Joel Dandrea

Joel Dandrea

Joel Dandrea is chief executive officer of the SC&RA.

Most current statistics say that by 2022, around 35 percent of all U.S. workers will be over 50 years old. Ten years later, and 20 percent of all Americans will be 65 or older.

Indeed, the labor pool is aging, rapidly. But unfortunately, not enough younger workers in our industry are lining up to fill the vacancies. Given the dilemma, a recent Kiplinger Letter asked the obvious question: How can employers adapt as more folks are eyeing the exits?

One thing company leaders can do is literally ask their retirement-age folks what their plans are: i.e., when they plan on retiring and/or whether they’d like to stay on in some capacity, whether it be through contracting, part-time work, consulting or whatever best works for both parties.

The answer to the skilled-worker shortage certainly isn’t to try and convince retiring workers to stay, but it doesn’t hurt to check in with them as the emerging date looms. You might find opportunity within the challenge.

Some companies have found that flexible schedules are popular with workers who want to gradually phase towards retirement and cut back as they go – which could actually inspire certain folks to want to stay on longer, and then allows the company to maintain valuable knowledge and experience. Other companies have discovered that keeping in touch with retired employees has proven productive, and even strategic. Continuing a relationship with a valuable worker once they’re gone allows new workers to create a social bond of sorts, and even allows the company to invite the person back in for a special project or training session.

Tailored benefits

Another consideration raised by Kiplinger points to a strategy that could help companies retain workers in the 55 and up crowd: tailored benefits. Most folks entering the final phase of their careers are very interested in quality medical plans – especially between 55 and 64 (not yet old enough for Medicare). According to Kiplinger: Generous retirement plan matching also appeals strongly to those near retirement. Such perks can both keep existing workers and attract top-notch older applicants.

Ultimately, workers value benefits differently based on their life situations. Perks that might have been important in the past suddenly aren’t as important (as workers age), so give employees a menu of benefits and the option of choosing the benefit that’s most appealing.

Re-training older workers has also gained some traction – placing interested employees into jobs that perhaps aren’t as physically demanding, or are even more enjoyable. Use training and education to increase engagement, and don’t let false stereotypes hold you back from spending on employee training and education for older workers. Two popular, but false, stereotypes: Older people are resistant to learning, and it’s a waste of resources to train people who are about to retire. In reality, people who are 50 and older are more likely to stay in a job longer than people between 25 and 35. With that in mind, make sure the job fits the individual’s capabilities. Where ergonomic accommodations can be made, do it. Consider accommodations to the employee’s workstation if/when possible.

And employee training doesn’t always have to be done in-house. Many community colleges offer classes aimed at older workers. Nearly a dozen states offer lifelong learning accounts to help fund worker education.

Moreover, mentoring programs, in addition to providing young workers with valuable knowledge and experience, tend to give workers near the end of their careers extra motivation to stay on in productive roles.

Remember, while you might implement these ideas with older workers in mind, the changes will appeal to employees of all ages. It doesn’t matter why or at what age a worker wants training, scheduling flexibility or accommodation. What matters is that by offering them, you’ll retain and engage the employees you have and attract top talent in the process.