the employer, not that the older worker is of lesser productivity value. Over 40 percent of employers view older workers as more costly. The bottom line remains that most employers see older workers as both more productive and more costly.

AARP’s research suggests that older workers are NOT more expensive. A 2005 study conducted by Towers Perrin for AARP contends that the additional cost of retaining workers 50 and older is modest, ranging from zero to 3% a year. Those costs are much lower than the cost of hiring and training new employees, the study said. The study was based on an analysis of four industries — energy, financial services, health care and retailing.

The study acknowledged, though, that companies are slow to adapt to an aging workforce. Instead of tapping this labor pool, employers may turn more to outsourcing or push for relaxed immigration rules to fill hiring needs, says Sara Rix, a senior policy officer at AARP. "Things are changing, and more and more (companies) will turn to older workers," Rix says. "But age discrimination does rear its ugly head. If you leave the labor force, getting back is difficult. Bagging groceries may be all you get."

In most cases the cost and benefits seem to balance out; however, white-collar workers have much better prospects working later in life that do the rank-and-file worker. Other areas of concern are that smaller businesses -- those with fewer than 100 employees -- were less fond of older workers. And large employers -- those with 1,000 or more employees -- were not especially attracted to older, white collar workers. Mid-sized companies seemed to be the best prospect for older worker but account for just 25 percent of total employment.

Flexible Work Schedules But What about Health Care?

Arthur Koff of RetiredBrains, a web-based job service for older workers, said older workers might, for instance, have to accept lower pay or part-time work to stay employed. "Many employers are hiring older workers on a part-time, temporary or project-assignment basis and not necessarily full-time," he said in an e-mail. "This means that not only do they get employees who need less training and are generally more reliable that their younger counterparts, but employers rarely have to pay benefits, unless they are hired 30 hours a week or there is a union issue, and often pay an hourly rate or a project-basis rate that is far less than what these workers were earning when they worked full-time."

In Praise of Older Workers:

A new survey suggests that employees are hoping for more and more interesting work in retirement. A few employers are beginning to get the picture. Ellen McGirt, FORTUNE’s senior writer said recently that: “This rallying cry is nothing new; management consultants have been singing the praises of older workers for years. But the Borders Group (Research) began to see the light only after some concerted due diligence of their own. Quoting Ann Roman of the Borders Group, a retail book chain, McGirt states that their (Borders) research clearly shows that their stores do much better when we have true diversity among their staff. But look at the industry trend. McGirt writes that you need to look at industry demographics including that over 50% of all books sold in the U.S. market are purchased by people 45 and older. So for this retailer older employees made sense with a few additional items like flexible hours, training and support being important.

But some would say that’s retail, that’s not my situation. “I am 49 years old,” says Tom Mangiony. “It’s getting very frustrating to send out resumes and find that I am called overqualified for some executive sales positions and under-qualified for the others. What’s the deal? I know its age discrimination but I don’t want to sue anyone; I just want a job because I still need to make $100,000 per year minimum to keep up my lifestyle.”

There seem to be no easy answers and an individual search has less to do with general demographics and than the micro-graphics or microeconomics, so to speak, of your personal situation.

A recent article by Sandra Block and Stephanie Armour of USA TODAY spoke of the growing demand as you plan your future. Some analysts say they believe job opportunities will increase as boomers retire in large numbers. Ask nearly anyone associated with the Society for Human Resources Management and they will confirm the kind of information written about in USA TODAY and many other publications-employers expect to face a skills shortage in coming years, and baby boomers provide a varied and experienced labor pool. Have a good attitude like Ms. Crouse no matter what seems to be happening to you.

Have a career or job search-related question to ask our expert? CLICK HERE TO EMAIL JOHN with your questions.

About our Expert:
John M. O'Connor is the President of both divisions
www.CareerProInc.com (Outplacement Excellence) and www.CareerProResumes.com (Individual Resume Writing and Search Assistance). He is available for questions and consutations at (919) 787-2400.  He was the first private practice Certified Federal Job Search Trainer (CFJST) in North Carolina.  John is also a Certified Electronic Career Coach (CECC). With a unique fiction writing pedigree with fiction publications as well, he obtained a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University. He has been featured in the Raleigh News & Observer, Resume Writers Digest, The Gladiator, Execunet, Career Masters Institute Monthly Newsletter, Monster Career News and other national publications such as JIST. Additionally his diversified experience includes serving as a college professor and as a US Army officer.

For more background information and past articles for CarolinaNewswire.com, check out John's Archives as well as all our other guest columns at http://www.carolinanewswire.com/expert.php.

CarolinaNewswire.com provides the thoughts and analysis of this columnist as a free benefit to our readers but without any representations or warranties as to the accuracy or efficacy of such thoughts or analysis. The opionions, analysis, and thoughts expressed here are those of the author only and should not be deemed as medical, legal, financial, or tax advice from this publication. Readers with such questions should consult a professional.