Return on Experience
The Western World faces a dramatic shift in the constitution of our workforce. Throughout the 20th century, declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy have dramatically raised both the median age of our populations and the number of workers who are retirement-bound. Projections indicate that nearly 25% of the population of the United States will be eligible for retirement by 2025; for Canada, the projected percentage is 28%, and for many European countries it is more than 30%.
Moreover, the people turning 60 in 2006 belong to the first ranks of the Baby Boomers-those born during a period of elevated fertility after World War II between 1946 and 1964. Yet the workforce coming up behind them, comprised of Generation X—people born between 1965 and 1981—will number only about 58% of the presently available work pool. So as the Baby Boomers retire, a lot fewer people will be available to work.
These demographics of a shrinking workforce are expected to alter business employment practices significantly. One adaptation already well under way is the abolition of mandatory retirement to keep mature workers in the workforce longer. So far in the United States the retirement age has been raised to 67 for those born after 1960, and it is expected to be raised again, probably until it reaches age 70. In Canada in December 2005 Ontario was the latest to join the majority of the country's 13 provinces and territories in legally enacting a partial or complete ban on mandatory retirement. And by this year all 15 European Union member states will be required to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment on the grounds of age.
Benefits beyond statistics
However, at PrintLink we believe that the benefits of an age-blended workforce go well beyond the changing laws and population statistics. While at this point in history necessity may be driving the workplace towards greater balance in the age of employees, it has actually always been in the workplace's best interest to retain its mature workers while cultivating the job skills of the younger generation.
Incredibly, hiring obstacles in the form of myths and misconceptions that reinforce a negative image of mature workers are still relatively common. In fact, age bias is still prevalent enough that too many resume consultants suggest their older job candidates leave all but the last 10 or 15 years of experience off their resume. Supposedly, this dubious tactic fools employers into thinking applicants are younger and therefore granting them interviews where the applicants get a shot at offsetting any age concerns by extolling their potential contributions. But does anyone seriously think the interviewer is not going to notice the candidate's mature appearance in the first 30 seconds and potentially feel duped? At PrintLink we advocate a complete and inclusive resume because it conveys appropriate respect for the hard-earned professional credibility of mature candidates with years of successful progression through the industry. We prefer to see a candidate's depth of experience.
At PrintLink we screen candidates and consider them for specific positions--not on the basis of their age, but rather their qualifications, experience, and total fit for the job and the company. We do this because in every case our primary concern is to help our clients hire the best person for their requirements. So even in instances where a specific age range may be among the hiring criteria for a particular company or job, we will still talk to the staffing manager about qualified candidates who fall outside that age range, rather than let the client miss out on hiring a prime candidate.
Many hiring managers are increasingly aware of the benefits of mature workers. Studies show their assets include equal productivity to younger workers, superior experience, a stronger work-ethic, and reliability—both in terms of taking less time off to deal with emergencies common to young families and of less frequent turnover. The fact is that older employees are less likely to job hop. They are more likely to stay with a job for the balance of the years they wish to work. Younger employees, on the other hand, are looking for career advancement, and unless your company can provide it, they will likely move on in the very short term. Additionally, the best older workers possess refinements including adaptive techniques, people skills, and a level of emotional stability that require years to develop.
As the worker shortage escalates, governments and companies are increasingly expected to adjust their retention, recruitment, and management policies and practices to include older workers as never before. Early studies suggest that companies in general are hiring fewer new graduates, while the job search time for workers over 50 is shortening. Already business leaders are devising strategies such as "phased retirement" and "retirees on call" that allow their companies to retain employees who are past retirement age in their current positions either part-time or as on-call consultants. Such programs allow older workers to continue contributing their invaluable experience and coaching expertise to the economy. Major companies such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and McDonalds are leading the charge to hire older personnel as well as young people - creating a visible blended workforce. But have these progressive practices taken hold in the printing and graphic industry? Maybe not yet.
