The Need is Still Great
I may be retiring, but Operation A.B.L.E.’s commitment to getting older workers back to work remains strong.
As of December 31st, I will officially retire from Operation A.B.L.E. as its President and CEO. It is a bittersweet time for me. For nearly 25 years, I have worked to build Operation A.B.L.E. into an effective and reliable support system for unemployed mature workers. When I started this job, I believed there was a good chance A.B.L.E. would not be needed by the time I retired. Unfortunately, in part because the older worker population is growing, this is not the case.
There has been a lot of writing of late about age-discrimination in the workplace, as well as growing numbers of people over 50 who are unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, as the Baby-Boomer generation swells the senior citizen ranks, the number of young people joining the workforce is in decline. According to an AARP study released this year, “nearly 2 out of 3 workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. Among the 61 percent of respondents who reported age bias, 91 percent said they believe that such discrimination is common.
Ironically, during the same period several articles explore why employers claim it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the right talent to fill vacant positions. In September, Forbes Magazine published: How Organizations Are Harnessing The Wisdom Of Baby Boomers To Combat Skills Shortages. The authors argue that some companies are beginning to come to grips with the problem and recognizing the benefits of hiring and retaining older workers. In one example, Airbnb recruited travel industry veteran Chip Conley as Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy to give them the wisdom that many of his 20-something colleagues lacked. He had been brought into the company specifically to be a teacher and mentor to the young talent that was doing so much to disrupt the travel sector.
At the heart of Conley’s experience is a conclusion that workers of all ages can be engaged in purpose-driven work that excites and energizes them, with employers then benefiting from the wisdom they have to offer.
Conley found that the archetypal “modern elder” exhibits wisdom in many key ways:
- Good judgment – the inherent experience of older employees can give them a perspective and ‘environmental mastery’ that can allow them to handle problems more productively. Bumps in the road are inevitable in any process, so it’s invaluable having people who are not only all too aware of this but who have overcome them in the past.
- Unvarnished insight – experience affords one a clearness of view that can allow an elder to cut through the clutter to focus on what really matters in a situation. What’s more, because they have been around the block a few times, there is less need to impress or prove themselves, which can lead to greater authenticity.
- Emotional intelligence – Chip says that knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens, and the modern elders are capable of great self-awareness, empathy and have excellent control of both their own and others’ emotions.
- Holistic thinking – the brain naturally loses speed and memory as it ages, but is more able to see holistically. This ability to ‘recombinate’ from multiple domains has tremendous value in a range of fields, not least in innovation where pattern recognition is key.
- Stewardship – more and more organizations strive to be good corporate citizens, and Chip argues that elders are able to put their experience to good use for future generations. It’s a desire to give rather than take.
Closer to home, the Boston Business Journal published an editorial, Failure to train older workers is a waste of human capital. The writer observes, “It’s been said many times that Massachusetts’s most valuable business resource is our highly talented workforce. But talent means more than just an educational degree, and current efforts to put the most talent to work has been ignoring a wide swath of our most experienced potential employees – namely, our older ones.”
The Business Journal editorial was in support of an article the paper did about Operation A.B.L.E.’s training programs for older workers. It went on to say, “Businesses not only should support programs that train older workers for in-demand jobs, but also should hire older workers.”
I am proud of the work we do at Operation A.B.L.E. and of the employees who strive every day to help mature workers overcome barriers and find meaningful employment.
The challenges I faced when I started the job have not gone away by a long shot. The next CEO will have to contend with discriminatory attitudes from employers and a lack of meaningful legal protections for older workers. But she will have a solid platform by which to challenge out dated perceptions and improve the lives of older citizens and the population as whole. Operation A.B.L.E. is ready and up to the challenge. I hope that many of you reading this will agree and support Operation A.B.L.E. and older workers throughout the Commonwealth.