Age-blended workforces and “return on experience”

ImageThe Western World faces a dramatic shift in the constitution of our workforce. Throughout the 20th century, declining fertility and increasing life expectancy dramatically raised both the median age of our populations and the number of workers who are retirement-bound. Projections indicate that nearly 25% of the U.S. population will be eligible for retirement by 2025; for Canada, the percentage is 28%; and for many European countries it is more than 30%.

Moreover, the people turning 60 in 2006 belong to the front ranks of the Baby Boomersóthose born during a period of elevated fertility after World War II between 1946 and 1964. Yet the workforce coming up behind them, called Generation Xópeople born between 1965 and 1981ówill number only about 58% of the presently available work pool. So as the Baby Boomers retire, a lot fewer people will be available to work.

These demographics of a shrinking workforce are expected to alter business employment practices significantly. One adaptation already well under way is the abolition of mandatory retirement to keep mature workers in the workforce longer. So far the U.S. retirement age has been raised to 67 for those born after 1960, and it is expected to be raised again, probably until it reaches age 70. In Canada in December 2005 Ontario was the latest to join the majority of the countryís 13 provinces and territories in legally enacting a partial or complete ban on mandatory retirement. And by this year all 15 European Union member countries will be required to introduce legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the grounds of age.

While at this point in history necessity may be driving the workplace towards greater balance in the age of employees, it has actually always been in the workplaceís best interest to retain its mature workers while cultivating the job skills of the younger generation.

Respect Experience

Incredibly, age bias is still prevalent enough that too many consultants suggest their older job candidates dock all but the last 10 or 15 years of experience off their resumÈ. Supposedly, this dubious tactic fools employers into thinking applicants are younger and therefore granting them interviews and a shot at offsetting any age concerns by extolling their potential contributions. But does anyone seriously think the interviewer is not going to notice the candidateís mature appearance in the first 30 seconds and potentially feel duped?

Alternatively, at PrintLink we advocate a complete and inclusive resumÈ because it reveals mature candidatesí hard-earned depth of experience and professional credibility. We also do not screen candidates for specific positions on the basis of their age–but rather their qualifications, experience, and total fit for the job and the company. We do this because in every case our primary concern is to help clients hire the best person for their requirements. So even in instances where a specific age range may be among the hiring criteria, we will still introduce the staffing manager to qualified candidates who fall outside that age range, rather than let the client miss out on hiring a prime candidate.

Many hiring managers are increasingly aware of the benefits of mature workers. Studies show their assets include equal productivity to younger workers, superior experience, a stronger work ethic, and reliabilityóboth in terms of taking less time off for emergencies common to young families and of less frequent turnover. And the best older workers possess refinements, including adaptive techniques, people skills, and a level of emotional stability, that require years to develop. Additionally, older employees are less likely to job hop. They are more likely to stay with a job for the balance of the years they wish to work. Younger employees, on the other hand, are looking for career advancement, and unless your company can provide it, they will likely move on in the very short term.

As the worker shortage escalates, governments and companies are increasingly expected to adjust their retention, recruitment, and management policies and practices to include older workers as never before. Already business leaders are devising strategies such as ìphased retirementî and ìretirees on callî that allow their companies to retain employees who are past retirement age in their current positions either part-time or as on-call consultants. Such programs allow older workers to continue contributing their invaluable experience and coaching expertise to the economy. Major companies, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and McDonalds, are leading the charge to hire older personnel as well as young people. But have these progressive practices taken hold in the printing and graphic industry? Maybe not yet.

Next monthís column continues the discussion of age-blended workforces.

Victoria Gaitskell is a placement specialist with PrintLink, a professional placement firm for the graphic communications industry.
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