Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 3, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Baby Boomers: Preparing for an Aging Workforce


  • studies reveal that the U.S. is shifting toward an older workforce. Labor shortages are forcing employers to rely on older workers to fill the gap. AARP Director of Workforce Issues Deborah Russell joins HORIZON to discuss health benefits are a motivating factor for retirees to stay in the workforce. We look at Scottsdale Healthcare's AARP-lauded program designed to hire and keep older workers who have experience and institutional memory. Representatives from AARP and Rio Salado College discuss how they are preparing employers and workers over 50 for this changing dynamic.


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Coming up on Horizon, a growing number of U.S. employers are facing labor shortages. At the same time studies show that the available pool of U.S. workforce is shifting to an older workforce. How are employers and older employees getting ready for the trend? We examine that next on this "Horizon" special, baby boomers, preparing for an aging workforce.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Hello, I'm Ted Simons. On this Horizon special we look at how the population of people known as baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer and why different economic sectors are benefiting from the phenomenon. First up, Debra Russell, AARP director of workforce issues in Washington D.C. spoke with Merry Lucero about why people are working beyond traditional retirement age.

Merry Lucero:
Thanks for sitting down with me.

Debra Russell:
My pleasure.

Merry Lucero:
How are U.S. worker demographics telling us there are more older workers coming into the workforce now?

Debra Russell:
There are 78 million boomers in the workforce right now, and boomers are those born between the years of 1946 and 1964. So we've got sort of the leading edge boomers who have just turned 62 who will be 65 in 2011. We're going to have a cohort of workforce that is going to work longer than ever before in history. So unlike our parents who retired at 65 and basically golfed or were no longer in the labor force, we now have a cohort that are going to be in the labor force much longer. And our research has told us that they plan on working at least into their 70s and perhaps into their 80s, which is huge in terms of thinking about from the employer's perspective, how much longer can I invest in someone who is in their 50s or in their 60s, well, you may have as much as 10 to 15 years of commitment on the part of that mature worker.

Merry Lucero:
And are there more employers having difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled workers?

Debra Russell:
Yes. As we talked to employers, certainly the issue of people who have the skills for the jobs is a real huge issue for employers. They recognize particularly in some industries they just can't rely on a younger workforce. Even the demographics show there are just less younger workers coming into the workforce, which means that employers are going to have to look at different labor pools in order to do the work. Healthcare is a great example, where you're talking about less younger people coming into the field of nursing, for instance. Which means that a lot of hospitals are forced to restrategize their recruitment tactics, looking at things like retaining those nurses that are still working in those hospitals and even reaching out to retired nurses and encouraging them to come back into the workforce.

Merry Lucero:
So are we having sort of a concurrent phenomenon going on right now with people staying in the workforce longer, people going back to work, and also people starting new careers for the first time?

Debra Russell:
Yes, all of those things going on. You have an older workforce who based on AARP research says that they're looking for new and different opportunities, so yeah, they're going to work longer but not necessarily wanting to work that, you know, 40-hour workweek, not necessarily interested in continuing to supervise large numbers of people. What we hear often times is I want to have an impact. I want to do something that's really going to have an impact or going to leave some sort of legacy. And so we are looking at a demographic that's looking to transition into new opportunities and even perhaps even into new careers, which will have a whole new set of implications in terms of how do we, you know, what kind of training and re-skilling is going to take place in order for people to successfully transfer into new careers.

Merry Lucero:
What are some of the issues that both employers and employees are facing with the multigenerational workplace of today? You've got a lot of new technology and also a lot of changing attitudes in the workplace environment.

Debra Russell:
Managing that multigeneration is going to be a challenge for employers because people's experiences are different, you know, they've grown up in different eras and so therefore their experiences are different. However, there really is no empirical data that shows older workers are incapable of learning new technology. They may have to, you know, it may take them longer to learn the technology. They may have to learn it in a different kind of way, which is important around looking at adult learning principles, it's been learning it, trying it hands on, learning it, trying it hands on, those who are boomers did not grow up with computers. It was something we had to learn. But all the data shows that once you've learned how to use the computer, there is a very low margin of error, if you will, and you can see that in things like companies who have like customer service reps who are hotel agents, for instance, they have shown that because all of that is computerized, that there is a much lower margin of error on the part of older workers than it is for younger workers. So, you know, again the challenge is really going to be around having the right kind of learning environment for mature workers to learn things like technology and that sort of thing. But the attitude around learning new technology is definitely very positive.

Merry Lucero:
You mentioned people wanting to find meaning in their work, wanting to leave a legacy, but with the economy where it is right now, isn't a big part of people continuing to work just simply financial?

