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Breaking The Silver Ceiling: A New Generation of Older Americans Redefining the New Rules of the Workplace

II. "Employers of Choice"

Some employers are "ahead of the curve" when it comes to addressing the challenges and opportunities as the workforce ages. By implementing programs and policies to attract and retain older workers, some companies not only better meet the needs of today's older workers, they also position themselves to respond to future demands.

AARP has established an award program to recognize these companies. AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50, now in its fourth year, annually honors companies and organizations whose practices and policies address the needs of an aging workforce. AARP and a panel of judges take into consideration an employer's recruiting practices; opportunities for training, education, and career development; workplace accommodations; alternative work options, such as flexible scheduling; health and pension benefits; and the age of the workforce.

On September 23, the 35 awardees for 2004 will be honored at a ceremony in New York. A detailed examination of their programs (prepared for AARP by Mercer Human Resource Consultant) reports that:

Attraction and retention of the right workforce is important to the winning companies.

Some employers offer programs to support the maturing workforce.

New programs are emerging to show appreciation for longer service, recognize mature worker issues, and support family care needs. One company administers an elder care flexible spending program, for example.

Some companies have formal or informal arrangements allowing long-tenured and older employees to reduce work hours without jeopardizing their benefits.

Many Best Employers emphasize career-long training.

These are some examples of exemplary programs that the Best Employers for Workers Over 50 have implemented. The AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 program demonstrates that hiring and retaining older workers is part of the management of a successful business model.

III. Expanding Opportunities for Older Workers

AARP is involved in a national effort to expand employment opportunities for older workers. In early 2004, the AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) formed a National Hiring Partnership with Home Depot, the second largest retailer in the United States. The purpose is to encourage the hiring of qualified, mature workers for Home Depot's stores throughout the country. SCSEP primarily provides community service employment opportunities for eligible people aged 55 and over to obtain new job knowledge and enhance their skills. It serves those who are near or below the poverty line and who need skills and training to re-enter the labor force. With 1,500 stores nationwide, Home Depot will look to the National Hiring Partnership to increase its pool of trained applicants.

The Best Employers for Workers Over 50 program and the AARP/Home Depot Partnership reflect just one aspect of AARP's commitment to increasing employment opportunities. AARP believes that public and private employers should be encouraged to provide more flexible work options. Employers that provide benefits should do so for all employees regardless of their full- or part-time status.

Our surveys tell us that older workers would value retirement jobs that provide them flexibility, meaningful work, health benefits, the ability to learn new skills, and that also enable them to keep mentally and physically active and to interact with others. Like many younger workers, they seek work/life balance. No one type of program or policy will do the job. Employers who listen to what older workers are saying and who then assess their own workplace and offerings will find themselves at a competitive advantage, especially in the future.

Over the next decade, population growth will be most pronounced in the age 55 and older segments of the population. Many men and women say they want to work in retirement, and many have no financial choice but to do so. The challenge is to make work attractive. Employers who begin now to identify and implement programs and policies to attract and retain older workers will find themselves well-poised to convert a potential resource into an actual one, and reap the benefits of their foresight.

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