S. Scot Litke, Honorary D.GE
The title subject of this issue of Deep Foundations magazine is “Preserving the Past”. It is most fitting therefore to consider that an important part of not only preserving the past but moving into the future is the contribution that older, experienced employees can bring to a company’s success. Not too long ago the conventional wisdom was that older workers didn’t have much to offer as companies moved ever-faster into the digital age, therefore placing a premium on the experience of “seasoned” employees was of minor significance. In addition it was assumed that older workers were not only more expensive than newbies, but that their age in and of itself was a hindrance due to the inevitability of failing health, diminished energy, and so on. Well guess what, it turns out that just the contrary has proven to be true. Of course there is “older” and there is “too old”, although if Warren Buffet is any example, being 85 is no problem at all. While running out and looking for octogenarians to fill job openings isn’t the point here, there are points to be made. Ultimately it boils down to good old, “Supply and Demand”.
Here are some key things to consider:
The pool of able, motivated, experienced workers is vast. There are 76 million baby boomers in the U.S. These are folks between the ages of 49 and 65. U.S. census data tells us that in the next 15 years there will be twice as many Americans over 65 as there are today. According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), “every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. And further, they are responsible for at least $7.1 trillion in economic activity”. According to Paul Emrath of the Home Builders Association, “In every state, at least one third of the households are 55 or older. This market is growing not just in numbers, but as a share of the U.S. population”. These statistics as a key indicator are instructive. Of course not all folks reaching retirement age are interested in remaining in the work force, but certainly a significant proportion of them do. There are many reasons for this. People are just plain living longer, living healthier life styles, and want to remain “engaged” intellectually. Of course there are financial considerations. With the demise of a viable pension culture in the U.S. many seniors are finding that they “need” to work in order to maintain a desirable lifestyle. Americans are not known as aggressive savers, and many find that when the time comes to retire there just aren’t enough feathers in their nest egg.
It is interesting to consider that how over the years the dynamics of retirement have tended to fluctuate, often dramatically. A study conducted by Alicia Munnell at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reviewed retirement trends dating back to the 19th century. The study revealed between the 1960’s and 1990’s the retirement age of men and women tended to decline. For example, from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s men tended to retire, on average, at age 65. Then during the next several decades the average retirement age for men and women went down significantly, with the average age for leaving the workforce coming in at 62. Over the past 5 years the trend has reversed with 65 being the average for both men and women. Several reasons have been posited for this change. In addition to the demise of traditional pension plans as stated above, the Social Security System itself has encouraged people to work longer into life by providing higher benefits for those who do so. In addition, in the case of white collar workers advances in technology have rendered the workplace less physically demanding with stand-alone work spaces, consolidated office equipment stations, fluid traffic flow environments and the like. To an increasing extent by virtue of advances in automation this applies to workers in the industrial sector as well.
So on the “supply side”, there are lots of talented, motivated, people who want to remain in the workplace.
Employers are beginning to see the benefit of having people on board who have “institutional knowledge”, and who can serve as mentors to younger workers on the way up. A side benefit is that older workers, those who are close to or have reached the traditional retirement age of 62-65, are not all that interested in moving-up-the-chain, or playing the political games that consume so much of the energy and attention of those on the rungs of the upward ladder. In addition employers are seeing that the issue of “loyalty” to a company does not necessarily apply to the labor pool coming from the millennial generation that being those in the 18-34 age group. Metaphorically speaking these folks tend to “jump ship” at the “drop of a dinghy”. The “horizontal mobility” that characterizes the job-hopping patterns of millennials can play havoc with trying to maintain a stable workforce, particularly at the managerial level. Here is where experience, loyalty, dependability, and motivation of senior type employees comes into play.
It turns out that when it comes to the issue of reliability, the pundits, (whoever they are), have turned out to be wrong. As recently as 10 years ago those who predict worker behavior told us that older workers would wind up costing companies more due to ill health and resultant absenteeism. And of course there was that notion that older workers would not be as productive as the younger set. Studies have shown that older workers have a lower rate of absenteeism than younger ones. This in part is due to the fact that they are past parenting age. They don’t have to take time off to take the kids to the dentist, dance lessons, band practice, and any number of sport venues. When it comes to productivity, by and large older workers come equipped with a strong work ethic. Then there is that aforementioned loyalty thing. An important benefit that accrues to an employer is that older workers who want to extend their working lives appreciate the opportunity to continue to make a contribution to the company. Their positive attitudes can have a beneficial impact on younger employees.
On top of all of this is the very real situation in which there just aren’t enough skilled workers entering the workforce to fill the positions that currently exist, much less those that are ever-evolving.
While it is always somewhat dangerous to paint any picture with too broad a brush, it appears that companies are beginning to get the message. Older is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, out of necessity and just plain good business practice, it may turn out to be a very good thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
S. Scot Litke, Honorary, Board Certified, Diplomate of Geotechnical Engineering
Scot is often referred to as the “Dean of Association Executives” in the geo-industry. He served as the Executive Director of the ADSC: The International Association of Foundation Drilling from 1982-2010. He is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame. During his tenure with the ADSC he was the Editor-in-Chief of Foundation Drilling Magazine, the association’s flagship publication. A noted public speaker, lecturer, and author Scot has received numerous awards from a variety of geo-industry-related organizations including the ASCE’s Geo-Institute, the American Subcontractors Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Canadian Geotechnical Society, and the United States Universities Council for Geotechincal Engineering Research. He was the recipient of the Deep Foundations Institute’s 2014 “Distinguished Service Award”. Scot is a Founding Trustee of the Geo-Institutes, “Academy of Geo-Professionals”. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the “ASCE’s Council on the Certification of Engineering Professionals”. His column, “Beneath the Surface” appears regularly in Deep Foundations Magazine, the official publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. His writings appear in other geo-industry publications. Scot offers management consulting services in Strategic Planning and Communications to companies and organizations in the geo-industry. Scot can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in “Deep Foundations Magazine”, the flagship publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. It is herein reprinted with permission of the DFI and the author. To learn more about the DFI and their programs visit: www.dfi.org.
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