Summit to explore labor shortage solution: older workers

‘Gray Is The New Green’ to look at strategies, tools for employing older adults

New Hampshire is not alone when it comes to its workforce challenges. In fact, the Granite State’s two northern New England neighbors are experiencing the same difficulties, many of them related to demographics.

Now, with Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont essentially at full employment, the issue has really come to the fore. But a May 8 summit in Concord seeks to open up the conversation about one potential solution for employers. And the title of the event, presented by the Tri-State Learning Collaborative on Aging, (TSLCA) says it all. It’s called “Gray is the New Green: Unleashing the Power of Older Workers + Volunteers to Build a Stronger Northern New England.”

“All three states really came together initially because we have very similar demographic challenges,” said Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and program director for TSLCA. “It’s not really that we have too many old people – which is the way it’s being reported – but we have very low birth rates, which means our working-age population has been shrinking for some time.”

So to meet employers’ needs, she said, “older workers are part of the solution,” said Jess Maurer,

‘Pivotal role’

The problem is that most employers don’t have a strategy for engaging and retaining older workers and older workers don’t know they’re needed back in the labor force, she said.

“Whether as business owners, workers, community leaders, mentors or volunteers, older adults across the region will play a pivotal role in the next decade in creating vibrant workforces, building thriving communities and strengthening our economies,” she said.

“The reality is that we have this workforce that we shouldn’t let go in any way shape or form,” added Maurer.

Maurer said the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation issued a report three years ago focusing on ways to address that state’s worker shortage. One of the recommendations was to raise the state’s participation rate among workers over 65. Maine’s is particularly low, at 13 percent, the report found, but if that rate could be increased to 19 percent (the participation rate of people over 65 in New Hampshire), the state’s workforce would be increased by 12,000.

She said the summit will be “a conversation” about the issue. “We know what the problem is. We know this is part of the solution, but we don’t know how to operationalize it,” she said. “The tools all exist – SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) has published a really good tool for HR directors, AARP has tremendous tools. So it really is how do we get employers to look outside their doors?”

Featured speakers at the conference include keynoter Liz Vogel, CEO of Dots Inc., who will help participants learn tactics to identify the needs of workers and change the workforce culture to incorporate more experienced workers.

Also among the participants will be business leaders from across the region, including L.L. Beans HR director, Wendy Estabrook, will share tools, strategies and policies her company has used to keep older workers engaged in the workforce longer.

Breakout sessions will include an exploration of tools and policies that support older workers and caregivers in the workforce, offer guidance to older adults about encore careers and community leadership and focus special attention on the health care workforce shortage.

The summit will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, May 8, at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. For more information, visit 

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