By Douglas Karlson
Memo to workers 55 years and up: your services are very much in demand, and will be for years to come.
Savvy employers already know this, and the reason is simple. The population is aging, and there aren’t enough young people entering the workforce to replace departing baby boomers.
At the same time, it would seem the very idea of retirement is changing. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 69 percent of Americans now expect to work in retirement. Whether leaving a high-pressure corporate career or simply looking to earn additional income, more and more mature workers now opt for second careers or part-time work.
According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, “America’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges,” the aging workforce presents an opportunity for employers. “Employers will be increasingly drawing on older workers to address their workforce needs and can benefit from older workers’ experience, productivity, and engagement.”
The report predicts that “mature workers will be a firm’s largest source of talent in the next two decades.”
This is especially true for jobs requiring advanced manufacturing and STEM skills.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 2012 to 2022, the labor force aged 65 and up will increase in size by 74 percent. It projects that by 2024, the 55+ age group will make up nearly 24.8 percent of the nation’s workforce, up from about 11.9 percent in 1994.
Here on the Cape and Islands, the trend is even more pronounced. Workers aged 55 and over make up more than 30 percent of the workforce, and that percentage is growing.
“What’s unique to this market is people are coming to retire or to segue into retirement,” observes Lee Ann Hesse, senior vice president and chief engagement officer at the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod.
They may have left the Boston suburbs because they no longer want the high-pressure lifestyle or commute. But they’re looking to work for an additional five to 10 years. “They want the lifestyle but they’re not ready financially to retire,” says Hesse. “We get some really talented people who are looking to finish their careers.”
Many Cape businesses have long taken advantage of this valuable resource. Orleans Auto Supply employs more than 50 semi-retired part-time drivers who work two to three days per week. In addition, the company has a number of full-time employees who have been with the company for 30 years. Dick Fairbanks, the president of Orleans Auto Supply, estimates the average age of his part-time drivers is 70, with a range of 65 to the early 80s.
“They come with 30 years’ experience that we get the benefit of,” says Fairbanks.
Orleans Auto Supply and another company, Cupcake International, earned Age Forward Employer Awards last year from the MassHire Cape & Islands Workforce Board. Cupcake International is a women’s fashion company with a store called Oz in Barnstable Village.
Cupcake International’s owner, Brenda Lee, employs up to 20 seniors in the summer, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s.
“Our young employees are in their 50s,” she says with a laugh.
Lee credits her senior employees for their customer service skills, patience and willingness to speak candidly with customers, and says younger employees learn from them.
“They take the time with people who come into the store,” she says. “They’re wonderful, I don’t know why people wouldn’t hire them.”
In addition, as many of the store’s customers are senior citizens themselves, it’s advantageous to have employees of the same age.
Mature Workers Myths
But not all businesses are as forward thinking. There are enduring myths concerning older workers: they’re more expensive, unfamiliar with technology, not strong enough, unwilling to learn, and won’t stay in the job.
“That’s just not true,” says David Augustinho, executive director of MassHire Cape and Islands Workforce Board, whose mission is to make sure there’s an appropriate workforce for the region.
“There are lots of reasons they should be high on the list for employers — mature workers bring skills and experience employers demand,” he says. Those reasons include work ethic, experience, dedication, maturity, reliability, and loyalty.
“The Cape and Islands is very much a service economy, and across the board, older workers being excellent customer service skills,” says Augustinho.
At Orleans Auto Supply, Fairbanks says mature workers develop a relaxed and friendly rapport with customers on their delivery routes. They’re skilled at engaging with customers and contribute to an upbeat, positive culture at the company. “I think our senior retired folks come to work with an easy-going demeanor and that shows,” he says. “They’re pleasant and sensitive to customers.”
That’s an observation shared by Neila Neary, business services manager at MassHire Cape and Islands Career Center, who works with many mature workers. “Many have had wonderful careers and are at a fork in the road. The key is identifying transferable skills,” she says. “How do I repackage myself?”
For example, someone who once worked as a regional manager might realize she possesses experience dealing with personnel issues. A former store manager might present himself as skilled in marketing, human resources, social media, managing payroll and sales.
Typically, she sees many job seekers who have retail experience, whether as sales clerks or store managers.
The retail industry is shrinking, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities aren’t there. These mature workers have excellent customer service skills, she says. Those skills can easily be transferred to the B2B or hospitality sectors.
Once skills are identified, the career center helps job seekers prepare a resume. For someone in their 50s or 60s, suggests Neary, it may make sense to format the resume to emphasize skills, rather than chronology.
Free counseling at the career center includes occupational assessments, prep for job interviews and lessons on how to use websites like LinkedIn to find jobs. In addition, the career center hosts job fairs targeted to mature workers. There are also workshops on topics ranging from resumes to computer literacy.
“We’re almost like life coaches and we’re helping people through a difficult period,” says Neary.
Age is not an issue, Neary insists. “Really it’s about vitality, energy and enthusiasm. It’s attitude.” Still, she says, ageism does exist. “Some employers are resistant, but we continue to educate them. On the Cape there’s a shortage of skilled labor. We say, ‘consider the mature worker.’”
