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Workforce Issues – Do We Need Older Workers?

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writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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Many developed countries, including the US, UK and Europe are facing worker shortages. This has been affected by the pandemic, with businesses cutting back on people, but it is mainly caused by the demographics of an ageing society: the workforce is greying at a rapid rate. People 60 years and over are projected to outnumber under-five kids within the next year, and by 2025 it is expected one quarter of workers in the U.S. and the UK will be over fifty five. In the US job vacancies have outnumbered job seekers since 2018. This is largely a result of baby boomers reaching retirement at a rate faster than younger people can replace them.

This is a serious human resources issue, but perhaps we can look at it another way. People are living longer, and contrary to the meme of a sun-soaked, leisurely, golfing retirement, often the loss of the direction of a job can lead to depression and health problems after leaving work. So what about utilities looking to recruit older workers to fill vacancies?

Unfortunately there is a social bias towards “young, dynamic” workers. But is that true? Many remarkable people are productive into their 70's, 80's and beyond. Warren Buffet is 91 and still one of the leading experts in finance and investing. Twenty-two US Presidents were 60 or older. Numerous artists and creatives led long, productive lives.

 

What can utilities gain from older workers?

Firstly, scientific evidence shows that the brain does not “go downhill after 30”. Some areas do decline, but increased experience and wisdom are markers of older workers. These skills can be beneficial if companies take the time and effort to reconfigure their systems to accommodate elder workers. Note: I'm not suggesting you retrain a team of 70 year old linemen! But modern systems such as drones can be used from the ground so that physical tasks can be easier and safer than previous, more physical methods.

 

How to reconfigure to attract older workers

Offer flexible hours: many workers prefer not to have a full-time job, and it might be better to have two job-sharing seniors than one full-time younger person.

Set remuneration by job capability and importance. That might mean that a younger person is earning more than someone much older, but that is fair if they are in a higher position.

Ensure age-diversity in your teams. Often the presence of a stable, older person is an advantage, and gives the other workers a feeling of security.

Allow older workers supervisory or managerial roles where appropriate.

Enable mentoring: this can be very valuable for both parties, where a mentor shares their skills and expertise: they also feel valued and not “on the scrap heap.”

Actively recruit older people. Former retirees can be invited back to new roles. Companies like Bank of America, Boeing, Walgreens, GM, and others, have programs designed for older workers, which are called “returnships.”

Finally, beware of age discrimination. It is rife throughout our society. Other negative social stigmas have been highlighted over the past two decades, and are now seen to be discriminatory, but the same scrutiny doesn't seem to apply to ageism. HR and other people in the company will need to focus on eradicating hidden biases if this is to be an effective program.

There are actually many disadvantages to retiring, including financial ones. Utilities which create good, inclusive working conditions for seniors as well as younger staff, will create a loyal, diverse and effective workforce, which will be beneficial for company and customers alike, as well as society as a whole.

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