America braces itself for surge in older workers

Aug 03 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

With the number of workers aged over-55 in the U.S set to leap by 11 million in the next eight years, many employers are reassessing how they approach recruitment in an era of major demographic change.

The number of workers aged over-55 in the U.S will leap by 11 million in the next eight years, according to official statistics.

In 1984, there were fewer than 15 million workers in America aged 55 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By 2004 that had jumped to 23 million and, by 2014, is projected to have climbed to more than 34 million, it said.

This change will mean job requirements will have to change – and in fact already are changing – as employers respond to the ageing work force, according to researcher MarketWatch.

The five fastest growing sectors for hiring older, senior-level executives in the U.S are now health care, finance, high-tech, business services and defence/aerospace, job-posting site ExecuNet has estimated.

It has found more companies are focusing on job openings for senior executives as the age demographic of the U.S labour market has changed.

"What we certainly have seen over the last 24 months or so, as the economy has started to sustain an upward trend, is that our members are in fact accepting jobs that are at the six-figure level and beyond, and they're doing it in a shorter period of time because the demand is there," said Dave Opton, ExecuNet chief executive.

Staffing firm Manpower has said U.S. employers are having the most trouble filling positions for sales representatives, engineers, nurses/health care, technicians, accountants, administrative assistants, drivers, call-centre operators, machinists and management/executives.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected these 10 occupations will add the most new jobs between 2004 and 2014.

Not far behind on this list are some less physically demanding (so perhaps more suitable for older workers) jobs, including accountants, office clerks, receptionists, computer software engineers, executive secretaries, sales representatives, teacher assistants and computer systems analysts.

For careers such as nursing, "health-care organisations have realised that we need to actually adjust the way work gets done and limit the physical requirements of the job, or provide different types of support for the mature workers [so people can] stay employed with lesser physical requirements," said Roselyn Feinsod, a principal at consultancy Towers Perrin told MarketWatch.

"I've heard utility companies say the same thing. There might be a limited amount of time that the work force can climb poles, but are there other roles we can move them into, where we can leverage their knowledge, or redesign the work processes so they are friendlier to workers at a range of ages," she added.

Book store chain Borders has redesigned its computer technology so that people at a range of ages and skill levels are more able to learn their software, continued Feinsod.

But the outlook for older blue-collar workers looks slightly less promising, according to another study of employers' perceptions of older employees.

In the study of 400 companies, by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, 17 per cent of employers said older workers in rank-and-file positions were "less attractive" – that is, either costlier or less productive – than younger workers in those jobs.

But when asked to compare professional-level workers, just seven per cent of employers said older workers were "less attractive" than younger ones.

That implied that older workers in the professions would, in general, have an easier time finding work than those in blue-collar jobs, it said.

Nevertheless, the majority of employers said older workers were "as attractive" or "more attractive" than younger employees.

A total of 68 per cent said older workers among the rank-and-file were as attractive as younger workers, and 15 per cent said they were more attractive than younger workers.

When asked about professional-level workers, 70 per cent said older workers were as attractive as younger workers in those jobs, and 23 per cent said those older workers were more attractive.