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Disrupting the Way We Think About Older Workers

How AARP Is Leveraging the Clinton Global Initiative to do it

By Lisa Marsh Ryerson

It is time to disrupt aging.

Shifting demographics, increased life expectancy and a host of other factors are putting substance to the notion that for those of us who have crossed the half-century mark, the best really is yet to come. We all must think differently about what it means to grow older in our nation.

Disrupting aging begins with seeing the world through a new lens and the workplace is a critical starting point.

Fresh Data and a New Program

Not so long ago, employers hardly ever considered hiring older people and even went to great lengths to replace them in the workforce with younger, presumably cheaper labor. But that’s no longer the case.

At AARP, we’ve always believed that older workers can be a genuine asset in the workplace. (I'm President of AARP Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AARP.) We now have new evidence to back that up and have also just made a commitment, through the Clinton Global Initiative, to help older workers acquire job skills and education that will help them remain competitive.

Let me tell you about each of these.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we took a fresh look at data about hiring and retaining workers who are 50 and older. The AARP study, A Business Case for Workers Age 50+, which came out just last month, not only confirmed earlier research but also indicated that today the case is even stronger for keeping older employees in the workforce.

Disrupting Old Notions of Older Workers

The study’s findings disrupt a number of old notions.

For one thing, because of changes in how companies compensate their employees (including pay being tied more closely to performance than to tenure), older workers do not cost significantly more than their younger colleagues. In fact, older workers tend to be more engaged than younger workers, which contributes directly to a company’s bottom line.

The study also found that older workers actually tend to be more productive than younger ones. Even in physically demanding jobs like assembly line work, older employees tend to perform better because, quite simply, they make fewer mistakes.

Contrary to widespread assumptions, older workers not only are well-versed in the use of technology — computers, tablets, social media and the like — but are eager to learn about new tech developments in their fields so they can keep up.


That last point is particularly significant for us at AARP Foundation. In the area of income and employment, we focus especially on low-income people 50 and older who have been unemployed for significant lengths of time or who find, because of economic pressures, that they need to reenter the workforce. For them, acquiring new job skills is absolutely vital, and we have several programs to help do just that.

How Workers 50+ Can Learn New Skills

Learning new skills is equally important for older workers who are currently employed. That’s why, with the Clinton Global Initiative and in collaboration with College for America (a nonprofit college degree program specially tailored for the workplace), we are providing workers 50 and older with the opportunity to build their technology skills, pursue an associate degree and improve their expertise so they can advance within their companies.

In this program’s start-up phase, we are working closely with employers in the healthcare and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industry — fields where new skill sets are constantly required — to make this happen. And we will work closely with the employees themselves by providing coaching and establishing peer-to-peer learning communities for support.

Addressing Employers' Brain Drain

This is good news both for the workers and for the companies that employ them. Many companies are already concerned about a “brain drain” — the loss of institutional knowledge and skills — as boomers reach retirement age. We, and College for America, are here to say to those employers that we’re going to support your older workers so they can continue to be productive, contributing members of the economic community.

Part of that support involves helping older workers understand just how valuable they are. That’s where, once again, we have to disrupt old ways of thinking — in this case, the way people think about themselves.

When it comes to how older workers view their job futures, we want them to realize they have many productive years ahead; the youngest boomers could easily be working for two more decades.

By acquiring new skills, they can contribute even more to their organizations than they already do.

Lisa Marsh Ryerson is President of AARP Foundation, AARP's largest affiiliated charity. She also serves on AARP's Executive Leadership Team. Formerly, she was President and CEO of Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. Read More
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