Are we helping older workers to keep working?

Gloria Dunn-Violin

GLORIA DUNN-VIOLIN, BY GLORIA DUNN-VIOLIN

How do employment practices in the United States match up with those in the rest of the world? Are we performing as well as our peers? Or, are our strategies less proactive and outcomes more challenging?

What can countries learn from each other about how to best encourage workers of all ages to participate in developing vibrant and productive workplaces?

Many countries — Canada, Japan and most of Europe — are aging faster than the United States. A significant portion of the population is already over the age of 65, and the senior population is expected to reach more than 20 percent by 2030, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In addition to aging employees, workplaces around the globe are dealing with an array of challenges, which include the economic slowdown in China, high unemployment in Europe, and low productivity in the United Kingdom.

Yet, the global economy is generally in better health today than it has been for many years. Strong economic growth, led by developed markets in Europe and the United States,has boosted employment and wage growth.

In Australia and parts of Europe, the growth in earnings relative to the cost of living has risen significantly, particularly in skilled industries. In the United Kingdom alone, almost two million new jobs have been created and unemployment has fallen steadily.

However, the number of jobs lost since the economic downturn in 2008 is still significant. Although employment levels are rising, there are still 11 million fewer people in jobs today than prior to the recession.

Also, many countries are struggling with employee productivity. According to U.S. News and World Report, people are working longer hours, but not getting the job done.

The circumstance in which people are unable to find work, and firms are unable to find suitable employees, is exposing a gap.

Clearly, the business sector is not moving quickly enough to close that gap. Yet, millions of potential workers are available in all age groups. Companies need to have hiring guidelines and job training programs that reach and teach potential young workers.

If nothing is done, according to ManpowerGroup, “We are looking at job scarcity, social tensions, and a lost generation of young people in both the developed and developing world.”

With millions of Baby Boomers leaving the workplace to retire over the next decade, and Millennials looking for jobs that provide training and mentors, it’s difficult to understand why more action isn’t being taken.

Why aren’t the skills, experience and knowledge of seasoned employees being used to coach younger workers and prepare them for the future?

Policymakers in Europe have taken steps. In addition to financially-focused policies, they promote part-time, flexible work arrangements as well as partial retirement. There is also back training and employment programs for older workers.

On the issue of job creation, a report titled, “The Global Retirement Crisis” produced by Citigroup and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, offered recommendations which included:

1. Remove obstacles to work. Employers need to find ways to persuade those who don’t work to get jobs; and those who are working to keep working.

2. Raise productivity growth. Productivity growth will mean a larger Gross Domestic Product, and more resources available for all public and private goals.

3. Encourage longer work lives. This would have enormous benefits for government budgets, national economies, and aging workers.

Obviously, there are solutions to this major worldwide concern of keeping our citizens and businesses successfully working. But, creative and fiscally responsible solutions need to be developed and activated now.

What is your company doing to lead the way?