Debra Russell:
Yes, the same report that told us that boomers were going to work past traditional retirement age, we asked what were the top two reasons for why they would remain working, and the top two reasons were because of money and because of health insurance. Boomers are just not prepared financially for retirement. For a variety of reasons, we're having children and marrying later in life. We are care givers now of our aging parents. So there are a lot of different reasons for why we're not prepared financially, but nonetheless we're not. And, you know, the belief is that boomers are going to finance their retirement by working. That the idea of retiring and no longer working is for the very few. That boomers are going to really reinvent retirement and it's going to be much more cyclical in that people will be in and out of the workforce for a variety of reasons and that we're, you know, healthier, we're living longer, the prospect of working longer is much more doable today in an information age than it was years ago when a lot of the work that we did was physical.

Merry Lucero:
How important is it for community based organizations to get on board with this whole idea of helping educate and prepare workers and employers for new older workers coming into the workforce?

Debra Russell:
I think it's critical. Community based organizations often times are the glue if you will for helping individuals navigate all kinds of different systems, including the workforce. So I think what the role the community based organizations are going to play is really sort of connecting the needs of employers with the needs of workers, if you will. So if you think of, for instance, community colleges, the role that community colleges are going to play is really the connector between those individuals mature workers who are looking to transition or coming into the workforce for the first time or whatever that circumstance is, and sort of spitting out if you will a very well trained and a very well relevant worker.

Merry Lucero:
Debra Russell, thanks so much for sitting down and talking with me.

Debra Russell:
My pleasure, thank you.

Ted Simons:
The Association for the Advancement of Retirement Persons, the AARP, named Scottsdale Healthcare one of the best employers in the country for the last five years. The organization cites the hospital's seasonal leave program as a valuable option for mature employees nearing retirement age but not ready to start working. In the second part of our series, Larry Lemmons tells us why Scottsdale Healthcare understands the value of experience.

Larry Lemmons:
She makes this journey down the hallway several times in the course of a day, a register's nurse at Scottsdale Healthcare, Kathleen Stelter is devoted to her patients.

Kathleen Stelter:
Hi, Mr. Akinlo. I'm here with your medicine.

Kathleen Stelter:
I was an lpn for many years, so when I decided to go back to school to be an r.n., I couldn't think of anything I really wanted to do, so it's been very good to me, and hopefully, you know, I reciprocated.

Larry Lemmons:
She's sort of a working snowbird. She's from New York but travels to the valley for half the year to work at the hospital and be closer to her family in Arizona. She can do this because of Scottsdale healthcare's flexible work schedule for older workers. The hospital has been recognized by AARP for their programs for the last five years.

Judie Goe:
Our seasonal program which is very attractive to our older workers requires them to work six months out of the year and they can break that up however they negotiate that with their manager and based on the needs of their particular department, so we have some of our older workers that work three months and take a month off and then while they're off for that month, we cover all of their benefits so they have no contributions to the medical and dental plans during the time that they're off.

Larry Lemmons:
By offering full benefits for older workers who may prefer flexible schedules or any worker who puts in at least 16 hours a week, Scottsdale healthcare is preserving something that is too Often lost when workers retire.

Judie Goe:
We want to be able to keep that extensive knowledge of not only the medical field that they bring but also of the culture of Scottsdale healthcare. We pride ourselves in a very employee-driven culture and one that's very supportive, very patient family friendly, and that is something that if you were to lose the numbers of folks that we have that are over the age of 50, we would lose that synergy that our younger workers as they come in to the workplace learn from our more tenured employees.

Kathleen Stelter:
We have a lot of young nurses on our unit. And so yeah, I think it works both ways. I learn a lot from them also, and that's the nice thing about it too is because you're always learning. And I've been a nurse for so long and, you know, things have changed, technology, computers, and so I probably learn just maybe even more from them.

Kathleen Stelter:
The pain medications you got in the morning, were they helpful?

Patient:
The pain pills?

Kathleen Stelter:
The pain pills.

Patient: Yeah, my back was killing me and now it's not hurting that bad right now.

Kathleen Stelter: Good.

Kathleen Stelter: I had to honestly say this is a place that I really felt like home. The girls here are great, very supportive, they help each other out, and I just like the unit very much and it's a great mix of patients.

Larry Lemmons:
There may be many reasons why people choose not to quit working entirely at some point in their lives. The primary reason may be that they can't afford to do so. On the other hand there is a very good reason to stay active.

Judie Goe:
People retire at age 65 and if they don't have additional activities to keep them busy, they a lot of times become sick and die at an early age because they've lost their focus and their goals and so this really allows our older worker to transition into a retirement lifestyle.

Larry Lemmons:
It helps Kathleen that nurses are so much in demand across the country. Still, she's just happy that in a world of change and distance, the hospital's policies allow her more time with her family.

Kathleen Stelter:
We thought we were going to be able to get to know our grandchildren being so far away so I figure I can, you know, as you say, our field is wide open and very easy to obtain a job. So I thought why not?

