Older Workers Move Back into Labor Force

By: Nancy Ordman

Employers are beginning to dip into the pool of older workers to fill positions that up until now have stayed empty. Extremely low unemployment rates – for example, Tennessee and Idaho set record lows of 3 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively in October – are encouraging employers to find new sources from which to recruit staff.

Pervasive age bias has blinkered corporate recruiters, despite federal law that makes this discrimination illegal. Workers over 40 years of age have resume gaps for multiple reasons. Some have lost jobs due to economic contraction, mergers that result in job elimination, or company bankruptcy. Others, both men and women, have taken time off to raise children or other family-related reasons. Many who lost jobs during the Great Recession dropped out of the labor market. Whatever the reason, employers have ignored this talent pool.

Today’s extremely tight labor market makes the availability of older, experienced job candidates much more attractive. Several large corporations, including Ford Motor Co., Barclays Plc, and IBM have created programs, like internships (also called “returnships”), specifically to recruit these workers and ease them into jobs.

“This is a tremendous pool of talent,” said Barbara Byrne, the New York-based vice chairman of investment banking at Barclays, which this year has received 870 applications for 26 spots in its Encore program aimed at returning workers. “The workplace needs these people to come back in.”

Companies who hire these workers get to tick the right boxes on EEO forms. They also get well-qualified new hires. These candidates “have an abundance of professional experience and are excited to get back to work,” said Meeta Huggins, Ford’s chief diversity officer. “Why not leverage this talent pool?”

Another bonus: members of this group often accept lower salaries. Since they are not working, the hiring manager is not competing against the applicant’s current employer, bidding up the price of labor. As Huggins points out, these applicants are glad to re-enter the workforce.

The country as a whole benefits in a couple of ways. As people work longer, waiting to cash in their Social Security benefits, pressure on the Social Security system eases. In addition, for the economy to expand, companies have to have enough people to run their larger businesses.