SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Older workers in demand in 'brain-draining' job market
Scripps Howard News Service


February 04, 2006

Online entrepreneur Renee Ward wanted to start a Web site to help teenagers land their first job only to find that corporate employers sought to recruit an older crowd.

"They asked us to put together a site to reach 50-plus workers and current retirees looking to work part-time and bring their talent, energy and experience to the bottom line," she says.

Today, her 5-year-old Web site - site - counts Bank of America, Regal Cinemas, Petco and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield among its clients.




These employers are ahead of the curve, to judge by a new white paper from consultant Ernst & Young:

It found that two-thirds of employers across a spectrum of industries are aware of an impending brain drain as 76 million-plus baby boomers march toward retirement, but fewer than a fourth of these firms consider the issue of strategic importance to their company's future, and fewer than 3 percent had tried phased retirement.

"Every seven seconds in America this year a boomer turns 60, yet 70 percent of our survey respondents have not yet attempted to identify where business wisdom resides in their organization," says William Arnone of Ernst & Young's human-capital practice. "This means one thing: Corporate America is facing a significant wisdom withdrawal."

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, newly retired at 79, also warns that older workers will be vital to the nation's prosperity, given that there are 12 million fewer workers in the "baby bust" generation for each would-be boomer retiree.

The latest boomer survey by AARP, the 50-plus lobby, finds that 80 percent of those born between 1946 and 1964 plan to work in retirement.

Already, some 7 million Americans 65 and over continue to work at least part-time, according to a new Putnam Investments report.

For now, however, Uncle Sam is standing in the way of many older workers under phased-retirement rules that forbid collecting a paycheck and a pension check from your current employer. So people "retire," then return as consultants, start a second retirement "career" - or go to work for a competitor.

The Bush administration proposed relaxing the rules in 2004, only to face criticism that its proposal was too complex, prompting a reworking that may be ready by mid-2006.

Meantime, the House approved easing of phased-retirement rules in the pension-overhaul bill it must negotiate with the Senate. The House provision would let workers 62 and older continue to work part-time for their employer and collect a partial pension.

Eugene Steuerle, an Urban Institute economist who has written about phased retirement, expects more employers to offer phased retirement once the feds act. The U.S. economy can ill afford outdated rules designed to get rid of older workers who are "our largest untapped pool of human talent," he said.

Some companies couldn't afford to wait on Washington. Two years ago, Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly executives launched YourEncore, a privately held Indianapolis company, to link retirees to companies that need scientists, engineers and other skilled people for short-term projects.

"We were formed to serve a network of forward-looking companies that need knowledge workers to leverage a vast amount of talent and provide better products and better services to their customers," says YourEncore CEO Brad Lawson.

Larry Houston, vice president for innovation and knowledge at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, helped start YourEncore to reach out to older researchers, and "cannot think of a group of people better prepared to contribute than highly motivated retirees who can apply their heart and mind to creative innovation that will wow our consumers."

YourEncore works with more than a dozen companies to recruit retirees with critical skills - scientists and engineers in their 50s and 60s who were schooled in response to Sputnik and the space race.

President Bush used Tuesday's State of the Union address to promise stepped-up science and math training for today's students, an initiative already blessed by the National Academy of Sciences. But corporate employers say there are too few homegrown Generation Xers to step in when boomer researchers retire, nor can companies get visas and security clearances in the numbers they need for young foreign Ph.D.s, Lawson says.

As General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt put it at a Washington gathering last week, the problem with training younger workers and students today is that "we had more sports-exercise majors graduate than electrical-engineering grads last year. If you want to be the massage capital of the world, you're well on your way."

The federal government is trying to retain older employees in its own work force - and not only because the departure of top people at the Federal Emergency Management Agency is cited as a key reason for its failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina.

With 44 percent of all federal workers eligible to retire over the next five years, agencies are offering flexible scheduling, reduced work hours and mentoring programs to capture older workers' institutional memory, a Society of Human Resource Management survey of federal personnel practices finds.

The health-care field also faces a talent shortage and has reached out to older professionals to come back aboard.

Among the pioneers in phased retirement is SSM Health Care of St. Louis, one of the nation's largest Catholic hospital systems. It won a waiver from the Internal Revenue Service to offer the option to older current employees like Kathlyn Peterson.

At 66, Peterson works three days a week at SSM's St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wis., for a paycheck, a pension check and health-care coverage, which the hospital provides to all employees who work 16 hours a week.

"Other facilities require at least 24, 32 or even 40 hours per week" to qualify for health insurance, Peterson told a recent Senate Aging Committee hearing into changes in federal phased-retirement rules. She calls health benefits "especially valuable" as a cancer survivor who would have trouble buying a policy to supplement Medicare coverage.

Health care is a constant concern for new and near-retirees. Employers are scaling back or doing away with retiree coverage, and 46 million Americans already go without any health insurance. With health-care costs rising 50 percent since 2000, many seniors look to return to work to get retirement expenses under control.

" 'Will work for health benefits' is important to older job-seekers, and so is the extra money to cover rising medical costs," says Arthur Koff, a 70-year-old veteran of Chicago advertising who founded the online jobs board.

Ward, whose Web site operates out of Huntington Beach, Calif., adds that updated skills and a positive attitude help older workers when "they're competing against up-and-coming 35-year-olds and eager, willing and talented 55-year-olds, too."

Patricia Gates agrees that attitude counts. At 66, the former junior-college professor from Pittsburgh moved to Nebraska to be near family and "landed a job before the moving van arrived" teaching at the local junior college and working for the Omaha World-Herald's newspaper-in-education program.

"It's the can-do attitude with which you approach a job at any age that makes a difference," Gates says.


Contact Mary Deibel at DeibelM(at)

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Ketchikan, Alaska