Ted Simons:
Next up, we take a look at how education can help to prepare baby boomers and employers for an aging workforce. Rio Salado College in partnership with AARP Arizona is offering classes that deal with issues related to the growing number of workers over the age of 50. But first producer David Majure and photograther Scot Olson take us to a recent job fair in Glendale was aimed directly at baby boomers.

David Majure:
They're looking for experienced workers, employees who have been around the block and have the mileage to prove it.

Joseph Brown:
I retired from the United States Air Force but I'm not retired retired.

Phyllis Ragland:
I have 25 years in banking field.

Joseph Brown:
I still have a few good working years left in me yet. I'm not ready to call it quits.

David Majure:
This job fair sponsored by boomers of Scottsdale isn't for the fresh from college crowd.

Cindy Cooke :
All of the employers here want to hire boomers. They're looking for baby boomers.

David Majure:
And boomers are looking for them.

Al Siadat:
Career change, looking for a different opportunity.

Phyllis Ragland:
I'm too young to retire yet as far as I'm concerned. I have to keep busy. I like doing things, so looking for a new job with a new career, new line of work, it excites me.

Al Siadat:
Speaking just for myself I find it's not really easy.

David Majure:
But these employers are trying to make it as easy as possible, in part by giving boomers what they want.

Lauren Trollope:
And bring experience to the table that no company should turn away and we feel strongly the boomers generation has more to offer us than almost any generation out there. So by recognizing that we've created an opportunity for the boomers to join McKesen and provide them either the benefits they're looking for, the hours they need, the flexible schedules.

David Majure:
These companies understand that making boomers happy makes good business sense.

Cindy Cooke:
There are something like 78 billion boomers, but there are only 51 million gen x-ers to take their place. So from a company's standpoint, they need to keep their boomers.

David Majure:
And keeping boomers means addressing their needs.

Lauren Trollope:
The needs range from not needing benefits but I'm retired and looking for perhaps part-time work, or I'm looking for part-time work but do need full-time benefits and that's something we offer as well. It's very much the candidate leading and dictating to us so that we can best provide them the opportunity they're looking for.

Joseph Brown:
I am looking for a position that I can go to work every day and actually really enjoy going to work and doing a good job. I don't need to make the mega salary. I would be happy just making a comfortable living right now and working out until my retirement years roll around.

Cindy cooke:
Baby boomers are roughly age 42 to 62. They're people that usually are in some sort of transition, thinking about what do they want to do when they grow up. A lot of them have been working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and are interested in either doing something a little more meaningful or doing something a little more balanced with their life.

David Majure:
Time for family, time for friends, time for a job that they enjoy.

Phyllis Ragland:
That's what I want. A fun job. You know, something that like I say is fun, that you can wake up every morning, Monday, great, I get to go to work s so that's what I'm here for.

Ted Simons:
Starting in March Rio Salado College's lifelong learning center in surprise will begin offering classes for baby boomers and businesses that employ them, a partnership between the college and AARP Arizona. Here to talk about the classes, David Mitchell, AARP Arizona state director, and Todd Awkous, director of the college's lifelong learning center. Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it. David, why this program for 50 plus workers and why now?

David Mitchell:
Well, because 50 plus workers are really flooding into the valley like crazy and not only the fact that we have a lot of them coming to Arizona, it's the fact that 50 plus workers are a real boon to employers. And the reason they are is because they bring with them not only experience, but they also bring loyalty, they're on the job, they come to work on time, they take fewer sick days. They're also great for mentoring younger workers, so right now it is a prime time in Arizona for this program.

Ted Simons:
And you mention lots of 50 plus workers coming to Arizona. Lot of 49-year-old workers are going to be turning 50 too.

David Mitchell:
Absolutely. You got that right.

Ted Simons:
Ok. Todd, as far as the courses that will be taught, what will be taught and what do you hope is learned?

Todd Awkous:
Well, there's going to be two things taught. First of all we're going to be offering classes for employers and we're going to be looking at identifying tomorrow's talent today. we're going to be looking at developing strategies for retaining skilled workers, and we're going to be looking at straight jis and legal issues that impact workplaces for the employer's side that's working with the 50 plus working. The employer, excuse me. When we're looking at the worker, we're looking at what's next for them, investigating what they're going to do in the next phase of their life, developing skills for effectively clearing and also taking a look at working with the multiple generations in the workforce. So we actually have two programs within one, one for the employer, one for the employee.

Ted Simons:
How was this curriculum developed?

Todd Awkous:
Developed by subject matter experts at the college that have experience and background in the area, after doing due diligence in the community, what's important for employers and employees.

Ted Simons:
What is important for employers and employees as far as the aging workforce and folks who still have a lot to offer but are a little special.

