As a sales pitch aimed at catching the eye of older workers, “Explore the US in a truck” does not sound the most obviously enticing slogan.
But Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at the AARP, an organisation that represents Americans over the age of 50, says it has already proved successful.
The American Trucking Association, she says, was struggling to attract younger staff so, working with the AARP, it embarked on a big recruitment effort among older people instead.
“Trucking is different these days,” was the message it aimed to put across – pointing out that the “big rigs” are much easier to manipulate. And, if you had been planning to retire and see the country, then you can do that at the same time, earning as you go.
AARP research has shown that many US baby-boomers (those born shortly after the second world war) intend to remain working past what Ms Russell calls the “traditional” retirement age of about 65.
Older people are demonstrating much more appetite to stay in work, she says – in 1985 only 10.8 per cent of people aged 65 and over were in the workforce. It stands at 17.2 per cent today.
Furthermore, “with the economy being what it has been”, she points out, “employers are going to have to face the fact that older workers are planning to remain working for economic reasons – money and health insurance – as well as because they want to remain mentally and physically active.”
In the UK, a survey in October by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that 41 per cent of employees plan to work beyond the state retirement age. Nearly three-quarters of these said this was for financial reasons. But social interaction at work and the desire to continue using their skills were also important factors.
Kathy Lynch, director of employer engagement at Boston College’s Sloan Center on Ageing & Work, says that in the US the recession has already made the fact of longer working a reality.
“A few years ago, everyone was talking about the brain drain of the impending retirement of baby-boomers. Now [employers] are not feeling immediate pain because people are not leaving. More people are staying working and more people are coming back to work that have been retired.”
Today, she says, white-collar professional businesses in the US say that age is a factor but not a current “business imperative”.
Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network (www.taen.org.uk) in the UK would agree that many British businesses and organisations appear to share this lack of urgency.
He says that the more considered approaches to age management in the UK workforce have been “very much a response to specific issues and challenges faced by [individual] employers. The thing that is missing is a strong strategic approach.”
As in the rest of Europe, the UK population is ageing. Mr Ball writes about the “ever-rising line [in Europe] of the 65-plus age group, from around 72m in 2002 to more than 130m by 2047”.
“The other is the line of the five-to-25-year-olds in society. This falls from 120m to 90m in the same period.”
The CIPD writes in “Managing an ageing workforce”, its September 2010 report, that by 2020 nearly a third of the UK workforce will be over 50.
Worryingly, it notes: “This report shows that many organisations have neither a strategy in place for managing an ageing workforce nor a coherent range of provisions to respond to emergent issues.”
Mr Ball says he has seen, nonetheless, some intelligent organisational approaches to age management.
Some have planned strategically – profiling employees’ ages against skill requirements to identify areas at risk from retirement – and considered a range of interventions related to the health needs of older workers, flexible work and retirement options, skills and learning and the way people choose to develop their careers.
In the best cases, he says, people are no longer given the stark choice “to stay or not to stay” but can “phase in or out” of the workforce, for example by returning in a mentoring role or parallel job that might be less physically demanding or even to do something different.
Mr Ball cites NHS Employers as an example of an organisation that has promoted intelligent policies on age.
Karen Charman, its head of employment services, points out that the UK National Health Service is Europe’s largest employer, with a higher percentage of workers in older age groups than in the UK as a whole.
Spurred on by age discrimination legislation, says Ms Charman, NHS Employers has been producing briefings and advice on age management for healthcare trusts in England since about 2006.
Demographic trends also provided impetus. Ms Charman says the population is ageing and therefore care needs are greater, but fewer young people are coming into the NHS.
Many trusts now promote pension flexibility – employees can, for example, “step down” to part-time work and still contribute to pensions without being disadvantaged at final-pension stage.
NHS Employers also recommends techniques for “knowledge management” or skills transfer.
“Utilising older workers,” says Ms Charman, “within mentoring and training and support roles can drive down turnover – because your new staff feel better supported and become good and committed employees because they feel looked after and your older workers feel valued for skills they have.”
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