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Some employers see perks of hiring older workers

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press
Aging America Hiring Older Workers
Julio Cortez - AP
David Mintz is CEO of Tofutti of Cranford, N.J., which makes dairy-free products. Mintz says he wants his employees to have the trademarks of youth: energy and enthusiasm, fresh thinking, and the ability to catch on quickly, work at a frenzied pace, start the day early and work late. He says he finds these attributes in older workers.

Older people searching for jobs have long fought back stereotypes that they lack the speed, technology skills and dynamism of younger applicants. But as a wave of baby boomers seeks to stay on the job later in life, some employers are finding older workers are precisely what they need.

“There’s no experience like experience,” said David Mintz, CEO of dairy-free products maker Tofutti, where about one-third of the workers are older than 50. “I can’t put an ad saying, ‘Older people wanted,’ but there’s no comparison.”

Surveys consistently show older people believe they experience age discrimination in the job market, and although unemployment is lower among older workers, long-term unemployment is far higher. As the American population and its labor force reshape, though, with a larger chunk of older workers, some employers are slowly recognizing their skill and experience.

About 200 employers, from Google to AT&T to MetLife, have signed an AARP pledge recognizing the value of experienced workers and vowing to consider applicants 50 and older.

One of them, New York-based KPMG, has found success with a high proportion of older workers, who bring experience that the company says adds credibility. The auditing, tax and advisory firm says older workers also tend to be more dedicated to staying with the company – a plus for clients who want to build relationships with consultants they can count on to be around for years.

“Some Gen Y’s and Millennials have this notion of, ‘I will have five jobs in 10 years,’ ” said Sig Shirodkar, a human resources consultant with KPMG. “We’re looking for ways to tame that beast.”

Creating credibility

Many employers find older workers help them connect with older clients. At the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, Vt., the average customer is in his or her 60s, and about half of the business’s 400 workers are older than 50, coming from a range of professional backgrounds, often outside retail. “Having folks internally that are in the same demographic certainly helps to create credibility and to have empathy for our customer,” said Chris Vickers, the store’s chief executive.

One such employee is Ashley Roland, 60, who got a marketing job at the store last year after the company she previously worked for shut down. She was dreading a marathon of unsuccessful interviews, but the store recruited her.

“When I was being hired, I didn’t feel any kind of concern about my age,” she said. “I believe in experience. I think you’re crazy not to hire someone who’s older.”

Even when the customers might not be seniors, employers find older adults bring a level of life experience that helps them in their work. About 20 percent of the roughly 26,000 customer service, sales and technical support agents working for Arise Virtual Solutions of Miramar, Fla., are 50 or older, and Chief Executive John Meyer said they often find ways to connect with callers.

“Having someone who is more senior, who has had some life scars, makes them much better at interacting with people,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for them to use the skills that they have built up over their life.”

Longer in the workforce

The embrace of older workers by some companies comes as the country’s demographics shift and a greater number of people stay in their jobs later in life, some because of personal choice, others out of necessity after their retirement savings took a hit during the recession. From 1977 to 2007, employment of workers 65 and older doubled, a trend that has stayed on track and is projected to continue as the massive baby boom generation moves toward old age. But long-term unemployment has plagued older adults: Nearly half of those 55 and older who find themselves jobless remain out of work for 27 weeks or more.

Many companies still tend to overlook older applicants. Peter Cappelli, a University of Pennsylvania professor and co-author of “Managing the Older Worker,” said because the economy has remained relatively weak and demand for jobs has been so high, many employers haven’t been pressed to recruit older individuals.

Stereotypes have prevailed. Hiring managers still often view older applicants as having lower job performance, higher absenteeism and accident rates, and less ability to solve problems and adapt to changes. But Cappelli said research has found older workers outpace younger ones in nearly every metric. And in jobs where age might be a detriment – say, a highly physical job beyond a particular older person’s ability – seniors tend to exclude themselves from applying anyway.

“The evidence is overwhelming that they’re better,” Cappelli said. “But the hiring managers are just going with their guts, and our guts are full of prejudice.”

Paul Lugo, 69, of Kendall Lakes, Fla., has felt that prejudice. After decades of work in business development and customer service at various companies, Lugo found himself unemployed about two years ago. He needs the money, but no one wants to hire him.

“I’ve been to every mall, I’ve gone to the TSA, I’ve gone through thousands of applications,” he said, “but I get the same thing: ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ ”

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