David Mitchell:
Oh, absolutely. What's important about the 50 plus worker is what they bring to business and industry. Not only do they bring the experience that they have, but they also bring a work ethic with them that is really something that companies are looking for. Also the 50 plus worker is someone who continues to learn, contrary to popular opinion, when I person turns 50 it 14 doesn't mean their learning days are over. That's why we're so excited about the relationship with Rio Salado College. We bring life long learning and the 50 plus worker together. And that not only helps them personally, but it helps the economy as well.

Ted Simons:
As far as the community colleges in general, getting folks ready to reenter or just simply enter the workforce, it's a big deal, isn't it?

Todd Awkous:
It is a big deal, a major goal at the community college is to train effective workforces. So we feel that we're actually perfectly positioned to develop this type of coursework and not credit education which this is one of the fastest growing segments of community college education at the current time.

Ted Simons:
When you get some of the older students, are they looking to retool to try to do something else or are they looking just to get back into the workforce?

Todd Awkous:
They're doing both. Some of them are going to work in the same capacity as they have, such as an accountant, but the accountant might work less per week, maybe a halftime job. Then some want to re-career and do the things they want in the next phase of their life, and this is important for these folks to have meaningful experience. We see having a meaningful experience and making the connection and preparing them to have a good experience in the workplace as absolutely critical and that's built in to this coursework.

Ted Simons:
As far as preparing folks to get back into the workforce, you talked about the pros, the mentoring, experience, knowledge, even something like flexible time where you are more available, that could also be a hindrance when an employer is looking for someone to be available at certain times and the older worker says I'm a little more flexible than that. I mean, there are some challenges involved.

David Mitchell:
Oh, absolutely. However, I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Even though they may be more flexible and maybe have more time on their hands so to speak and may not want to work 40 hours a week, yet there's also flexibility in that worker, where a company might say I need you for these two or three months full-time. They'll say ok.

Ted Simons:
And you're seeing this as far as some of the classes you're teaching, some things you emphasize as well?

Todd Awkous:
Yes, we are. We are looking at job sharers and situations, flexible work schedules and things the older worker is committed and we're emphasizing that and that's one of the benefits, besides their experience, is their ability to do different things and be flexible, I believe.

Ted Simons:
Ok. As far as the legal aspects of what a 50 plus worker has to look at, I think the legal aspects that we're talking more probably about the employer. What do they need to be aware of here, because you don't think of legal aspects of older workers in the workplace.

Todd Awkous:
There is some H.R. law, David knows about this. You have a.d.a., older workers act.

David Mitchell:
The ADEA, age discrimination employment act. Actually it covers people 40 years of age and over, so a lot of 40-year-olds don't like to hear that, that they're considered an older worker, however, the ADEA actually protects them from job discrimination. But, you know, we're finding that in many cases employers are not purposefully violating the ADEA, so one of the things that we're doing even through this curriculum is educating the employer, so they don't find themselves involuntarily violating it.

Todd Awkous:
Right, and that the workers can understand what's going on as far as legal issues in the workplace too, so they can effectively work within those parameters.

Ted Simons:
David, what do companies risk by not understanding the needs of an over 50 workforce?

David Mitchell:
Well, one of the things they risk is missing out on the great talent that that 50 plus worker offers them. The fact that a person is 50 years and older not only indicates that they have the experience but it also indicates that they are able to bring to their company not only the knowledge that they have, but they can transfer that knowledge to younger workers as well. So they often miss out on the flexibility. They miss out on the experience, and they miss out on the mentoring capabilities that the 50 plus worker brings.

Ted Simons:
Todd, if someone's watching right now over 50, they want to get back into the workplace, thinking about classes maybe, they're going I don't know if I can handle a boss who is old enough to be maybe my grandchild, what do you tell them?

Todd Awkous:
I tell them that it would be really important for them to understand what it's like to work with multiple demographics or generations in the workplace and understanding how the generations interact in a workplace setting will allow them to have a more effective career and more meaningful experience when they get in their positions, just knowing what to look for and what the characteristics are of the generations will allow them to work with other generations and we're doing that in our coursework.

Ted Simons:
Where will the classes be taught, what dates are we talking about, and can folks still sign up?

Todd Awkous:
Folks can sign up, courses taught at the Rio Salado College Life Long Learning Center on Smoky Drive in Surprise, Arizona, 85374. Call 4880-377-4250 or visit us online at riosalado.edu.

Ted Simons:
will the classes be taught online?

Todd Awkous:
Eventually, after we roll out the traditional in person delivery courses.

Ted Simons:
Todd, David, thanks for joining us on Horizon.

Ted Simons:
Well, a link to information about Rio Salado college's 50 plus worker classes is available by visiting us online at azpbs.org/Horizon. Thanks for joining us for this special edition of Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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