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Blinded by Bias: How Companies are Missing Out on Key Talent

Recruiting older workers may require some special efforts, but it's well worth going the extra mile.
By: | January 8, 2019 • 4 min read
recruiting older workers

Employers are using all sorts of tactics to attract and retain employees—from small businesses planning to offer higher wages and more perks, to large organizations offering student-loan repayment programs and reduced-hours, return-to-work policies following the birth or adoption of a child. Something else that savvy recruiters are turning to isn’t a perk, but a population: older workers. By 2022, workers ages 50 and older will comprise 35 percent of the workforce, and data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute indicate that 79 percent of all employees intend to work well into their retirement years. According to TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies’ 18th Annual Retirement Survey 74 percent of employers reported that their employees plan to work either full- or part-time after they retire.

Are employers leveraging this untapped talent? Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resiliency programming at AARP, believes so. She says that AARP created an Employer Pledge Program, in which “companies affirm that they value older workers and a multigenerational workforce and hired based on ability regardless of age.” Currently, there are more than 800 employers that have taken the pledge, including AT&T, ManpowerGroup and Walgreens.

Given that 10,000 baby boomers retire every day there’s a huge opportunity to recruit (or retain) this population. What’s interesting, however, is that fewer than one-third of employers offer any sort of flexible work options for older workers.

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Weinstock says that flexibility is something older workers desire in a job, which isn’t unique given that younger workers and parents also value flexible schedules. If employers don’t make simple changes to recruiting practices, they’ll run the risk of missing out on key talent. Take, for example, the much sought-after soft skills that older workers bring to the workforce. Or, according to Weinstock, that older workers are much less likely to leave a company than their millennial or Generation X colleagues.

So, what can employers do to recruit older workers?

Tapping into Untapped Potential

Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Randstad North America, says that while it’s technically illegal to target any specific age group, there are some things employers can do to ensure their job postings are both attractive to employees of all ages and getting in front of them, too. First, employers should leverage a variety of recruiting methods such as reaching out to meet-up groups and social networking events. One thing recruiters shouldn’t overlook is the power of social media.

“There’s an antiquated notion that older people don’t use technology or social media,” says Jenkins. “But Pew Research found that approximately 41 percent of Facebook users are over the age of 65.”

Companies also need to be aware of the language they use in job postings. Unconscious bias can subtly creep into the descriptions. Take, for example, the term “digital native.” Older workers didn’t grow up with technology like their younger counterparts, so this language may deter them from applying—even though they may have amassed impressive tech skills.

Weinstock says other turnoffs are job postings that ask for a GPA, or a company description that details its“party atmosphere” and even photos on the company’s website. Are they all young people? These are items that are crucial, but often overlooked.

She adds that while recruiting older workers isn’t as simple as campus recruiting, “the effort will pay off in hiring people who can hit the ground running.”

Barry Lott, director of program operations for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, part of the National Council on Aging, says that one challenge of recruiting older workers is plain and simple: ageism. This takes many shapes, from the language of job descriptions mentioned above to the concern about technology skills, the latter of which can easily be overcome with proper training.

For the past 8 years, Lott has worked with community organizations throughout the United States to help unemployed adults (ages 55 and older) who earn less than 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level Guidelines find employment. The SCSEP is a skill-building initiative that pairs qualified older adults with a non-profit organization that trains them on any necessary skills they may be missing to help them land a job in today’s workforce. He says there’s been an uptick in program participation, particularly among adults age 55 to 57.

“There’s no cap on age, one of our projects helped place a 90-year-old,” says Lott. “The purpose of the program is to serve those with the most need. Those with low literacy levels, language barriers, areas with low employment prospects, veterans or those living in areas with high unemployment rates.”

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While Lott helps a specific subset of older Americans, what he sees (an increase in hiring older workers) is happening across the board, which not only gives companies an edge in the war for talent, but also shines a light on diversity and inclusion.

He says there’s been an uptick in conversations about D&I, but most of those conversations leave out mature workers.

“People are living longer and healthier lives—I’d love to see these inclusions take into consideration the mature worker population,” he says. “I think all of the millions of unfilled jobs we hear about could be filled with a group of people who aren’t even given an opportunity to compete for these jobs.”

With an increasing focus on D&I, Jenkins says, there needs to be a space for older workers in today’s workforce.

“To say you’re a truly diverse, inclusive organization means you must welcome all workers from baby boomers to Generation Z,” says Jenkins. “There’s something in every demographic that can be learned and passed to the next generation, which is critical for diversity and inclusion. These lessons are the catalysts for innovative ideas and business practices that companies will miss out on if they ignore an entire generation of workers.”

Danielle Westermann King received her bachelor’s degree in English from Temple University. She has written and edited articles for various print and online healthcare publications.

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