Senior Workers

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America is aging and so is its workforce. In the next decade the largest age group in America will be those people between 55 and 64 years old.

Today, that age group makes up 10 percent of the workforce. But in less than 5 years it will represent 20 percent of the workforce. As baby boomers age they will likely change the way we think about retirement. As part of the WKSU series "New Work - New Families " Mark Urycki looks at the senior workforce...

(Opens w/ ambience from store)

Just when we were feeling optimistic about the trend toward early retirement comes word that the trend has reversed. A Brookings Institute study has found that around the mid-eighties, early retirements slowed and both men are women are working longer. They site a slowdown in both social security and company pension plans as reasons Americans keep working. But there's also a tendency to work after retirement. The grandparents of tomorrow may not be available for free babysitting. You may have to call their pager just to reach them. The director of the Senior Employment Center in Akron, Paul Magnus, says 70% of baby boomers say they expect to work at least part time after retirement...

Magnus: I think people like to have that opportunity. I've come to think that it's not so much on whether they work or not, it's about how much control they have over it. They wanna have some choices. They don't want someone telling them that, "This is the job and you take it or leave it and it's only this way." They wanna have some input into it, too.

Mark: Are you seeing that some people want to retire early...at 55 or 60? But then thinking, "Eh, hey I'm bored. I wanna get back into the swing of things."

Magnus: Absolutely. One gentleman I ran into one time, he was downsized and he just felt that he was actually very liberated. He started a company. Individuals start businesses even well into their fifties.

That was the case with engineer Rich Hahn, from Cuyahoga Falls, who took early retirement offered by Ameritech and is now looking for work...
Hahn: I left in January. I left Ameritech in January and I had a great time around summer. I had a great time, golf and everything, but it's getting into fall and I'm looking for something to do because the days are fairly long. I can wash the car so many times, I can do this...but I kinda miss it. You know, like I said, it's been nine months since I've been employed and had to be somewhere at a certain time and leave at a certain time. But I enjoyed that. It made you feel like you were accomplishing something.
Bill Barclay left a job in the metal industry in Colorado to be close to his grandchildren in Akron...
Barclay: Getting a job, as a mature worker is very important from an economic point of view -- also, from an emotional point of view. Too young to be playing golf everyday, ah...I think it's important that I have a job where I can use my skills and abilities can be utilized. It's true of most mature workers.
Barclay says it was a risk for an older worker to leave a job but felt family ties were more important. Indeed, discrimination still exists for older workers. Companies have tried to dump older workers simply because their long service often means they've reached higher salary levels. Hahn thinks Ameritech made a mistake allowing older workers to go -- then ended up shorthanded this year...
Hahn: They've lost so many people now -- a bunch of people that they just let go. They all retired '94-'97...all the experienced people left. It takes a long time to train these people. Not so much the installers, but your engineers -- it takes them 3-4 years to be fully confident in what they are doing. And that's what their biggest problem is right now. Even in management -- they lost just about all of their management people that knew what was going on. They brought in all these people that really didn't have a clue.
Others fear they won't get the years of service back for training workers over 50. Paul Magnus says actually older workers tend to stay put...
Magnus: They don't always have many years in front of them -- although, you can argue that today's workers are working well into their 80s and we have them into their 90s. If someone is in their fifties, I wouldn't worry about it. They are going to be there for quite a while -- and they are probably going to be there longer than individuals that are coming out of school and changing jobs on average every 4.2 years.
For many employers, like Dave Otto of Landmark Plastics, senior workers have advantages...
Otto: I find something with the mature worker--and I don't want to say this at the exclusion of other workers, but sometimes, it's more pronounced with mature workers--what I call a work ethic. That meaning that they work and they get paid. Sometimes we see in the workplace--"I need to be paid and then, I'll work." Someplace, something has gotten crossed here.
Apparently other employers think so too. We visited an older workers job fair and talked with human resource managers from companies around northeast Ohio who had similar comments about mature workers...
Voice 1: Actually, we have a couple of senior workers--telemarketers that work for us right now. We find that they are very dedicated and they come to work on time. They show up, they have a good ethic and attitude. We are hoping to find some more people like that.

Voice 2: I think that sometimes younger adults aren't willing to work as hard. Or maybe they don't have the work ethic.

Voice 3: Also they are on time and seem more dependable--want to put out the hard effort to get the work out.

Mark: Do they demand more money?

Voice 3: No, they do not.

Mark: Difficult to train? New tricks?

Voice 3: No, most of our seniors that we've hired have been a great asset to our office. They've not needed as much training as the younger ones.

Voice 1: Seniors tend to be more reliable, dependable, don't call off for parties and children. Daycare issues that younger people would have that older people don't have...

The head of the Senior Workers Action Program, Paul Magnus says older workers do have some liabilities -- notably most need to brush up on computers. And a few of the older managers are accustomed to having secretaries doing everything. But Magnus notes in a tight labor market, younger workers sometimes bring their own baggage.
Magnus: I worry for manufacturing companies because they talk to young people today about would they work in a factory. Very, very few people--even hi-tech factory with computers in it--they don't want manufacturing, they want other things. They want dot-com...they want this and that. They want this service sector. They want marketing. And who can blame them? But that's gonna be a real difficult area -- a whole generation that was centered towards that. You need to find good workers. It's a very serious threat.
Another sector that employers look to use older workers is customer service, where experience with people and old fashioned politeness counts. In the specialty foods store -- the West Point Market in Akron -- customer service is important. Owner Russ Vernon has hired so many older workers -- he's received awards for it. Vernon says 60% of the Market's workforce is over 50...
Vernon: We found that the mature senior workers are on time--they have life experiences that meet our customer--on our customer's level. We find that they have the skills that they've picked up all through their life. We are very big on senior workers. It's based on the hiring process.
Russ Vernon himself retired this fall, turning over the reigns to his son. He then went right back to work, managing the employee training at the market. I'm Mark Urycki, 89.7 WKSU.
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