The Talent Pool: Why Talent at Any Age Matters

There’s no question about it, retaining our best and our brightest is critical to the overall economic well-being of the greater Lansing area.

Recently, Lou Glazer of Michigan Future, Inc. presented a report to the Capital Area Michigan Works! Workforce Development Board on how critical talent retention is to our economic health, so much so, that significant effort is underway to encourage those who obtain their post-secondary education in our area to stick around to work and live here.

We need this young and vibrant workforce to help us transition to a solid knowledge-based economy as many Baby Boomers continue to retire over the next few years. However, it is also important for businesses to look at the impact older workers have in this changing schism. Retaining our best and our brightest at any age is critical.

With the Boomer Generation reaching traditional retirement age, many organizations are faced with the loss of experienced talent in keys roles from leadership to sales as well as technical and professional skills.

On the other hand, for those businesses that are looking for workers, the Boomer Generation can offer some benefits that are enhanced because of their workplace experiences. While Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, many are not interested in leaving the world of work. In light of recent economic hardships, some are unable to do so financially.

David Cottengim, in his presentation on The Benefits of Hiring and Retaining Older Workers stated that “Recognizing the abilities of older, experienced workers and how their skills can contribute to your productivity and profitability makes good business sense.
Mature workers have years of experience, which often contributes to increased productivity and a more positive work environment.”

As well, AARP offers that “By retaining older workers, some employers save more than half of an employee’s annual salary in retraining costs.” In fact, some sectors find experienced workers provide a competitive advantage since their older customers often like to be served by people with similar age and experience.

The University of North Carolina’s Institute on Aging identified and ‘busted’ five myths about older workers including the mistaken notions that older workers are 1.) less productive, 2.) not motivated because they would prefer to retire soon, 3.) are absent frequently due to health issues, or they face impairment in their jobs, 4.) resist change and are unable to learn new skills, and 5.) cost more to employ.

In reality, though, older workers actually have a high level of productivity for several reasons. Their highly developed writing and math skills tied to a lifetime of experiences of which they are able to draw upon is also a plus. They are more flexible about working hours and are often willing to work part-time.

Contrary to some belief, many workers are not in a hurry to retire. And while AARP indicated that six in 10 older workers plan to work beyond their normal Social Security retirement age, financial reasons to stay in the workplace is not always the main reason. Being active helps maintain physical and mental health. And, in today’s multigenerational workplace, interacting with younger coworkers and the public actually helps many to maintain a young-at-heart attitude.

Further, older workers have demonstrated a lower rate of absenteeism compared to their younger counterparts. And, as any business knows, absenteeism has a direct impact on the business’s ability to produce.

The Boomers bring with them to the workplace a strong work ethic coupled with the value of being on time. Further, they are less likely to need to stay home to care for a sick child. In a CDC poll, 80 percent of those 55 – 64 rating their health as good or excellent.

When it comes to adapting to change, older workers have been doing it all along. Contrary to popular belief, older adults are willing and able to learn new skills. Currently, more than 1,000 older adults (those age 50 and older) are enrolled in classes at Lansing Community College. Improving skills and gaining additional knowledge is important as many are looking to continue being an active participant in our local workforce.

When it comes to job hopping, older workers are more likely to stay put in their current position, thus decreasing employer expenses due to lower turnover. In addition, many older workers may have other sources of healthcare through a prior employer or Medicare. Some individuals may even have retired from another career and receive a pension and therefore, may be willing to work for less pay and benefits while enjoying a rewarding job with flexible hours, continued use of their skills and knowledge, and, just as importantly, have an ability to interact with others.

And finally, let’s not miss the intangible value that older workers bring to the table with their ability to mentor our next generation of great leaders, thinkers and doers. A talented workforce is critical to our economic vitality. Looking past age allows us to bridge the generations and understand the role an older worker plays in ensuring organizational success.

Cathy Wilhm is Lansing Community College’s Director for their Center for Workforce Transition which includes Continuing Education, Community Education, and the College’s new Encore! 50+ program.

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