The value of older workers in NH
Let’s celebrate our experienced workforce and stop bemoaning what we lack
About 500,000 Granite Staters over 50 continue to contribute to the state’s workforce, economy and social fabric. In the now-noisy norm of news and politics, our focus has shifted off of this group (unless, of course, we’re talking about its alleged drag on society). More than a half-million Granite Staters are the answer to many of our challenges from workforce to innovation to economic growth.
Yes, New Hampshire is one of the oldest states in an aging nation. Our business community and political leaders should be concerned about workforce, especially with a 2.6 percent unemployment rate. We should be concerned about recruiting, training and retaining younger workers. But in the meantime, we must innovate by seizing opportunity and advance by maximizing what we do have.
New Hampshire has an able, experienced and reliable workforce boasting some of the nation’s best talent. If we’re truly committed to innovation, efficiency and workforce development, shouldn’t we seek to squeeze every last bit of talent and potential out of our existing workforce to make us the best we can be today and in the future?
Experience counts, whether you you’re hiring someone in the trades, a painter, an office worker or professional. The “seasoned” lawyer probably knows fellow lawyers, the judges and court staff by name. The “experienced” nurse has treated thousands of patients. The “been around the block” banker can see potential beyond the numbers in your business plan. The “experienced” contractor or tradesperson can tell you what you need, what you don’t need and the reasons why. It’s the value of experience. We have it and we can share it.
One can’t teach raw talent any more than one can teach an athlete to have speed. An experienced worker, however, can help develop an equally important intangible: judgment. Everyone — laborers to lawyers — needs to know when to speak and when to listen, when to stand up and when to stand down, when to hold and when to show. And every leader knows that to build great companies, one needs reliable and experienced talent to lead its teams.
Ask any CEO in New Hampshire about cultivating and leveraging talent. Their answers should point to older workers — older workers mentoring younger workers and sharing their experience and talents. Do we not honor everyone — younger and older workers alike — with that type of intergenerational perspective?
So why are we not celebrating what older workers have to offer? Not everyone is ready to retire at “traditional retirement age.” Many are eager to work well beyond 65 and have decades of talent and dedication to share. Many have not saved nearly enough to retire and wish to work for financial reasons. Still thousands of others leave the workforce too early because they feel it is “time” (for any number of reasons), have health issues or don’t realize they are leaving the workforce too soon.
If New Hampshire can change its message to this group, it can change its outcome for those good workers and the companies and economy that needs them. Combine these facts and a picture emerges of a rich resource that should demand much more attention than it is getting.
According to a recent AARP/Oxford Economics study, New Hampshire residents over age 50 account for 50 percent of the GDP, hold 456,000 jobs and pay $3.3 billion in taxes. Shouldn’t we view them as a “financial breakwater” and not a “tsunami?”
Let’s celebrate our experienced workforce and stop bemoaning what we lack. Let’s talk about, implement and encourage policies to tap this resource (part-time status, mentoring programs, “emeritus” licensing status, tax credits for companies that use older workers to mentor younger workers in critical areas, etc.).
By doing so, we honor our older workers and the contributions they have made and have yet to make, we strengthen our workforce and we become a more attractive place to live, retire and do business.
Todd Fahey is state director of AARP New Hampshire.