N.H.'s Changing Workforce: Planning today for tomorrow’s 50+ worker

The demographics of today’s workforce are changing as baby boomers reach traditional retirement age and the number of skilled younger workers declines. Those companies that choose to address this change as part of their strategic business plan should be at a considerable advantage.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 is expected to increase by nearly 37 percent over the next seven years. And the number of people over 65 choosing to remain in or return to the workforce is expected to increase by more than 80 percent, accounting for more than 6 percent of America’s entire workforce by 2016.

Financial concerns continue to top the list of reasons older Americans are choosing to remain at or return to work. Many, however, note the need for health benefits, the desire for continued social interaction and mental stimulation, or simply, enjoyment among their reasons to postpone retirement.

By taking advantage of this growing pool of workers age 50 and above, companies can find themselves poised for success, insuring the right people are in the right positions at the right time.

“Often times when we’re in a stressful economic situation employers can be shortsighted. Today, employers are very focused on the bottom line. It’s difficult not to be,” said Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at AARP in Washington, D.C. “It’s important for employers to remember that we will come out of this downturn, and when we do concerns about changing age demographics will still be there. Those companies that are methodical in anticipating the changing demographics will really propel themselves ahead of the curve. Long-range workforce planning will ensure survival in the long run.”

While many employers have a general awareness of the age breakdown of their workforce, Russell said she believes many fall short of knowing how the age demographics at their company breaks down departmentally. This lack of specifics could spell disaster for a company suddenly faced with a shortage of manpower in a critical area.

“It’s important that employers look beyond the aggregate data and work to understand the age demographics in those departments that are mission critical,” Russell said. “By understanding the breakdown of the age demographics a company can take the steps needed to address any workforce concerns before they become a problem.”

Workforce insight

In an effort to aid business owners and employers in assessing their current and future workforce needs, AARP added to its online Employer Resource Center the AARP Workforce Assessment Tool in the spring of 2008. This free, confidential survey offers employers insight to any potential impact an aging workforce might present, identifies steps employers can take to make their workplace more age-friendly and provides an inventory of workplace strengths the employer can use to enhance employer brand.

“We encourage employers to use our Workforce Assessment Tool to better understand their current and future workforce needs,” Russell said. “It’s a great way to get a look at what your age demographics look like today. It also helps forecast what the composition of your workforce will look like five to 10 years out.”

Having that understanding is the first step in building the workforce needed to keep a company strong, she said. With this knowledge, employers can move forward in recruiting and make the changes necessary to hold on to good employees.

“When it comes to recruiting workers age 50 and above, it’s important to go where they are. There are Web sites and online job boards that specifically target the mature workers,” Russell said. “When placing ads or creating recruitment material, use inclusive language. Avoid phrases like ‘fast-paced,’ ‘fast-track,’ or ‘high energy’ – phrases that speak to a younger audience.”

As far as retention goes, understanding the needs of the 50+ worker goes a long way. With today’s mature worker, offering flexible hours, job-sharing, phased retirement, health and pension benefits and learning opportunities are all appealing. Finding ways to build those policies into the workplace will give an employer an upper hand when it comes to recruiting and retaining the workforce needed to face future demands, Russell said.

To complete the AARP Workforce Assessment Tool visit the AARP Employer Resource Center visit www.aarp.org/employerresourcecenter.

N.H.’s Changing workforce series is a partnership between NHBR and AARP New Hampshire.