We Need Talent But We Won’t Hire Older Workers

Much has been said about the growing lack of skilled and talented workers in the US.  In fact, the talent shortage is actually slowing down business growth.  According to the Wall Street Journal in a July 2014 article, “33% of small-business owners and chief executives said they had unfilled job openings in June because they couldn’t identify qualified applicants, up from 31% of 811 owners nearly two years ago.”  It’s even more difficult today.  Finding Qualified Quality Applicants shouldn’t be that hard and older workers are an untapped resource that shoe be given serious consideration.

What makes me shake my head in amused disbelief is that many companies experiencing talent shortages are also experiencing slow or low productivity. While they may be profitable, they are nowhere close to the levels they could achieve. All because of the limiting beliefs created by myth.  That myth is based on a mantra that states “We won’t hire older workers.”

Do Businesses Really Say That?

They may not say that directly, although I have had clients directly tell me that a candidate was too old or experienced.  If I can’t change their minds regarding age discrimination with simple facts, then they stop being my client.  Unfortunately the trend of businesses declining those “too experienced” a disingenuous euphemism for “you are too old.” Is increasing.

The reason why a business needs to eliminate this foolish notion is simple; in a time of increasing labor shortages a highly experienced and skilled employee has more value than double or triple their number in less experienced workers.  They most certainly have more value than an empty, unfilled position does.

What makes older workers a good investment? Let’s start with a harsh reality, According to a Stanford University study, “By 2020, older workers age 55+ will account for 25% of the U.S. labor force, up from just 13% in 2000.” With that knowledge and the increasing demand for a skilled workforce in an environment of an inability to find good workers, the solution is obvious. Older workers bring great value and should not be discounted for any reason.  Some of these are,

Less Risk – Older Workers are less likely to leave a new job for ‘greener pastures.’ They are most often focused on stability instead of career growth.

Experience – Older Workers have many years of experience and a broad set of skills. They require less training and travel more readily. Experience means faster more value-added contributions.

Increased Productivity – Older Workers are more engaged than younger workers. They suffer from fewer distractions such as social media interactions. They are more focused because the stimulus is the job. Engagement drives productivity.

Some believe that older workers, especially those over age 60, are less productive. A recent study by the Brookings Institute shows that older workers are not less productive. In fact, their productivity is higher.

A general rule that I use for a variety of situations, from when should you develop a new position for your business to why you should hire someone is this; if they can provide twice their fully loaded compensation or more in value to the business, they should be hired.  A highly experienced worker can provide that from almost day one.

While we commonly see this in the skilled trades this situation also exists in skilled positions, management, and executive roles.  “We want someone younger,” frequently meaning we don’t want to pay all that much (which also means you don’t value the contribution of the position) is an ugly trend.  Imagine you are a company with a 10-year experienced executive who needs a direct report subordinate.  Imagine the value of a 25-30 year experienced person, who wants that type of role, can bring not only the business but to the growth and development of their less experienced boss.

What Should I Look For?

A key behavior you want to seek in the above situation is emotional intelligence (EQ) coupled with an ability to coach and mentor upward.  Further, your 10-year experienced executive needs to have the EQ to accept coaching and mentoring from a more experienced subordinate without feeling threatened.  I have experience with executives who refused to hire more experienced subordinates for no other reason than they did “not want to be pushed or threatened by someone better skilled.”

Leader development is a key function these more experienced workers can bring to your business. It is no secret that all workplace issues, both good and bad, are managed by strong leadership. Because of their experience in both personal and professional situations, Older Workers are well positioned to help train, mentor, and coach future leaders. This helps ensure that leadership is a major contributing positive influence in your business.

So where is all of this going? Simply put, don’t discount older workers because you believe in myths. Open your mind and hire for value-added talent. Your company will be the better for it.