Ageism is more than an Alarming trend; it’s detrimental to our Economy
by Joan Cirillo, President & CEO Operation A.B.L.E.
Within the past few months, I have had two major corporations and one charitable foundation tell me they will shift their donation strategy next year from supporting older workers, to programs that benefit solely young people entering the job market. While I am not advocating an “either or” approach for charitable support, I am concerned that ageism may be playing a part in these decisions.
I get the “building for the future” idea of making certain professions such as banking & finance or the sciences more interesting to young people. Yet, I am also concerned when organizations who have supported training and support for older workers in the past may be taking away that support for the wrong reasons.
Over the years, we have learned just how devastating discrimination against older workers can be. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, older workers make up at least half of the long-term unemployed numbers; the average duration of unemployment for this group is more than 54 weeks, as compared with less than 27 weeks for younger workers.
There are signs of hope.
A recent article in Forbes on Workplace Trends You will see in 2018 states: the majority of occupations are projected to grow; those that will experience the fastest growth next year are healthcare, personal care, social assistance and construction. The workforce participation of older workers will increase, yet the overall labor force growth rate will decline by next year.
The article goes on to point out: Companies focus on upskilling and retraining current workers. While the political discussion is focused on bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, and the news media continues to publish articles on how automation will eliminate jobs, we should really be focused on the growing skills gap. There are currently 6.2 million job openings in America that are unfilled, which is up from 5.6 million during the same time in 2016. Companies can’t find the right workers that have the right skills, at the right time, which has slowed growth in the economy. The National Federation of Independent Business reports that 45% of small businesses were unable to find qualified candidates to fill job openings and 60% of all employers have job openings that stay vacant for twelve weeks or longer, which costs them $800,000 annually in lost productivity and advertising fees.
Companies in the United States today are faced with a rapidly aging workforce. According to the Federal Department of Labor, baby boomers 50 years and older will make up 25 percent of the available labor force by 2020. If older workers continue to be seen as less desirable job prospects, that companies will not have enough labor to get the job done.
I have spoken with CEOs who believe that older workers make excellent employees, bring a wealth of experience, and serve as mentors to younger employees, but there are still too many who believe otherwise. It is time that we stop falling for the old stereotypes fostered by ageism and make sure older workers get a fair treatment in the marketplace.
Another AARP study found that many older workers would benefit from training classes to update skills and programs for new career exploration. But there are not nearly enough to meet the demand. This is a time for corporations and charitable foundations to invest in the future of all workers by funding workforce development programs for all adults, including older workers. That would be a strategy that would help us prepare for the workforce of the future.