Yields from younger employees
Participation by younger employees is equally essential for a successful workplace, since one risk in having too many older employees is the lack of prospective replacements for succession planning. The printing industry in particular is feeling the succession pinch, since technology-based attrition has solved only a fraction of the worker shortage. Thus the industry needs to make a concerted effort to encourage students to consider printing as a viable career. Additionally, the demise of apprenticeship programs on the shop floor a number of years ago means that few younger people are coming up through the ranks to replace retiring employees.
An additional challenge is that, as mentioned above, younger people who are ambitious and motivated will look for upward mobility. But much of the printing industry is comprised of small companies that may not offer advancement potential. So in order to move up, ambitious youngsters may need to move on rather than remaining in place to understudy key roles in the company that will eventually become vacant as the incumbents retire.
A strategic succession plan therefore benefits companies of all sizes. At the same time as it trains and mentors younger workers, it also lets them know what career-advancement opportunities exist within your company. For example, at some companies team leaders and lead hands at some not only assist their departmental colleagues, but are also being groomed for the next step up into supervisory or management roles. All training and mentoring each company provides assists the industry as a whole - and in the long run we all benefit from it.
The front end of the business and management will benefit as much as the shop floor from an age-blended workforce that balances the well-honed craft of the "Grey Hairs" with the enthusiasm of youth raised in the technological age. For instance, a 20-something-year-old junior salesperson mentored by a 60-something-year-old sales manager who has stewarded millions of dollars for a large corporation can make a tremendous team. And as current business managers near retirement, it makes sense for companies to take on management trainees to work alongside them, so that years of experience can learn to blend cohesively with a newer management style to achieve a profitable succession. This strategy applies whether the trainee is a family member or a sourced employee.
Pay market value
Another important point in hiring staff of either age extreme: don't assume you should hire seniors or juniors just because their salaries may be cheaper. Rather, aim to establish and pay for the value each employee contributes as well as the ability to realize a return-on-salary investment, no matter what the person's age.
Adjustments to the age balance of your workforce can help serve the needs of your customers more effectively. For example, some clients are more comfortable working with people of their own age. Seniors represent a growing consumer market that potentially includes many of your existing customers, so hiring seniors shows your interest in serving their market. And conversely, if younger customers also comprise a portion of your business, they need to be represented among your staff, too.
But according to another view, even more dynamic interactions can sometimes result from intergenerational contact. Younger clients may feel a special degree of trust from interacting with the Grey Hairs on your staff, while older clients dealing with your younger staff members may feel your company is current and will assist them in presenting a contemporary face to their market. Therefore, when implementing age-balanced hiring strategies, we advise hiring managers to consider not only their internal requirements but also the response of their customer base.
The bottom line is we need to think and plan ahead for the workforce of the future. Especially given the historically low unemployment rates in the Western U.S. and Canada, this means a shortage of skilled labor. So planning ahead first of all requires devising flexible workplace policies to attract, retain, and engage both older and younger workers.
A second key to encouraging balance in the workplace may be anti-age-bias training for staff at all levels, as well as coaching on how to manage intergenerational work relationships effectively. In 1912 George Bernard Shaw observed that "It's all the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date." And conceivably younger managers will need to adjust their shock tactics by showing respect for older colleagues' experience and openness to their suggestions and constructive criticism. This doesn't necessarily mean following their advice every time, but it does require explaining why if they didn't. Specialized training can also help managers exploit intergenerational mentoring opportunities to their company's best advantage.
We know that recent economic conditions in both the U.S. and Canada have resulted in considerable downsizing. Because companies generally cut back on their staff count significantly, the current workforce is operating at high levels of productivity. And now there are signs that business is again increasing. Statistics reported in WhatTheyThink.com, show solid evidence of this upturn, so inevitably print and related businesses will soon be making new hiring plans. Beyond the usual sound hiring principles of productivity, sustainability, and return on investment, our hope is to encourage employers to tie their hiring plans to achieving the best possible return on experience--and knowledge.