May was Older Americans Month, a good reminder of the importance of recognizing the contributions and achievements of older workers. But as these individuals think about retiring, businesses need to be prepared for the changes this may bring in the American workforce.
What happens when older workers retire and take their skill sets with them?
A joint survey released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and AARP shows that U.S. employers are concerned about the skills gap that may emerge when older workers (those 50 and older) retire. Nearly three-quarters of the HR professionals who participated in the survey described their organization’s loss of talent due to older workers retiring and leaving their organization as a “problem” or “potential problem.”
In particular, organizations are concerned about the loss of:
- English writing skills,
- Technical skills,
- Work ethic,
- Critical thinking, and
- Problem solving skills.
Preparing for a Potential Workforce Skills Gap
Avoiding a workforce skills gap requires a two-pronged approach. Companies must help younger workers expand their skill sets while making a special effort to retain older workers.
The good news is that organizations are taking steps in the right direction. Of those companies that participated in the SHRM-AARP survey:
- 45% have increased training and cross-training efforts,
- 38% have developed succession plans,
- 30% have hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers,
- 27% have offered flexible work arrangements (e.g., job sharing, telework, etc.), and
- 24% have offered part-time positions in an effort to retain older workers.
Other ideas to help retain older works and their skill sets are highlighted in a study released previously by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, entitled “Older Workers: Labor Can Help Employers and Employees Plan Better for the Future”. Ideas included:
- Using older workers as mentors for younger workers,
- Offering employees the opportunity to work at different locations so that they might live in different places over the course of a year,
- Recruiting older workers at events geared toward seniors,
- Launching a website or newsletter for older workers already employed by the company,
- Using training as a retention tool, with the understanding that employees who are engaged and invested in their work are more likely to remain at their current jobs, and
- Respecting some older workers’ desire for less stressful work by allowing former managers to work as staff members.