As labor markets tighten, finding qualified workers is becoming more of a challenge for many companies. And recruitment missteps may be making it harder to reach older workers.
Carl Dorvil, CEO and president of GEX Management, Inc., a management and professional services company based in Dallas, says there’s good reason to invest in “mentor capitalists” who invest their time and expertise in companies. When he started his company from his dorm room in college, he initially relied on his buddies to fill key roles. Then one of his own mentors reminded him that you can’t fit 50 years of experience into 20.
Since then, Dorvil has made diversity recruitment, including hiring older workers, a priority, both in his company and in the message he spreads to his clients. And now that he’s currently looking at expansion through acquisition, “We want to partner with people who have more experience and are a little bit more mature in their field. They have the relationships and networks that we think can grow our business faster,” he says.
Older Workers Are In Demand
Workers in age groups 65 to 74 and 75 and older are expected to grow faster than any other age segments through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But finding those older workers isn’t always as easy as it sounds. For those hanging on to the premise that older workers are sitting around waiting for opportunities in a buyer’s market, the latest BLS data busts that myth: The unemployment rate for adults age 55-plus was 3.2% in February 2018—nearly a full point lower than the overall 4.1% unemployment rate.
Many corporate diversity programs don’t specifically target mature talent and fall into bad habits that actually make it harder to find and attract mature workers, says Peter Gudmundsson, who last year founded Dallas-based Hire Maturity, which produces job fairs and runs a job board for “mature talent”—a term he prefers to “older workers.” One of the company’s taglines is, “Are you ready to hire a grownup?” If you are, there are a few important fixes many companies need to make, he says.
Let Go Of The Stereotypes
If you’re hanging on to the tired notions that workers age 60-plus aren’t tech-savvy or energetic, your bias is showing, says Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior adviser, financial resilience programming at AARP‘s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Steve Jobs would be well into his 60s now, while internet pioneer Vinton Cerf is 74.
A 2013 study from North Carolina State University looked at the reputation scores of programmers in an online forum called Stack Overflow, which has more than 1.6 million members. Researchers found that, on average, programmer reputation scores increased relative to age well into the 50s and that they exhibited expertise in more areas than did younger users.
AARP’s research shows that more than 80% of workers ages 45 to 64 say that the opportunity to learn something new is an essential element of their ideal job. In 2010, a major international study called the Cogito Study compared 101 young adults (20–31) and 103 older adults (65–80) on 12 different tasks over 100 days. Against their expectations, they found that 65– to 80-year-old workers’ performance was more stable and less variable from day to day than that of the younger group. In addition, their motivation was higher than the younger workers’, and they were less erratic. So ditch the outdated thinking about older workers, she says.
A number of job ads on several high-profile digital and social media platforms were age-restricted, eliminating them from the view of many older workers. In addition to ensuring that your job ads are reaching the greatest possible age range on every platform, expand the job boards and advertising platforms you’re using, says Jeff Zinser, principal and founder of Right Recruiting, an executive recruiting firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Workers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s may have become comfortable using boards like Monster and CareerBuilder earlier in their careers and may default to searching there first. Boards like AARP’s job board and HireMaturity are also good places to check.
When you’re writing your job ads, beware of using inadvertently ageist phrases like “seeking digital natives” or “join our young, dynamic team,” Tinsley-Fix says. Read over your job ads to be sure they’re as inclusive as possible and describe the job specifically. And don’t forget to train your recruiters and hiring managers to look beyond age when recruiting and evaluating candidates.
And beef up your in-person efforts, Gudmundsson says. In addition to recruiting on college campuses, find opportunities like job fairs targeted toward older workers. These environments can help you find the workers you’re seeking and get a better sense of the person and their strengths and abilities.
Avoid The “Culture Trap”
Many company leaders emphasize the importance of “culture fit” when hiring. Tinsley-Fix says that can be a mistake. Instead, look for “culture add,” she says. “As we know, cultural fit tends to diminish diversity because you’re just hiring people who are like yourself.”
Instead of thinking of cultural fit as age-related, look for people who are motivated to work with your company, dedicated to lifelong learning, and show a history of being creative and adaptable. Those attributes are going to be better indicators that the person will work well with your team than an arbitrary age, she says.
Don’t Assume You Can’t Afford Them
Some companies shy away from older workers because they’re afraid that all of that experience comes at a steep cost. And Gudmundsson warns that age should not be a deciding factor in what you pay your employees. While many workers in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s are interested in full-time work and a career track, some are moving to more part-time work or flexible schedules. And workers age 65-plus may choose to opt in to Medicare, reducing health insurance costs.
“All of these groups have very different needs and different requirements. That’s a good opportunity for enlightened employers to show a little flexibility.” And with that flexibility might come the experience, knowledge, and contacts you need at a compensation level that fits your company’s budget.