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Big Demand for Workers Age 50+ Amid Tight Labor Market

While winning over millennial talent is top of mind for many human resource departments, a tight job market is increasingly drawing interest to candidates over 50.

Those ages 55 and above had an unemployment rate of 3.2% as of February versus a 4.1% unemployment rate for the rest of the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So reports CNBC. Teenagers, meanwhile, had an unemployment rate of 14.4%.

Many Baby Boomers are hungry for work, concerned that they don't have enough saved up for retirement, and a growing number of companies are happy to accommodate them and the experience they bring amid a tight labor market.

Less than one-third of Americans age 55 and over were working or looking for a job 20 years ago compared to 40% today, the St. Louis Federal Reserve notes. "There are a lot of those ages 55 to 70, and each of them is more likely to work now than in previous generations," says Matt Rutledge, a research economist for The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Another advantage Baby Boomers have is their higher level of education and their tendency to stay in the job market longer because they still like what they do, Rutledge notes. For employers hoping to woo Boomers, that means creating a work environment that fits their needs, says Lydia Greene, chief human resources officer for Tufts Health Plan, a non-profit health insurance organization based in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Greene's firm has a 401(k) program with a 3% supplemental match in addition to the 4% match the company already provides for employees who contribute 6% or higher of their income to their retirement savings. Workers age 50 and higher comprise 34% of the firm's labor force and range from physicians to clinical-care managers to administrative assistants.

"They bring so much experience to the table," Greene says. "They're very stable and very reliable and help us develop and mentor our younger workers."
Employers also are dealing with more baby boomers retiring, but not enough younger workers to replace them, The Star Tribune reports.

The healthcare and manufacturing industries are having a hard time finding new hires, but more sectors will be impacted for Minnesota and the rest of the country from 2020 to 2025. Hiring managers are focusing more on how to keep older workers from retiring and how to lure those who have already retired back into the workforce.

"We're basically sitting on a gold mine of people who are in the prime years of life--thinking, creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness--that we really should tap," says Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging.

Nearly 70% of Boomers, or those age 54 to 72, are still working today, U.S. Census data shows. But, by 2030, the youngest Boomers will reach age 65. A recent study done by the University of Minnesota on employers' perceptions of Baby Boomers notes that programs designed to train workers won't be enough to fill Minnesota's worker needs between 2020 and 2030.

"There's all this focus on workforce development, but none of it is guided to older workers," says Mary Jo Schifsky, who runs GenSync, a business that pushes for viable career paths for older workers. "We need career pathways for older workers just as much as we do for younger workers."

While some employers still harbor negative stereotypes about older workers, including lack of stamina, inability to grasp new technologies and reluctance to adapt to change, an increasing number of companies are focused on hiring, retraining and supporting workers 50 and over, The New York Times reports.

"We've increased our life expectancy by 50% in the last 100 years," says Linda Fried, dean at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. "Now we have to design society for longer lives..."

Keeping its older workers is crucial for the success of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the biggest military shipbuilding operation in the U.S. The company runs The Apprentice School at its Newport News, Virginia division.

"We don't have an age limit," says Susan Jacobs, vice president for human resources and administration with Newport News Shipbuilding. "Employees go into The Apprentice School well past the age of what you would think a traditional student would be."

Of the company's total workforce of 22,000, 38% are Baby Boomers, 40% are millennials and 20% are Gen X. There are intergenerational mentoring programs, but younger workers also help their older counterparts to become more technologically savvy.

"Nearly half of our employees could retire at any day," Jacobs says. "That puts us in a risky situation, and we certainly don't want people to retire. Being a master shipbuilder is not easy, and it takes an awful lot of time to become an expert."

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