Access to employment is one of the most challenging issues facing older people today. However, organizations and nations have largely ignored the substantial demographic shifts over the past century. Humanity has increased life expectancy by nearly 30 years over the past century and this "longevity bonus" increases opportunities for individuals, as well as society.
Accompanying the "longevity bonus," has been a reduction in birth rates. Some countries, such as Japan and Germany, are actually seeing a decline in their populations. Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, will become the second largest by 2050.
The irony of these shifts is that the longevity economy and the value of experienced workers have largely been ignored. I still hear claims that older workers are not trainable, that they have little interest in learning new skills or, more importantly, reimagining their careers. And the one claim that always shocks me is that older workers are lazy. This could not be further from the truth.
According to AARP research, there is a significant and widening talent gap in many Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries due to population shifts. These countries, however, are ill prepared to respond to changing demographics. In fact, rather than adjusting to the new reality, policies that were developed post-war to get boomers into the workplace are now preventing boomers from staying employed. Policies that keep people from working are a detriment not only to the individual, but also to society as a whole. And when there are options to be rehired at an older age, it is typically for a lower-level position with a significant decrease in salary.
AARP believes that there is incredible value in hiring experienced workers. They tend to be more loyal to an organization and the value their experience brings to the table cannot be quantified. Some leading organizations agree with us and have begun to realize the vast human capital of the experienced workers.
Roughly a decade ago, AARP began awarding American organizations that have exceptional employment practices for older people. We found that educational and health care organizations were the most likely to have age-friendly policies. These include some household names such as Cornell University and the National Institutes of Health. Given the global nature of demographic change, and to highlight leading international examples, AARP set out to explore the global experience. We did so through the AARP Best Employers International Award, formerly known as AARP Best Employers for Workers over 50 - International.
AARP collaborated with global employment experts, including Robert Anderson from the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions; Chris Ball from The Age and Employment Network (TAEN); and Gerd Naegele from the University of Dortmund. We also began working closely on this issue with AARP-like organizations in other countries including the Council for the Third Age in Singapore. We began to see national ministries take note, too, by actively promoting the program to national industries.
What we found was astounding. There was active participation from leading recognized global consumer brands, including BMW, Deutsche Bahn, British Telecom, Lufthansa, and Marks and Spencer. And they were doing it well. For example, BMW made company-wide adjustments to account for their aging workforce, including modifying existing industrial infrastructure.
AARP is currently seeking applicants for the 2014 AARP Best Employers International Award. We want to see companies like BMW apply. We also want to see small and medium-sized organizations participate. In addition to the Award, all applicants will be invited to participate in regional meetings with leading human resource executives and winners of the 2014 Best Employers International Award through 2015.
The challenges of demographic change should be seen as opportunities, and it is clear that some organizations recognize this. Engaging individuals to remain in the workforce longer is beneficial not only to the individual, but also to the organization and the nation.
This article first appeared in THE JOURNAL - AARP's global thought leadership publication.