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Where Do Old Workers Go?

May 23, 2008
Related Topics: Talent Management
I’ve written a lot about “The Talent Shortage Myth,” and I know that there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily agree with my assessment that baby boomers aren’t going to leave the workplace en masse. So, you may ask, what exactly are boomers going to do? Well, some will retire outright, but others will take advantage of a phased retirement, where they have a formal program to slowly ease out of the workforce over an extended period of time. Others will cut back to part-time status, or become a consultant to their old company on a shorter work schedule, or perhaps even cut back to more of a seasonal basis, working for the company when the company needs them. The options are endless for boomers, of course, because they are the generation that has been hell-bent on not doing things the way the earlier generations did. But some will also just leave their old job and move on to something completely new. More times than not, the Los Angeles Times reports, that new job is in retail. “In recent years, the question of exactly where older workers were employed has baffled those who have seen conflicting trends ripple through the nation’s job sites: More older Americans say they want or need to work past traditional retirement age, but employers are still reluctant to retain or hire them,” the story says. “One result is that there has been little solid information about where people beyond the average retirement age of 63 work in greatest numbers, a critical issue especially now as benefits shrink and recession looms.” The Times story adds: “But statistics from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, show for the first time that those 65 or older and still working in America are statistically most likely to do retail, farming or janitorial work, in that order. … In a separate study scheduled for release later this year, the Urban Institute found that 43 percent of people working full time in their early 50s will change jobs before their late 60s. More than a quarter of those fiftysomething full-time workers will enter a new occupation. Nearly one in four will be laid off.” These are sobering statistics that point to a troubling notion that underlies “The Talent Shortage Myth”--older workers, and boomers in particular, want to continue working and doing something meaningful, but all too often, it is their longtime employer that doesn’t want them to stay. That’s why so many end up in retail and wearing an orange apron at Home Depot or greeting people at Wal-Mart.   “These are not exactly the pictures of reinvention that you get in your monthly issue of Fortune, Money or AARP magazine,” said Marc Freedman, author of “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life.” This is “an object lesson in the dangers of what could happen if we don’t develop a compelling human resource strategy for an aging society.”

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