Workforce.com

Setting Sites on Retirees

February 22, 2006
Employers are increasingly seeking to use the abilities and knowledge of retired professionals. At the same time, good health, longer lives and, in some cases, financial concerns are prompting highly skilled retired professionals to return to the workforce. The number of workers aged 55 and older is growing four times faster than the workforce as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor of Statistics.

    Several retiree employment Web sites are playing matchmaker to companies and retirees, including AlumniInTouch, SelectMinds, YourEncore and RetiredBrains.com. These sites take advantage not only of demographic trends, but technological ones: Employment advertising has migrated to the Internet, and the number of Internet-savvy retirees is growing, says Art Koff, founder and owner of RetiredBrains.

    The sites target somewhat different groups of retirees. AlumniInTouch and SelectMinds are aimed primarily at former employees and retirees of large firms. The primary focus of YourEncore is highly skilled retired scientists and engineers. RetiredBrains.com takes a broader focus, listing seniors and older workers in 27 job categories, with the most popular being finance, marketing and advertising, and health care.

    A number of companies have begun encouraging their employees and retirees to register on alumni Web sites, providing contact information as well as summaries of their work experience, accomplishments and skills. This lets former employers identify suitable candidates for both short-term and permanent positions. More than 200 former Shell employees in North America, Europe and elsewhere registered the first day that Shell’s AlumniInTouch Web site went online.

    Among the 155 companies that have established AlumniInTouch databases are such firms as BP, General Electric, Toyota, Wal-Mart and a host of energy, chemical, drug, financial services and computer companies. If employers can’t find a suitable candidate among their own alumni, they can search among the retiree listings for other companies. Retirees who have worked for more than one company can register themselves on more than one AlumniInTouch Web site.

    RetiredBrains.com, by contrast, is a job board for seniors, says Koff, its founder. Retirees create free accounts, classifying themselves by profession. Employers pay to post job openings using the same classifications. Most of the more than 1,000 employers posting job openings are large firms. Many are staffing agencies, such as Adecco and Act-1. Employers also pay to search the retiree database to identify employment candidates. Retirees are not charged when they review posted job openings.

    RetiredBrains.com relies on media exposure and word-of-mouth to encourage retirees to visit its site and post their résumés. This informal model seems to work. More than 30,000 retirees have posted their résumés on the site, Koff says. Retirees can post multiple résumés, each focusing on a different skill.

From Full-time to Part-time Work
    When RetiredBrains.com began in 2001, most people posting résumés were retirees in their 50s hoping to find full-time employment, and most job openings posted were for full-time positions. However, more people over 60 are now posting their résumés, while an increasing percentage of posted job openings are for part-time or contract and temporary positions, he says.

    "Rather than posting a full-time job requiring them to pay health and other benefits, an increasing number of employers are hiring several retirees to perform the equivalent of one full-time job," Koff says. "This is more cost-effective. Not only is there no benefits cost, but the retirees need less training than younger employees."

    YourEncore behaves more like a boutique staffing agency than a job board or alumni site. The company was founded in 2003 when Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly recognized the need to utilize the expertise of their retirees. The site recruits scientists, engineers and product developers for projects, says Mike Burns, chief technical officer of YourEncore and a 2002 Procter & Gamble retiree.

    Member companies also include National Starch, Boeing and Ethicon Endo-Surgery. Burns manages the databases of what he calls "retiree experts." An account executive with YourEncore works with "engagement leaders" at each member company to determine their technology needs and identify retirees listed in the site’s database who meet these needs.

    Currently there is no formal process for employers to find and register retirees on the site, Burns says. When some companies sign up with YourEncore, they inform their employees. Other retirees learn about the site though word-of-mouth or press coverage.

    YourEncore databases list 850 retirees for the company’s corporate clients. The retirees describe their experience and qualifications in a keyword-searchable database. Also, they check off categories of skills that they can provide to employers. While non-member companies are able to search the YourEncore retiree database, they pay higher fees than member companies do.

Different Business Approaches
    Business models for the different Web sites also vary. While some, such as YourEncore, handle salary and benefits administration, others, such as RetiredBrains.com, SelectMinds and AlumniInTouch, do not.

    RetiredBrains.com charges employers $125 to place a job posting on the site for 60 days, Koff says. There are discount packages for multiple job postings.

    Companies pay an upfront fee to YourEncore. When a suitable retired employee is identified, the companies then pay the worker’s salary, plus a 20 percent fee to YourEncore to cover salary administration and benefits. Burns says that more than 100 retirees were placed in job assignments in 2005. They work as YourEncore employees, usually either in the client company’s facility or in a home office. Retired professionals who have relocated sometimes work in home offices, with an engagement leader located hundreds or thousands of miles away, and may travel occasionally for meetings.

    Lynne Wenberg, senior research manager in strategic business development and analysis at Boeing, is also an engagement leader for the unit. She connects YourEncore with Boeing’s personnel needs across the company. Wenberg says that in 2005, retirees engaged through YourEncore put in 6,000 hours on Boeing projects.

    "Boeing’s focus is on retirees with special skills in science and technology--high-end, high-level expertise," Wenberg says. "They are brought back for short-term, very specific projects, often in advisory roles. Employment agreements are performance-based, and (are) over when the project goals are reached."

    Whether retirees receive repeat assignments is based on whether they possess the specific skills needed on a new project.

    In late 2004, Boeing publicized the program in Boeing News, an online newsletter for both current and retired employees. That’s how Boeing retiree Dick Covert found out about it and registered on the site. Less than four months after retiring, he began working with Boeing engagement leader Mike Kovalchik and YourEncore’s Boeing account manager, Martin Smith, to develop a contract defining his tasks. He received an assignment similar to his former job.

    On an hourly basis, Covert, who lives in Fourtain Hills, Arizona, says that he got "a modest raise" compared with what he was earning prior to retirement. Another big attraction for Covert was the ability to set his own hours. He has been working an average of 20 hours weekly since December 2004, which gives him time for other activities.

    Wenberg notes that one advantage of these job sites, and of YourEncore in particular, is the concept of membership with other like-minded companies. "We have their retired employees to choose from for assignments, as well as Boeing retirees. The retirees from the other companies provide Boeing with expertise that is not traditional to Boeing," she says.

    These sites are becoming more than just a useful tool for industry. In what could be a harbinger of things to come, professional societies such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers International and four universities have established AlumniInTouch sites that employers can search.

    By using a retiree job Web site, "we are able to stop our brain drain inside the company," Boeing’s Wenberg says. For companies, the ability to post jobs directly to professionals with experience in the employer’s given industry and even with the employer itself can be a significant competitive advantage.