7 in 10 firms not hiring older workers

Health issues, technology skills among employer concerns: Survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2013

Home Depot actively recruits older workers for all positions at the company. It partners with CARP, a Toronto-based advocacy group for people over 50, to conduct career fairs, send out newsletters and launch advertising campaigns targeted at older workers, said Alicia Martin, retail staffing manager, employment branding, at Home Depot in Toronto.

“It’s important for us to have a workforce that’s representative of the diverse community in which we serve,” she said. “We definitely do value them.”

Nearly one-third (31 per cent) of the company’s 28,000 employees are 50 and older, and six per cent are 65 and older. They are represented throughout the stores, at the management level and in corporate positions, said Martin.

While Home Depot may be actively hiring older workers, many employers are not, found a survey by the Investors Group.

Seven in 10 (71.5 per cent) small and medium-sized employers across Canada said it’s not likely job openings will be filled by someone older than 65, now or in the future, found the poll of 743 employers.

The main reason behind this may be employers want to hire people they can retain for a long period of time, which may not be the case for older workers, said Dave Ablett, director of tax and retirement planning at the Investors Group in Winnipeg.

“The perception is if they hire someone over 65, the person is likely to only be there for maybe one or two years. So they may be saying, ‘Do we want to invest time and expense in training this person only to see them walk out the door?’” he said.

But more people aged 65 and older are continuing to work either because their retirement plans have been hit by the tough economy or because they simply want to stay involved, said Ablett.

There are also some false perceptions about older workers that may be preventing employers from hiring them, said Barry Witkin, CEO of HR50, a Toronto-based employment resource for workers over 50 and employers looking to recruit them. The first misconception is older workers are not as productive and do not have the same level of stamina as younger workers.

However, 85 per cent of employers surveyed said workers aged 65 and older are just as productive and 79 per cent said they have the required level of energy for the job.

“It’s definitely not an issue,” said Martin. “Our mature employees are very enthusiastic about providing excellent customer service, they know about the products and they are passionate about their products and the service they provide.”

And older employees may actually be more productive than younger workers because they do not have as many home life distractions, said Barb Hinsperger, team leader at Northern Lights Canada, an employment services provider in Peterborough, Ont.

“(Younger workers) may come to work but they’re not really there — they’re phoning home to talk to the babysitter, they’re worried about what’s happening,” she said. “(Older workers) don’t get called out in the middle of the day because a kid is sick at school. When they’re at work, they’re at work — their mind isn’t elsewhere.”

Another misconception is older workers are more expensive to employ. Some employers may think they need to pay a premium for older workers or their level of absenteeism is higher, said Ablett. But 69 per cent of employers said it does not cost them more to hire workers aged 65 and older, found the survey.

Respondents were split on concerns around the health of older workers. One-half (51 per cent) said health issues are more likely to affect the attendance or job performance of workers who are seniors.

“As a person gets older, there’s going to be health issues, to some extent, but with modern medicine, those health issues are very much diminished,” said Witkin. “In reality, there are more issues with younger people on the health side because they are under much more stress because of family obligations, financial obligations… so they’re getting sicker, depression and everything else.”

In 2010, to keep its most senior employees healthy, Home Depot extended health-care benefits to workers aged 70 and over — something that’s rare in the industry, said Martin.

Respondents are also split when it comes to technology. Slightly more than one-half (55 per cent) believe older workers are not as technologically adept as younger ones, found the survey.

“We’re not looking at technology for a rocket scientist… For 25, 30 years they’ve been using computers at work so it’s not like they’re foreign to it,” said Witkin. “They may be foreign to some of the new software programs and some of the newer technologies, but that’s normal.”

And older workers can adapt to these technology changes equally as well as younger people, said Ablett.

The majority (96 per cent) of survey respondents said older workers offer valuable expertise and experience.

“They have a wealth of knowledge they bring to the table and different insights on looking at situations,” said Martin. “They have suggestions they are able to provide to our customers, often based on experience, and our customer response to it is very positive.”

Work adjustments

Many employers already offer, or are amenable to offering, a variety of workplace adjustments for older workers. Part-time work (65 per cent) is the most popular type of arrangement, found the Investors Group survey.

“They’ve been working all their lives and there comes a point in time where they would like to have some variety in their life and not have to work as hard… but they still want to feel productive, they don’t want to just sit back and read or golf all day,” said Witkin.

The second most common work arrangement is specific project work (43 per cent) followed by contract or consulting work (35 per cent).

“It’s a way you can use their skills and expertise when you need it… and you’re not stuck with the hiring and keeping them on long term,” said Hinsperger. “A lot of older workers like that because they still want to be involved but they have sort of moved on and have recreational and travel things they like to do.”

Job sharing is the least popular arrangement, with just 23 per cent of employers offering it or saying they would consider offering it, found the survey.

Employers should have conversations with older workers years before they retire to gain an understanding of what they want to do, said Ablett.

“A lot of employers have a lot of older workers and if they all just walk out the door, they’re taking a lot of experience with them, which is very difficult to replicate in younger workers,” he said.

“As well, with demographic changes, there’s not going to be as many qualified younger workers as there’s been in the past… and certain industries are already seeing difficulty attracting and finding qualified people.”

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