This article appeared as an op-ed in Metro France on May 19, 2006.
The mature workforce is undoubtedly one of the greatest untapped resources of developed countries. Engaging these workers should be of the highest priority. Especially since we know that by 2011, available jobs could outnumber workers. This is for two reasons: the growing pool of potential retirees, and the shrinking pool of younger workers.
Although people are living longer and healthier lives in OECD countries, the effective retirement ages have tended to decrease. According to the OECD, if there is no change, the retiree per worker ratio in OECD countries will shift from 38% in 2000 to around 70% in 2050.
Some people will need to work longer; many will want to. Making use of the collective experience and knowledge of veteran workers would benefit both employers and employees as well as society. It would help employers avert potential labor shortages and older workers meet their needs for income and health benefits. Plus, wages and salaries would still be taxed, paying into a system that is simultaneously paying out.
In my country the good news is that close to 70% of older workers plan to work in some capacity during their retirement years, not only for the money, but because they enjoy work and it gives them a sense of purpose. Many plan on never retiring.
Employers worldwide have been slow to adapt to the aging workforce, believing older workers are more expensive. Instead, they should be viewed as a solution to work force needs. According to an AARP-commissioned study, “The Business Case for Workers Age 50+,” the extra costs per employee range from negligible to 3 percent. These costs are more than offset by reduced costs in hiring and training new workers. Plus, older workers exhibit traits - experience, loyalty, attention to task, and emotional maturity – that take on greater value in today’s economy.
There is no magic age when someone can no longer work. Many people of “retirement age” have another 10 or 20 or more vigorous years ahead of them. Why waste this human capital?
Government, private employers, the non-profit sector as well as individual citizens must play key roles. Governments worldwide must work to combat age discrimination in the workplace and provide incentives for employers to hire older workers. And of course, people need to keep up with the latest technologies, be willing to learn new skills, and perform new functions.
Together, we can remain fair to ALL generations while protecting vital public programs and bolstering our labor markets.
Thomas C. Nelson is Chief Operating Officer of AARP, a nonprofit organization of 36 million members age 50 and older.
Additional Related Links
Thomas Nelson addresses the OECD Forum 2006 panel "Creating Jobs in the 21st Century"
Version Française de cet article