Are We Ready to Benefit from the Growth of the Mature Workforce?

Posted Wednesday, April 18th, 2012  | Comments (6) rule
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Center Director, has served on the Advisory Committee to the Tapping Mature Talent project. She invited Phyllis Snyder and Michael Barth to be guest contributors to AGEnda.
Barth's photo Michael C. Barth, PhD
Economist and
Independent Consultant

Washington, D.C.


Snyder's photo Phyllis Snyder
Vice President
Phone: 215-731-7160

Everyone seems to know that Americans live in a rapidly aging society, but it helps to look at the numbers to get a sense of the magnitude of the changes we face. In 2010, 13% of the U.S. population was age 65 or older. The Census Bureau projects that by 2030, this figure will jump to 19.3%, or almost one in five. Of course, as the population ages, so does the labor force. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that in 2010 there were 30 million people aged 55 and older in the labor force; in 2020, this will swell to 41.4 million, or one in four. Now there are about seven million people age 65+ in the workforce. In contrast, over the next decade, as the number of those 65+ grows by 75%, the growth of those aged 25-54 will only be two percent.

In the U.S., we have gotten used to the idea of people going from full-time work to full-time retirement in their mid-sixties. However, we are now in a time when we will be seeing more mature workers continuing to participate in the labor market, whether out of financial need or out of continued ability and preference. This new trend promises greater financial security for older citizens and an opportunity to meet the skill and talent needs of employers.

Many mature workers will need help in navigating a very complex labor market, however. They will need counseling to understand what career pathways would be good for them, and to determine how to use education and training to get the right kind of job for this next stage in their work lives. Unfortunately, workforce development programs and postsecondary institutions currently design their programs for younger demographic groups. Mature workers are hard-pressed to find programs tailored to their needs.

Recognizing this problem, in 2009, the US Department of Labor supported a three-year Aging Worker Initiative (AWI). This initiative funded ten sites to test new models of serving mature workers. As this initiative comes to a close, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), which provided technical assistance for the project, will invite leading experts on the mature workforce to review what happened at the sites and develop a set of recommendations for policy makers and employers.

The best thinking of these experts will be presented at a conference in Washington, D.C., on May 3: Tapping Mature Talent: Policies for a 21st Century Workforce.

Here are a few recommendations that will be discussed:

  • Provide a basic level of financial literacy to workers to help them make good decisions that will affect their transition into retirement.
  • Engage employers and “sell” them on the contributions of mature workers through strategies such as internships, reverse job fairs and targeted outreach.
  • Reshape the public workforce system to provide access to high quality, affordable, and labor market driven education and training to help adults of all ages prepare for and remain in the labor market.

We need more creative thinking. What are your ideas? Please post your comments below or join us for the meeting on May 3rd in Washington, D.C.

Comments (6) for "Are We Ready to Benefit from the Growth of the Mature Workforce?"

How the Health Care Sector Can Prepare for the Aging of Its Workforce

Posted Wednesday, April 4th, 2012  | Comments (3) rule
Sweet's photo Stephen Sweet, PhD
Organizational Studies Expert
Sloan Center on Aging & Work
Boston College

Phone: 617.552.9195
Cahill's photo Kevin E. Cahill, PhD
Research Economist
Sloan Center on Aging & Work
Boston College

Phone: 617.552.9195

The health care sector is already challenged to recruit and retain workers at all levels of skill. Demand for staff to provide services can only grow as the swell in population represented by the Baby Boom moves into old age. Recognizing the needs and interests of older workers—as well as the needs of the multigenerational workforce as a whole—may help health care-sector employers face big staffing challenges that are just on the horizon.

First, the numbers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 14.3 million people were employed in the health care sector as of 2008. Opportunities are expected to expand far faster—by 22.5 percent from 2008 to 2018— in this sector of the economy than in any other. At that rate health care will create more than 3.2 million new jobs by 2018. While some jobs will require high-level skills and technical expertise (for example, doctors and nurses), most will require less than a four-year college education (for example, receptionists and maintenance workers).

Given current and anticipated labor needs, one would expect most employers in this sector to be paying close attention to their long-term workforce requirements, but this does not seem to be the case. A study conducted in 2009 by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work shows that fewer than one in four employers (23 percent) in the health care sector had projected their retirement rates and that only one in two employers (50 percent) had gauged supervisors’ ability to anticipate and plan for staffing needs.

The aging of the society is going to increase demand for health care services, as well as exacerbate challenges in attracting and keeping workers. These challenges will vary with employment setting (for example, hospitals versus home care) and geographic locale (such as rural, suburban and urban areas). Many workers will need both “hard” (technical) skills and “soft” (people) skills.

To avoid large-scale losses over a short period, employers will have to replace older members of their existing workforce who choose to retire, as well as find ways to retain at least some of their existing employees. In many respects, older workers are an ideal match to serve the aging population, not only because of the skills they have honed from years on the job but also because of the cultural and generational experiences they share with older patients.

One strategy to attract and retain workers is compensation. Jobs in the upper tier of the health care sector can pay quite handsomely; for example, according to the BLS, as of 2008, the average wage earned by registered nurses in hospitals was $30.71 an hour. But not all jobs pay as well. For example the average wage of hospital housekeeping staff was only $10.28 an hour. Rising costs to deliver health care may make it difficult to substantially improve pay levels for lower-tier workers, unless the efficiency of service delivery is improved or current wage standards across industries are changed.

Wages are just part of the story, however—especially for those in upper-tier jobs, where improvements in the design of jobs and careers can matter to some employees as much as satisfaction with compensation. One indicator of concern surfaced in the 2009 Sloan Center study, which found that conflicts between the demands of work and family are much more common among health care workers than among those laboring in other sectors of the economy. Health care-sector employees are also considerably more likely than workers in other sectors to rate flexible work hours as an important or very important job incentive. This is understandable, given that four in five health care workers (79 percent) are women. So long as workers in this sector continue to run out of time before they are able to get their work done (45 percent) or come home from work too tired to do their chores (48 percent), the push to exit work may be stronger than the pull to keep working, especially when they have a choice, such as the option to retire.

Evidence indicates that the opportunities and challenges that an aging workforce will present are going to catch many employers in the health care sector flat-footed. Health care employers by and large do not know the risks that demographic changes pose for their organizations, and they continue to structure work in ways that employees disfavor. Many older workers and women across age groups are attracted to part-time jobs. An increasing percentage of men across age groups are, too. One effective way that health care employers can solve their current and future staffing needs is to notice this trend and reconsider how they manage and array schedules.

Comments (3) for "How the Health Care Sector Can Prepare for the Aging of Its Workforce"

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