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As the population ages and older workers are making up more and more of the labor force, some employers are taking notice and adjusting their own practices to retain valuable experience and skills. Economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story.
As older workers are making up more and more of the labor force, employers are taking notice.
Paul Solman has the story.
It's part of our Making Sense series Unfinished Business.
So, I'm practicing to be retired, is what I tell people.
Sixty-six-year-old Brenda Phillips still works as a project administrator at HVAC manufacturer Trane. But she's no longer full-time.
I have taken up quilting, and I have nine grandchildren. And I get asked to baby-sit a lot.
After almost 40 years on the floor, Herbert Galbreath, at age 61, simply opted to hang it up.
Working on concrete for years, it causes a lot of joint problems.
But after two years, returned as a supervisor.
Retirement wasn't really what I thought it would be. And I'm a doer. What's really important to me is to pass some of the knowledge that I have on to the younger generation. I'm just one person. I can't get everybody, but I can correct some things.
Phillips and Galbreath are part of My Encore, a program started a couple of years ago by Trane's parent company, Ingersoll Rand, says Timitra Hildebrand-Jones.
We quickly realized that the majority of our employee population was over the age 50, and many of them very close to retirement.
And as we looked at that population, we started to immediately get concerned about all of the tribal knowledge that we could potentially lose.
And thus Trane's phased retirement and post-retirement work programs, to leverage worker expertise and commitment.
This is a gallery of age-smart employers.
Hunter College's Ruth Finkelstein says it's happening elsewhere too.
This is a school where they pair older and younger teachers together. And this is the Urban Health Plan, that has amazingly flexible policies.
The main reason firms have begun to accommodate? They have little choice. The fastest growing segment of the labor force is workers 55 or older.
And admit it, says Finkelstein:
Do you want the nurse who is, you know, dealing with her first intravenous tube? No, you want the one who can do it with her eyes closed.
And retention adjustments aren't just to keep good professionals. The savvy shortage is everywhere.
Work force shortages in skilled trades, work force shortages in fine garment work, work force shortages in plumbing and heating and skilled construction.
Lee Spring, in fact, a century-old manufacturing firm in Brooklyn.
CEO Steve Kempf:
We do everything to keep our older workers, because they're — A, they're so skilled, and, B, we don't have the people to fill in behind them. And we have invested 10, 15, 20, 30 years, some of them, in their skill set. And we want to keep those as long as we can.
So what do you do to keep an older worker like me? I'm 75. OK?
So we have got several people your age here. Generally, the most common thing we will do is give them the ability to work a shorter workweek. And, usually, it also eases their way out, so that we learn to get their job done with them there only two or three days a week. Makes it easier when they fully leave a few years later.
So, I'm not trying to be some great saint. I'm just doing what's best for the company.
By keeping the likes of machinist Mikhail Rapoport, on the job for 40 years, and still into it.
How long do you think you will continue to work?
When my wife say enough is enough, let's go to Florida, I go.
But she hasn't said that yet?
No, now she tell to me, working, working.
She don't want to see me all day.
Fifty-nine-year-old Robert Metolli worked the factory floor for years. But when he hurt his back, the company put him behind a desk.
They suggested probably I might be helpful in the office, bringing the experience that I had on coiling, as well as helping me not lifting heavy wire or working with heavy machines.
But Lee Spring doesn't hire seniors, does it?
Five of our workers who are in their 70s, we hired them, all five of those people, in their late 50s. So we're hiring somebody who's 59 years old to go into the factory. And we have gotten 15 years out of that person.
And, generally, at that point, they're also not looking to jump around and look for a better place.
Accounting firm PKF O'Connor Davies, where almost 40 percent of the work force is past 50, does the same, recruiting senior partners from larger firms.
Chief human resources officer Dawn Perri:
If somebody has to retire due to a mandatory practice that a firm has in place, we wind up getting people that have great experience, who want to work, who are motivated, who can help our less experienced individuals.
Al Fiore was a partner at accounting giant KPMG. In his 70s, he brought his Rolodex and executive experience to PKF O'Connor Davies.
I still act as a mentor to some of the members on the executive committee who've been here a number of years, where my perspective is very beneficial. You feel like you're making a contribution.
The company's contribution, a flexible schedule.
I think what's important in staying involved is being able to work when you want to work.
It's clear that older workers particularly value having some flexibility to take time off, maybe regularly, but maybe a little bit as they want. So, flexibility matters.
So much so, according to New York University economist Andrew Caplin's research, that fully 60 percent of retirees say they'd go back to work if it were flexible. But, for so many, it just isn't.
That is, the options they're looking for simply don't exist.
So if somebody stepped out of the work force because they felt a little burned out, said, I'm taking a temporary time-out, and I think I will step back a little while later, I wonder how many of them found that that's a permanent time-out?
Do you think there's a huge untapped pool of productivity…
… that is on the sidelines?
Well, Al Fiore is still working, but thanks to his flexible schedule.
I come in most days of the week. But if I need something — to be able to do something else, I do that.
Back at Trane, does Brenda Phillips miss working full-time?
Did I say that fast enough?
But she likes working part-time, and needs to.
My husband had a major stroke, and he's disabled, so I'm the breadwinner. So I have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.
Returning to work gave retiree Herbert Galbreath financial stability.
Get out of debt, and pay bills off, and that opened the door for other things. I want to travel out West for three weeks in a row, you know, things like that.
And as the proportion of older workers continues to grow, says economist Caplin:
We're going to have to face this issue that many places will want to keep employing people who would need a time-out now. So, the most imaginative will find their individual solutions.
As some places now have.
For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Paul Solman in New York.
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Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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