One candidate who found a job with the help of the career center is Maryanne Morse, 58, of West Yarmouth.
After moving to the Cape in 1998 she did volunteer work, but two years ago decided to re-enter the workforce due to the rising cost of health insurance. The career center updated her resume, seeding it with key words aligned with her search — in her case, medical coding. The career center helped her prepare for a skills test, conducted mock interviews, and provided refresher courses on the computer. Maryanne now has a full-time job in the billing department at Cape Cod Healthcare.
“I gained confidence that I was up-to-date with my skills. Definitely go there. They help with everything,” she says of the career center.
Joe Maressa is a senior consultant at Fitzgerald, Stevens & Ford/OI Global Partners, an outplacement and leadership development firm with offices in Boston and Concord. He works regularly with clients in the 55+ demographic who are in transition and helps to determine their best options.
His clients fall into one of several categories. They might be looking for similar work in a different industry, or a different job in a similar or different industry, or they want to buy or start a small business. Some want to continue working at a job with less responsibility, and other must work to supplement their Social Security.
“Most people in the 50s have children and college bills,” says Maressa. To leverage their experience to earn the most money they seek similar jobs in a similar industry. The 50s is a good time for a person set a goal of achieving the executive level, he says. But often, other considerations come into play, such as work/life balance, finances, or the desire to make an impact through a nonprofit.
In this latter case, Maressa helps clients understand that nonprofits’ operations and culture are different from the private sector. It’s about passion and meaning rather than growth and profitability, and it generally means a pay cut, too.
Like the counselors at the career center, Maressa helps his clients identify their most transferable skills, and build a story around them. Typically, he says, it takes three months to a year to find a new position, and networking is the most common way to find a new job.
Often, mature workers in transition are over-qualified for the jobs they apply for — either because they’re seeking a less stressful job or are financially secure and don’t need a high-paying job. Maressa advises them to be transparent. “Their message should be ‘I don’t need to climb Mount Everest, I already did that. I’m looking for something else, and I can make a contribution in a lesser role.’”
Advice For Job Hunters
Based on his previous experience as a recruiter for Polaroid, Maressa says rejection has nothing to do with age, though his clients often of think it does.
“Don’t defeat yourself. There’s someone out there who needs your experience, and will pay for your wisdom,” advises Maressa.
That’s especially true in a smaller company, where employees wear many hats, and experience pays off.
“They don’t have to pay for your learning. So they’re going to get a great deal for their money.”
Chances are, when a mature job applicant interviews for a job, the person interviewing him or her will be much younger. Maressa offers this advice for senior job hunters: Don’t talk too much about your accomplishments; it can come off as arrogant. Even though job hunters are advised to “sell themselves,” he thinks it’s a mistake to present yourself as a problem solver.
“Employers are looking for people to ask questions in order to better understand the problem. ‘Sell yourself’ can be a recipe for a disaster,” he says.
Instead, he advises job applicants to show that they are collaborative, and good listeners. It’s important to show that you are open to learning and can lead in a collaborative way. It’s important to show you’ll fit into the culture of the organization you want to join. Show the interviewer you value their opinion and are respectful of the younger generation.
Look physically fit, and show energy, urges Maressa. If you’re unemployed, consider doing volunteer activities to show that you’re giving back. Have a professional photo taken for your LinkedIn profile, prepare good questions, and practice for your interview on video.
Tracy Burns, CEO of the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA), recommends that job hunters leverage their networks as much as possible, and hire a headhunter if necessary. If transitioning out of corporate work, consider consulting or gig work.
“Companies are looking for people with a level of experience,” she says. “Fifty-five is still young.”
At the same time, she advises job hunters to stay on top of technology. “It’s a lot about being relevant.”
It’s Good For Business: Retaining Skills And Experience
As the age of the workforce rises, companies are increasing efforts to retain talent. Younger workers eventually leave, taking the skills they’ve been taught with them. But older workers tend to stay, and bring skills acquired over many years. Organizations that can tap this talent pool can have a competitive advantage.
“The insurance industry is aging out pretty quickly,” says Allison McEachern, chief people officer at RogersGray Insurance. “In the next five to 10 years turnover will be tremendous.”
At the same time, she reports that recruiting is a challenge. For that reason, the company encourages some retiring employees to consider a part-time “encore career” in order to retain their experience and expertise.
“It makes sense from a service perspective,” she says.
These employees can act as mentors to younger employees. Many employees aren’t looking for a full retirement, she says, noting that employees in their 60s generally consider themselves young.
Hesse agrees. “I think there’s a huge transfer of experience and expertise and we welcome that.” Of the employees at the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, she notes, a third are baby boomers, a third are Gen X, and a third are millennials. The average age is 47. Hesse says the older employees are valuable mentors to the younger generation.
“They have workplace savvy, it’s not their first job. They’re a good influence within a work team.”
So whether seeking a new job after the age of 55, or considering an alternative form of retirement, be aware that the rules are changing. As Augustinho says, “Older workers need to be aware of the value they bring to the table.”